Point Reyes Shipwrecks–Sir Francis Drake WAS here…probably

I have been sleuthing through some mid-20th century  reports and journals authored by scholars and historians claiming an inlet within Point Reyes National Seashore as “THE” spot where Sir Francis Drake stopped to make repairs on his Tudor galleon, the Golden Hind, the first English ship to sail around the world. Without concrete proof, and what actual evidence would there be from the 16th century, authenticating the claim has been challenging.

The seriousness with which some took on this challenge unfortunately exposed their vulnerability. In came the pranksters.


I love the story of the 1936 discovery of “Drake’s Plate,”  a brass plaque purported to have been left by Drake as his marker claiming the New World for England. What good fortune to finally have proof of Drake’s arrival wash ashore near Drake’s Bay in Point Reyes, California!

I can hardly write about this without giggling. Certainly not all historians were convinced of its authenticity, but that didn’t prevent it touring the world or being exhibited at the Smithsonian. A copy of the plate was even presented to Queen Elizabeth. In 2003, after many years of study–it must have been a  very good forgery–the well-orchestrated hoax was finally put to rest.


Fortunately the infamous brass plate wasn’t a necessary piece to form the final puzzle.

Members of the Drake Navigators Guild, a Northern California organization of historians, claimed more than 50 detailed clues identifying Drakes Cove, an inlet near the larger Drakes Bay, as the site of Drake’s landing.

One clue may have been the one hundred or so shipwrecks known to have gone down near Drake’s Bay. The first recorded was a Spanish galleon, the San Agustin lost in 1595, and only a few months ago marine archaeologists recovered the skeleton of The Ituna, a ship that sank off the coast in 1920. There were dozens more.

And what of modern-day shipwrecks?


For a little more information on what I found an interesting photo opportunity, you can read HERE.  We just stumbled upon it while getting groceries to take back to our accommodations, and I couldn’t resist tromping through the mud to get a closer look. I didn’t learn until later that it’s a well-known landmark, beached on Tomales Bay.

Tomales Bay separates the Point Reyes Peninsula from the mainland of Marin County. If you like oysters…

How about we visit Tomales Bay next week?







32 thoughts on “Point Reyes Shipwrecks–Sir Francis Drake WAS here…probably

  1. restlessjo January 28, 2016 / 1:31 am

    I could linger there very happily with you, Debbie 🙂 I’ll be in the Algarve next week so I’ll have to do some catching up when I’m back.

    • Debra January 29, 2016 / 4:15 pm

      I will really look forward to seeing your photos from the Algarve, Jo. What a wonderful place to visit!

  2. Chatter Master January 28, 2016 / 2:36 am

    So, this is becoming intriguing. And once we figure out the truth of this story…. There are how many more stories at the bottom? Each ship wreck will have a new story for us. 😉

    • Debra January 29, 2016 / 4:12 pm

      I could have given much more detail about the hoax of the Drake Plate, Colleen. That the “perpetrators” would let it go on for so many years, even to the point of involving other countries and the Smithsonian really takes a lot of nerve doesn’t it? I’m sure there are many “history lessons” that get passed down that aren’t 100% true.

      • Chatter Master January 31, 2016 / 8:00 am

        Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out more stories, that were FABRICATED. Like you, I believe they exist!!!!

  3. aFrankAngle January 28, 2016 / 4:37 am

    Searching for Drake leads blogger to oysters … oh the sacrifice of research … Don’t you think that is very Onionesque?

    • Debra January 29, 2016 / 4:05 pm

      Ha! You’re right! I can definitely see The Onion influence. I do love those crazy headlines. 🙂

    • Debra January 29, 2016 / 4:00 pm

      I can’t resist responding, “And dead men tell no tales.” LOL!

  4. Jim Stewart January 28, 2016 / 6:25 am

    Great stuff. In our area, the Columbia River Bar and the whole north coast of Oregon is known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. If you’re a mariner, there’s not much room for error in the waters I’m most familiar with.

    • Debra January 29, 2016 / 3:59 pm

      I had never heard the “Graveyard of the Pacific” associated with the Oregon coast, Jim, but that makes sense, given the geography. I find it utterly amazing that “old world” shipping interests from the far east or Europe ever made it as far as the waters off of our west coast. I suppose there are many more disasters than I know about!

  5. nrhatch January 28, 2016 / 6:46 am

    Water + Blue Skies + Historical Lore = Pure Gold!

    Thanks, Debra.

    • Debra January 29, 2016 / 3:50 pm

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the little history stories, Nancy. I can imagine there are hundreds of quirky adventures out there I just have yet to discover! 🙂

  6. Kevin January 28, 2016 / 1:18 pm

    First, beautiful photos. I also love history and imagining how our ancestors saw their world — or rather our world, and the changes that have followed. And just think of all that the sea knows . . .

    • Debra January 29, 2016 / 3:47 pm

      I’m sure you can understand some of my excitement to have the stories of Sir Francis Drake and an Elizabethan connection in California. The eastern “13 colonies” continue to hold the stories that connect to our Revolution and British influence. But California? Not so much! LOL! I do get quite often visit a point of interest and note how beautiful, and then let my imagine wander to consider what did this look like before the industrial age and vast human expansion and intervention. It’s so important that we keep working to preserve these places of beauty and tranquility.

