River in Ruin: The Story of the Carmel River

By Ray A. March | Go to book overview

1 SPAN ISH ERA
Vizcaino to Father Serra

It is mid-December 1602.

Idled in a thick coastal fog, the three Spanish ships wait for favorable weather to continue their journey northward. The ships and their crews have been at sea more than eight months with only an exploratory stop at San Diego. The men are sick with scurvy. Many have died. One ship is the Santo Tomas, a multideck commercial galleon of immense size. The second ship is the smaller frigate Tres Reyes, a square-rigged warship. The third is the San Diego, the fleet’s flagship. Sebastian Vizcaino, a fifty-nine-year-old explorer and leader of the small fleet, is aboard the San Diego. He is searching for a port that can safely harbor Spain’s Manila Fleet from pirates and storms on its way from the Philippines to Acapulco.

Windless in the fog, only the distant lolling sound of surf washing ashore reaches the ships and their crews. In the dense gray light, there is no hint of a shoreline that might hold a safe port for anchor. When the fog finally lifts, Vizcaino orders the ships to stand nearer to shore so he can see if there is a harbor. What he sees instead is a mountain range rising abruptly out of the ocean. The mountains are high with white ridges that turn reddish at the edges and are covered with woods. He calls the mountains Sierra de Santa Lucia and then sails north past the mouth of a little river emptying into a small bay. A Carmelite friar aboard the San Diego notes in his journal that the river “falls into the sea among rocks.” The ships round the tip of a peninsula and at last drop anchor in a large harbor. The next

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