By Mussie Sahle
Late in 1577, Francis Drake left England with five ships, ostensibly on a trading expedition to the Nile. On reaching Africa, the true destination was revealed to be the Pacific Ocean via the Strait of Magellan, to the dismay of some of the accompanying gentlemen and sailors. Still in the eastern Atlantic, a Portuguese merchant ship and its pilot - who was to stay with Drake for 15 months - was captured, and the fleet crossed the Atlantic, via the Cape Verde Islands, to a Brazilian landfall.
Running down the Atlantic South American coast, storms, separations, dissension, and a fatal skirmish with natives marred the journey. Before leaving the Atlantic, Drake lightened the expedition by disposing of two unfit ships and one English gentleman, who was tried and executed for mutiny. After rallying his men and unifying his command with a remarkable speech, Drake renamed his flagship, previously the Pelican, the Golden Hind.
In September of 1578, the fleet, now three ships, sailed through the deadly Strait of Magellan with speed and ease, only to emerge into terrific Pacific storms. For two months the ships were in mortal danger, unable to sail clear of the weather or to stay clear of the coast. The ships were scattered, and the smallest, the Marigold, went down with all hands. The Elizabeth found herself back in the strait and turned tail for England, where she arrived safely but in disgrace. Meanwhile, the Golden Hind had been blown far to the south, where Drake discovered - perhaps - that there was open water below the South American continent.
The storms abated, and the Golden Hind was finally able to sail north along the Pacific South American coast, into the previously undisturbed private waters of King Philip of Spain. The first stop, for food and water, was at the (now) Chilean Island of Mocha, where the rebellious residents laid a nearly disastrous ambush, having mistaken the English for their Spanish oppressors.