  7. Kristy January 28, 2016 / 2:53 pm

    I love the pictures!!! And searching for clues on anything historical (as well as disproving theories) is right up Mr. N’s alley. And we all love oysters…

    • Debra January 29, 2016 / 3:31 pm

      It really thrills me to hear that Mr. N is so interested in history and willing to do some digging, Kristy. I can only imagine that this year he is going to really encounter wonderful opportunities to explore and learn in ways that few American children ever experience! I must tell you that while reading your blog it has crossed my mind so many times how much I would have been thrilled as a young person to have had that opportunity. I think Mr N’s daily history lessons will far exceed anything he’ll ever gain in a university setting. I really believe that! Thank you for taking the time to stop by, Kristy. I’ll share about oysters next week. 🙂

  8. philipstrange January 29, 2016 / 7:51 am

    I am enjoying your sleuthing! Coincidentally, we dropped in to St Andrews Church in Plymouth last week and learnt that Drake had attended the church in the 16th century, here is a link: http://standrewschurch.org.uk/history/
    I would like to say that he left a brass plaque – but that wouldnt be true.

    • Debra January 29, 2016 / 3:28 pm

      I’m so glad that we can share around the interest in Drake and his wanderings. St. Andrews is magnificent! The history just calls out from those beautiful walls! I still find it so delightful that you have a connection to Northern California and I think you may really understand why the Drake story is so much fun for me. Spain has a long history connected to California, but Britain, not so much! 🙂 It has made my interest in this particular journey so interesting to me! Thank you for sharing the link to St. Andrews church. I would love to make that journey some day!

  9. hotlyspiced January 29, 2016 / 7:48 pm

    So interesting. And your images are gorgeous. What a pretty part of the world. I didn’t know any of that about Sir Francis Drake. It sounds like there have been so many shipwrecks in that part of the world xx

  10. Karen January 30, 2016 / 8:48 am

    I’ve always been a big fan of history. Whether Drake landed there or not, it certainly is a lovely place for a visit.

    • Debra February 1, 2016 / 1:31 pm

      Point Reyes and the coastline above San Francisco is certainly beautiful, Karen, and the historical connections are just fun to read about. What I really enjoy is just walking along the beaches. 🙂

  11. Perpetua January 30, 2016 / 10:14 am

    Another fascinating little trip back into Californian history, Debra. I love the story of the unmasking of the Drake’s Plate hoax. 🙂

    • Debra February 1, 2016 / 1:30 pm

      I just love that hoax story, too, Perpetua. It makes me laugh every time I think of it, and I wonder if the perpetrators ever regretted their actions! They sure didn’t later confess. 🙂

  12. lifeonthecutoff January 31, 2016 / 1:26 am

    Thank you so much for this revealing post, Debra. Suddenly my “lava lamp lie” doesn’t seem quite so bad after the “Drake’s Plate” forgery. 🙂 I loved this segment and your photos are fantastic and I can’t wait to slip into that last boat and explore Tomales Bay.

    • Debra January 31, 2016 / 7:52 pm

      You are so funny, Penny! You’re right. Your lava lamp lie really just innocently got away from you, I’d say, but the Drake’s Plate hoax was very embarrassing after the fact. That lie went on for decades. I would like to know if anyone ever called Queen Elizabeth II with an apology, asking for the replica to be destroyed. It’s funny as I read it now, but I doubt it was at the time. 🙂

  13. ChgoJohn January 31, 2016 / 9:59 pm

    The post is filled with beautiful captures, Debra, but that opening shot is positively stunning. Gorgeous! History is filled hoaxes and it makes me wonder if any of our current beliefs may be less than true. (I’m not talking about a certain national candidate.) I think it likely that Drake landed somewhere along the West Coast. Finding proof, however, is another matter entirely. Had he known that one day you’d be living there, I’m sure he would have left a little something behind for you. 🙂

    • Debra February 1, 2016 / 12:51 pm

      The material I’ve been reading outlining the evidence that Drake did land off the coast of Northern California is impressive, but very dense to wade through. Historians have been arguing this for decades. The story behind the hoax definitely interests me, and I can understand the hoax, but not coming “clean” for decades? That’s where it does lead to wondering how many of our long-held AND current beliefs have very shallow roots and maybe we should be more willing to ask harder questions of ourselves and those we entrust to make decisions on our behalf. And oh yes, our current political candidates (some more than others)… I have been shaking my head a lot and trying to be hopeful! I need more trips to the Point Reyes area north of San Francisco just to clear my head. 🙂 I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the photos, John. It’s so much fun for me to share them and think back to our lovely weekend.

  14. Nurse Kelly February 1, 2016 / 1:12 pm

    Love this story, Debra! Fascinating about the shipwrecks! I just want to believe Drake landed there, so I will! Can’t believe that forgery, though. And I do love oysters, but only steamed!

  15. reocochran February 2, 2016 / 3:30 pm

    Debra, up in our Great Lakes,Upper Peninsula of Michigan they have evidence of the Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck. I have always liked that rock n roll song. I am thinking it was sung by Jethro Tull or Yes. Hmmm. . . I never am good at identifying when pressed for time. I may get back with you.
    Meanwhile the truth or proof of Sir Francis Drake landing here to repair ship may remain a fascinating mystery! 🙂 ~Robin

    • Debra February 5, 2016 / 9:27 pm

      I may still have my Gordon Lightfoot vinyl LP with that song, Robin. I know I had it at one time! I think we’re all somewhat tied to our own geography in what we know, or at least I’ll say that for myself. I didn’t really know it it was an actual shipwreck. Now I want to know more!

  16. Otto von Münchow April 27, 2016 / 10:57 am

    Being a historian isn’t easy, is it. How to separate true historical evidence from forgery… Great post, Debra.

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