timeline boat

Outward Bound

Setting off in November 1577, Francis Drake’s flagship The Pelican, and 4 smaller ships, encountered fierce storms, and the damaged fleet was forced to return to Plymouth. They set sail again in mid- December, with the cover story of travelling to Egypt on a trading mission, in order not to alert Spain to their true goal – raiding Spanish settlements on the west coast of the Americas.


Crossing the Atlantic

After a brief flurry of activity around the Cape Verde islands, which saw them take Portuguese goods, ships and even a pilot, Drake and his crew crossed the Atlantic towards Brazil. They ran out of water and left their barrels open on the decks to collect rainwater to drink. After thwarting an attempted mutiny, encountering some native Americans such as Patagons and Araucanians (sometimes welcoming, sometimes hostile), and breaking up smaller ships to consolidate the fleet, three ships headed into the notorious Straits of Magellan on the tip of South America.


The Pacific

Despite unpredictable winds, whirlpools and shallow waters, the three ships passed through the Strait in just 14 days, by far the fastest passage of that century. Upon entering the Pacific, however, the fleet encountered a truly fearsome storm, which destroyed one ship and its crew. The two remaining ships, The Pelican and the Elizabeth, were carried south and became separated. The Elizabeth got lost in a bank of fog and returned to England. The Pelican was blown 300 miles south of its intended route, leading the crew to discover the passage of ocean below the American continent, previously assumed to be a land mass named Terra Australis. The Pelican eventually turned north, preparing to attack the Spanish coast. It is also believed that around this time, the ship was renamed the Golden Hinde.


Raiding in the ’New World’

The Golden Hinde’s first encounter with the Spanish is a revealing one - Drake and his crew easily overcame the small town of Valparaiso as Spain did not expect pirate activity and were underprepared for any attacks. A messenger on horseback was sent up the coast, warning the Spanish of Drake’s imminent arrival. The Golden Hinde continued north, attacking Spanish ships and ports, often under the cover of darkness. The most lucrative raid the Golden Hinde carried out was on a heavily laden ship called the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion.


The Northwest Passage

After this, the ship may have sailed as far north as Vancouver Island, in search of the Northwest Passage, an assumed route over the top of North America that would allow more efficient trade between Europe and Asia, but their quest was unsuccessful. With the ship battered and bruised, the crew needed to find coastal shelter to make much-needed repairs.

They eventually landed somewhere in the region of Oregon or California, with convincing arguments for both held by historians. Regardless, the crew’s relationship with the indigenous Miwok tribes seemed to be harmonious, and they stayed here for up to 8 weeks, recouping, repairing, and deciding on their next move. North was already proven to be too dangerous and it could be assumed that armed Spanish ships would be looking for Drake in the south. The decision was made to head west, towards the Moluccas and the Indian Ocean.


The Spice Islands

The ship approached the Moluccas, or the Spice Islands, with some trepidation. It had been colonised by Portugal and was a fiercely defended commercial hub, trading, as the name suggests, in expensive and much sought-after spices such as pepper, cinnamon and cloves. Drake was approached by the Sultan of Ternate, king of a small but wealthy group of islands, who offered him a trade. He would supply Drake with 6 tons of cloves (against the trading stipulation of Portugal) if Drake would provide armed ships for the Sultan to defend his territories. Drake agreed, took the spices, and did not return.

South of Indonesia, the Golden Hinde shuddered to a halt when it hit a reef. Several tons of goods were jettisoned to lighten the ship, including silver, artillery and spices, and the following day they managed to break free and set sail once more.


The Indian Ocean and England

Now came the most challenging test of endurance for the crew – 9,700 miles to the nearest safe port, across the Indian Ocean, around Cape Horn and anchoring in Sierra Leone. The journey took 118 days, with the malnourished crew that arrived there having just 8 pints of rainwater left to share amongst 56 men. From here, they returned to Plymouth, laying anchor in September 1580. Unable to disembark due to an outbreak of plague, they sailed to Falmouth and eventually to London. There are many opinions over exactly how much treasure the Golden Hinde took, but the Spanish estimated their losses at around £600,000.

The ship was put into dry dock in Deptford and never sailed again.