IN THE SUMMER of 1579, 28 years before the Jamestown settlement and over 40 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, England’s Captain Francis Drake (he was knighted upon his return), his galleon Golden Hinde and its crew of 75 put ashore to make repairs to their ship somewhere along the west coast of what is now called North America.
Based on journals and reconstructed charts indicating a general location of “latitude 38,” Drake historians are mostly in agreement that the landing was in Marin County. Furthermore, following debates going back almost 200 years, they concur that the precise location of his five-week stay before his voyage back to England was an inlet along West Marin’s Point Reyes Peninsula, at what is now appropriately named Drakes Estero, feeding into Drakes Bay.
In 2016, the National Park Service dubbed much of Drakes Bay a National Historic Landmark and the “most likely site” of Drake’s 1579 landing. Likely being the operative word: after many years of research, amateur historian (and Mill Valley native) Duane Van Dieman is challenging the assumption. He maintains that Drake arrived, of all places, via Mill Valley’s Strawberry Cove, just east of today’s Richardson Bridge. Van Dieman lists several factors to back that up. First, Drake was a skilled navigator who, with the possible aid of captured Spanish coastal charts, surely could have located the three-mile-wide entrance to San Francisco Bay. Second, the Golden Hinde’s draft (hull clearance) of 13 feet would have made it difficult and dangerous to enter the shallow waters of Drakes Estero. (To anyone countering that Strawberry Cove is equally shallow, he’ll cite depth charts showing that a navigable deep natural channel leads directly into the cove.) Finally, a rather detailed map of Drake’s actual landing spot, reconstructed after his 1580 return to England, more closely resembles Strawberry Cove than Drakes Estero.
In the above artwork by Marin’s Andrew Annenberg, the area across the middle-left is the former location of Golden Gate Baptist Seminary. For more of Duane Van Dieman’s landing site hypothesis, visit sfdrakefoundation.org.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Drake Debate”.