Monday, January 11, 2010

Ships: The Galleon That Conquered The World

Originally named Pelican, Sir Francis Drake's three-masted galleon Golden Hinde was one of the first of her kind and is famous to this day. A hybrid of the older caravel which, along with the carrack, worked the seas of Medieval Europe and beyond, the galleon was at least partially developed by Drake's cousin and fellow sea dog, John Hawkins.


In 1576 the ship and her entourage left Plymouth harbor in search of plunder and new worlds to conquer. Drake's mission, given to him directly by Queen Elizabeth I, was to navigate around the tip of South America into the Pacific Ocean and head north to find the fabled Northwest Passage by which he would then return to England. Along the way he was to take as much in the way of Spanish wealth as he could reasonably carry.

The Golden Hinde was a good choice to the job. She displaced approximately 150 tons and was 70 feet long, only 19 feet across her beam and had a shallow 9 foot draft. She carried 18 cannon and up to 85 men when crewed optimally. Her hold was solid and round, perfect for filling up with all that delicious Spanish treasure.

By September 1578, Drake made the Pacific Ocean. Golden Hinde was alone now, her sister ships either having turned back to England or been sunk in stormy weather. By March 1579 he had captured a Spanish treasure galley whose wealth was so immense that Drake had Golden Hinde's ballast tossed into the sea and replaced it with silver bars.

Flush with success, Drake was disappointed in his search for the nonexistent Northwest Passage. Golden Hinde got as far north as the U.S. state of Washington and then turned back south. In June he put into a sheltering inlet that he named Drake's Bay, probably for provisioning and repairs. There is still a raging debate in Northern California about where exactly the bay was/is located. After this stopover, Golden Hinde headed west and became the first British ship to circumnavigate the globe. She returned to Plymouth, and a hero's welcome, on September 26,1580 in good condition and with 59 men aboard her.

The story goes that the old ship ended her days after running aground in the Thames within sight of London. Allegedly she was left where she lay and became a sort of hostel for sailors who were by land until she deteriorated and her lumber was scavenged. Two pieces of furniture were supposedly made from her wood: a chair in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and a table now in Middle Temple Hall, London. These stories may be apocryphal but, I'd still lay a hand reverently on either chair or table and say Drake's name. And the name of the Golden Hinde, who was once the Pelican.

4 comments:

dwightjacobs said...

Cool stuff Paula! Why is it that history is so much more interesting than most fiction? What a great series this would make on HBO, as would the life and times of Sir Richard Burton (I'll ignore the lame '90's movie)and my personal favorite, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker.

Instead, we get Space Captain Blood... :-(

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Dwight, and thankee! You took the words right out of my mouth. Space Captain Blood when you could actually make a really ripping movie about Sabatini's inspiration for the Captain Blood character, Laurens de Graff. *sigh*

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Another fun post. By the way, did you see the reference to Drake in yesterday's "Get Fuzzy"? I thought that was pretty funny.
Good call, Dwight. I maintain that when Paula's books get published, they will make a great HBO mini-series. She always poo-poos this and says it will never happen, but I'm going on record with my prediction that it will happen... Hopefully, in all of our lifetimes.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy and thankee! I really appreciate all the folks who have faith in me and my writing. Makes it worth the struggle. I do have visions of dropping off a year or two before any of the books become movies a la Patrick O'Brian. But hey, if it's good enough for the Master, it's good enough for me ; )