“For by the life of God, it doth even take my wits from me to think on it. Here is such controversy between the sailors and gentlemen, and such stomaching between the gentlemen and sailors, it doth make me mad to hear it. But, my masters, I must have it left. For I must have the gentleman to haul and draw with the mariner, and the mariner with the gentleman. What! let us show ourselves to be of a company and let us not give occasion to the enemy to rejoice at our decay and overthrow. I would know him that would refuse to set his hand to a rope, but I know there is not any such here“ (Drake’s speech to his crew off of Puerto San Julian, Argentina, prior to entering the Strait of Magellan)
|Russian artist Simon Kozhin’s impression of the “Golden Hind” and the “Elizabeth” entering the Strait of Magellan in 1578 (2007)|
The first circumnavigation of the world was famously completed by Magellan’s men in 1522, the explorer himself had died en route in the Philippines, and a few Spaniards of García Jofre de Loaísa’s ill fated expedition of 1525 actually made the second one. During the second half of the 16th century, the Pacific Ocean was an undisputed Spanish domain, though, and the ambitious seafaring Protestant nations treaded warily for not to provoke mighty King Philip by sailing there and resorted to singeing the monarch’s beard with privateering in better known waters. However, the plans for a foray into the Mar del Sur, considered by the Spanish a mare clausum, a closed ocean, were already in Walsingham’s drawer and by recommendation of Walter Devereux, the Fairy Queen’s spymaster met with the illustrious privateer Francis Drake, a private consortium, Dudley among them and Admiral Clinton, was formed to finance an expedition and after a few weather-related setbacks, a fleet of two galleons and three rather cockleshell-sized vessels left Plymouth for the Strait of Magellan to explore largely unchartered waters and wreak havoc in Philip’s colonial backyard.
|Drake, originally enough shown wearing a Spanish morion, views the treasure taken from a Spanish ship (1923)|
In August of the following year, after a short ceremony, Drake’s fleet entered the strait and sailed promptly into a storm that lasted for 50 days, sunk one of his remaining three ships, forced his second galleon, the “Elizabeth” back home to England, brought him maybe or maybe not to Cape Horn and the Drake Passage, but on November 25th, when Drake’s remaining galleon “Golden Hind” cast anchor off Mocha on the Chile coast, it became clear that Chile did not lay northwest but north of the Strait of Magellan, that the latter was not just a channel but open seas between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean and that there was no Terra Australis, no south land, in the neighbourhood. And then Drake and his men began their privateering mission along the undefended west coast of Spanish South America. Drake’s greatest coup was certainly the capture of the “Nuestra Señora de la Concepción”, an unarmed treasure galleon that was for inexplicable reasons nicknamed “Cacafuego”, fireshitter. Drake acquired 80 pounds of gold and 14 chests full of silver from Potosi, worth half of England’s yearly fiscal revenue, and a Spanish ship boy had the cheek to mention to Drake that they now had to rename their ship into “Cacaplata”, silvershitter. Drake’s crew dined on that bon mot for the rest of their lives.
|A map from 1595 illustrating Drake's circumnavigation|
And more about Sir Francis Drake and his circumnavigation on: