Francis Drake became one of the greatest seafarers of his time, his talent and knowledge concerning the sea was undeniable. Revered by his countrymen, feared and despised by the Spanish, his achievements changed the course of England’s history and redefined her as a naval power to be reckoned with.

Drake was the eldest of 12 sons, born around 1540 (his real date of birth is unknown) in Tavistock, Devon. His father, Edmund Drake, was a tenant farmer on the Crowndale estate of Lord Francis Russell. As a devout Protestant from a young age, Edmund eventually gave up farming to enter the clergy. In 1549, events led to the Drake family relocating to Kent and settling in the hulk of an old ship on the banks of the River Medway.

It was on the Medway that Drake found his affinity with the sea, it was a key location for ships and barges making their way to London and France. Around the age of 12, young Drake was apprenticed to the owner of a small coasting bark, absorbing all the knowledge he could, he developed his experience and skills on the job and when his mentor passed away he inherited the bark.

Drake returned to Plymouth after selling the bark and became reacquainted with his relatives, the Hawkins, a well-established merchant family. Drake joined his cousin John Hawkins on England’s early illegal slave trade voyages. The Spanish colonies in the New World refused to trade and their attacks on the English ships was more than enough to ignite and fuel Drake’s life-long animosity against the Spanish.

Drake’s famous circumnavigation earned him the nickname “El Draque” (The Dragon), he was feared by the Spanish in the Caribbean. After Francis Drake returned from his famous voyage around the world on the Golden Hinde, he became the Mayor of Plymouth in 1581 and later was a Member of Parliament for three constituencies. Queen Elizabeth I recognised his achievements with a knighthood and his own coat of arms with the motto “Sic Parvis Magna”, translated literally as "Thus great things from small things (come)".

Drake’s involvement with the Anglo-Spanish war showed he was an astute tactician. Relations with Spain grew increasingly hostile and war between England and Spain seemed imminent. In 1585, Drake set off with a fleet, ordered by the Queen, to take part in a series of a pre-emptive strikes against Spain and her colonies to cut-off vital supplies thus delaying attack from the Spanish Armada. The English fleet, of which Drake was Vice Admiral were aided by adverse weather and went on to defeat the fearsome Spanish Armada in 1588 which was on its way to invade England. The war ended in 1604 with the new King of England, James I, signing the Treaty of London to end military interventions and England’s privateering.

It isn't that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better.

Even in his fifties Drake couldn’t resist the call of the sea and set off in 1595 with his kinsman Sir John Hawkins on what was to be their final treasure hunting expedition to the West Indies. They suffered a number of defeats against the Spanish and both died of illness at sea within 3 months of each other. It was poignant that Drake’s seafaring career had begun and ended with Hawkins. Drake was buried at sea in full armour in a lead-lined coffin near Portobelo, Panama. Divers still search for his coffin to this day.

Until Drake, it was unknown for Englishmen to head to the Caribbean with the intent of plunder. His voyages became legendary inspiring his countrymen to follow in his footsteps opening up the world for England. He challenged the status quo, changed the rules, he was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world aboard an English ship, Sir Francis Drake was a true explorer.

The light of past discovery draws me forward. Its shining light guides me to the glory of exploration.