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The disaster at Point Reyes 
February 24, 2014, 05:00 AM By Darold Fredricks

Photo courtesy of the San Mateo County History Museum
Point Reyes pleasant looks can turn into disaster for ships.

Being overly successful is not always a good thing. It can bring problems that can ruin you in the most unlikely ways. When Columbus led his ships west to open up another trade route to the wealth that would come from Asia, he probably didn’t consider that many, many boats would be needed to fulfill Spain’s dream of riches.

He didn’t take into consideration that many other nations wanted the same thing — wealth without working for it. The oceans seemed endless in the 1400s and would need a lot of exploration completed before all of the risks would be known to carry the spices, silk, gold, silver, etc. back to Europe. But never mind these risks, when wealth is sought, all reason is thrown out the door.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa saw the Pacific Ocean in 1513. In 1519, Magellan sailed down the East Coast of South America and entered the Pacific Ocean Nov. 28, 1520. Two months later, after catching the western trade winds, he landed in the Philippines. He was killed there by the natives. One of his ships returned to Europe by sailing across the Indian Ocean. The other ship tried to reach Mexico by sailing east but was forced back to the East Indies.

In 1532, Francisco Pizarro conquered Peru. Extensive silver deposits were found in the Andes and became the source of great wealth for the Spanish (The Chinese used silver for their economy therefore a market was available to the Spanish if they could get there across the Pacific. The Arabs controlled the trade to China at this time).

In 1565, Andres de Urdaneta found a favorable wind after sailing to the north of Japan and succeeded in crossing the Pacific Ocean. From then to the 1815, the Manila Galleons crossed the Pacific carrying silver from South America and, on the return trip, they carried spices and porcelain.

In 1595, Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeno, a Portuguese captain trading for Spain, set out across the Pacific in a galleon named the San Pedro. He was headed for the Philippines, a trip that took two months. He changed ships while in port due to the loss of his first ship and began sailing with a full load of merchandise for Spain. The trip would take six months and half of his crew would die due to malnutrition and scurvy. Scurvy occurred on long ship voyages due to the lack of vitamins. It was a painful death that left dark blotches on the body and loosened the teeth so eating was almost impossible.

On Nov. 4, 1595, land was sighted and fires were seen on the beaches. The ship, the San Augustin, made it into a cove (Drakes Bay) and after some Miwok natives visited the ship, the crew began replenishing their stores of food and water. Suddenly, a southern wind blew up and the ship began to break up and sink as she hit the rocky shore where they were anchored. Records are lacking as to where the ship actually sunk and the area has been made into an archeological site to discourage divers from looking for it unsupervised. Luckily, the crew was able to salvage a 30-foot-long launch that was built to explore inlets and shores along the coast.

After reassessing their situation, the captain ordered the remaining 70 and passengers to board the craft and they began to sail the remaining 1,500 miles to Mexico in the long boat. After two grueling months of sailing, they made it to Acapulco.   



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