National Geographic : 1975 Feb
had a chronometer, ample means for fixing my position whenever observations of sun or stars were possible. In those waters Drake could not find his longitude at all; he guessed wildly at his latitude in bad conditions with an eye-burning, bouncing thing called an as trolabe, had no charts, saw no lights. And he was alone. But he was in the Pacific, through the back door, come silently and unseen. A QUILPUE, near Valparaiso in Chile, I talked with then 95-year-old Capt. Robert Miethe Kriews, one of the last of the great windship seamen. "What Drake did was incredible," said the captain, who had consistently driven square-riggers past Cape Horn. "But don't mention his name too loudly round Valparaiso! Or Arica, or Ca llao, or Cartagena, or Santo Domingo, either. "He came to Valparaiso. The Spaniards didn't realize that the Magellan Strait made them vulnerable. So when Drake showed up one morning, he was welcomed as a Spaniard." Drake wasn't looking for welcome. He sacked the settlement, collected all the wine, bread, and bacon he could find, took about $40,000 worth of gold from a ship in the har bor, and was off. "No one could overtake him," the old sailor continued. "He was then in the Peru Current that sets north, and good sailing conditions took him to every port he wanted to raid. None had so much as a single cannon." At Tarapaca in Chile, Drake's men found Iron-ribbed skeleton of an abandoned ship (left) stands near San Gregorio in the Strait of Magellan, where treacherous winds still chal lenge mariners. Magellan took 39 days for the passage. Drake was lucky. With good weather he made it in 16. Near Cabo Pilar a Chilean coastal steamer of today (right) grapples with storm tossed waves. a Spaniard asleep beside 13 bars of silver and made off with the ingots. Landing again for water, the freebooters came upon a Spaniard and an Indian boy driving eight llamas load ed with 800 pounds of silver. Recollected one of Drake's men, with tongue in cheek: "... we offered our service and became dro vers, onely his directions were not so perfect that we could keepe the way...." Near Callao, the port of Lima, the captain picked up tantalizing news. The galleon Nuestra Senora de la Concepcidn was at sea, bound for Panama, jammed with gold, silver, and jewels. The Spanish vessel had a two-week start. Drake drove his Golden Hind under every stitch of sail, the seamen wetting the bellying courses to make them draw better. But the South American coast seemed to drag by with exasperating slowness. Past Peru sailed the Golden Hind, pushing a roll of foam at her bow, the guns on her deck still housed. At last, abeam of Cabo de San Francisco on the northwest coast of Ecuador, a sail! A big sail-lots of canvas, slowly pulling a laden ship. Approaching too rapidly could arouse suspicion, so Drake put out large wine jugs that dragged in the water as drogues. All day the little Golden Hind crept toward her galleon prey, unobtrusively gaining. The sun set and the tropic night fell on the sea like a blackout curtain. Quiet commands: "Haul in the drogues! Guns at the ready!