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LONGCAMP.COM'S NOVA ALBION ANNEX

The Drake Navigators Guild
www.drakenavigatorsguild.org
Their Position on the Latitude and Location of the 1579 California Drake Landing Site

After conducting and publishing my own independent study of the problems of determining latitudes in the coast of Sixteenth Century California in 1999, I received a letter from Raymond Aker, the then president of The Drake Navigators Guild.

Inspired by the discovery of the so-called Plate of Brasse in 1937, the Drake Navigators Guild was formed in 1949 by two San Francisco Bay area business partners with naval backgrounds and an interest in Francis Drake to show that the site of Drakes Bay suggested by George Davidson of the US Coast Survey in 1890 was indeed the correct location of Drake's 37-day summer sojourn in 1579.

Raymond Aker, president of the Guild from 1963 through 2003, was a graduate of the California Maritime Academy and licensed master mariner who had served as a deck officer with Matson Shipping from 1942 to 1949, and was subsequently employed by the Marine Division of Westinghouse Corporation for twenty-nine years before retiring.

I was extremely pleased to have Mr. Aker's compliments on my own study of late 16 Century celestial navigation.

The letter is reproduced below with added footnotes referenced my comments.
But first...



Some History of the Latitude Discussions
The World Encompassed [latitude] clue, on careful analysis, may have more to offer than meets the eye." Warren L. Hanna, Lost Harbor, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1979  

Mr. Hanna was referring to the largely disregarded Tenet 2 of the California Historical Society landing site debates conducted in 1974:

Tenet 2: Several early accounts of the Drake Voyage report conflicting latitude designations [38° 30' vs. 38°] for Drake's Landing site. How are these to be reconciled with the proposed landing site?

The sites represented in the 1974 debates were:
San Francisco Bay, San Quentin Cove (37° 56')--Robert H. Power
Bolinas Lagoon, (37° 55')--V. Aubrey Neasham
Drake's Bay, Estero (38° 02')--Raymond Aker, the Drake Navigators Guild.
There was no supporter of, and little discussion of, Bodega Bay, or Bodega Harbor, (38° 18' 19").

The debates were published in Volume LIII of The California Historical Quarterly, The California Historical Society, San Francisco, 1974. They were later reviewed in Hanna's Lost Harbor, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1979. Hanna was unable to reach any conclusion of his own as to a winner in the debates, and concluded his book with the comment that

"After four hundred years of mystery, including nearly two hundred years of controversy, we still have no solution to the Drake anchorage riddle."

Nor was the Sir Francis Drake Commission, established by the State of California in 1974 to investigate and the various claims, able to make a determination for any particular landing site after four years of review. This was followed in 1978 and 1979 by rejections by the State of California Historical Resources Commission of the Drake Navigator Guild's formal petitions for registration of Drakes Bay as an historical landmark, the commission concluding that to accept the Guild's position would constitute a "leap of faith rather than fact."

Mr. Hanna, in his evaluation of the participants non-discussion of Tenet 2 lamented the following:

"Since the debaters are satisfied that 38° was the correct latitude, the express request for Tenet 2 for reconciliation of latitudes given by principal accounts has been disregarded. Whether it was a matter of oversight or simply felt not to be necessary was not made to appear. No one would suggest that it was in any way influenced by the fact that latitude 38° constitutes an integral factor in the anchorage theory of each of the participants. Whatever the reason, the evidence of the narrative which offers more information than any other [The World Encompassed] on the subject of anchorage latitudes has quietly been relegated to limbo."

We are not convinced that Mr. Hanna was entirely sincere in his statement that "no one [Hanna] would suggest" that the lack of discussion of 38° 30' was not influenced by the fact that all of the three landing sites discussed were located at or just under 38°--quite obviously, the thought had come to Hanna's mind. This is in nowise better demonstrated than in the Drake Navigators Guild's 1974 rejection of their own completely objective 1970 latitude analysis:

1970: In Report of Findings Relating to Identification of Sir Francis Drake's Encampment at Point Reyes National Seashore, in which Mr. Aker analyzed 36 lines of latitude given in The World Encompassed. He rejected two obviously erroneous lines (Valparaiso and Arica) of the thirty-six, and concluded (p. 447) that "The true latitude given here is for the landing site. World Encompassed implies that at Drake's Bay an observation [38 deg. 30. min.] was taken on shore."

1974: Along with the other two site proponents in the California Historical Society debates, the Guild's position became that "38 deg toward the line," from the abbreviated Hakluyt account must be correct--that 38 deg. 30. min. from The World Encompassed was an imprecise "sea-reading" taken from "dead reckoning" in a period of fog--thus a selective rejection of the one single latitude in their own analysis which failed to support their own proposed landing site at located at 38° 02'.

But that is not at all how the account of the latitude of the anchorage reads in The World Encompassed

On to the letter.


 

Raymond Aker
Drake Navigators Guild
Palo Alto, CA
August 11, 2000

 

Dear Bob:

About a week ago one of the Drake Navigators Guild members copied for me your determination of latitude by Drake on the coast of California. I much appreciate your writing to us and sending your copy, which has additional information at the back on the astrolabe and your experiments. I was hoping that we could have your address so that I could respond.

*Here my omission of 16 lines of text unrelated to either latitude or to the Guild's supported landing site.

Your own work with the latitude is superb. You would be well advised to separate it from Campbell Cove (1) - It applies equally as well to Drakes Bay. (2) As far as 38' 30'N. goes, the Nova Albion account comes largely from Francis Fletcher, the chaplain. No observation was obtained for two weeks after arrival (3) , therefore the only latitude that he could have used must be assumed to be dead reckoning. (4) We can see that Drake's observed latitude [from land] would be much closer. Also, we can assume that Drake took a latitude on the SE Farallon, but we do not know that, or know what it was. (5)

The reasons for the Drakes Estero site are well laid out in the booklet (6) but you may find my analysis of latitudes from the Guild's 1970 Report of Findings to be of interest. (7) If one did not know where to start looking for the landing site, then because of inherent error, the latitude is only good for getting into the range of sites from Bodega Bay to San Francisco Bay.

Many thanks for sending us your material.

Most sincerely,

Raymond Aker

 

My footnotes added to the letter:

(1) Aker: You would be well advised to separate it from Campbell Cove.
This refers to the work done by Brian Kelleher: Drake's Bay, Unraveling California's Great Maritime Mystery, Day Publishing, San Jose, 1997. Mr. Kelleher's examination of the evidence for the location of the Drake landing lead him to determine that the site was at Campbell Cove at the entrance to Bodega Harbor. The site championed by Mr. Aker, and the Drake Navigators Guild, is the estero at Drake's Bay.

My own work on these latitude determinations was independent of Mr. Kelleher's work, but did turn out to support Mr. Kelleher's findings.

I met Mr. Kelleher in October, 1998, a year after the publication of his work.
Learning that I had an interest in Drake, and that I had previously used published historical astronomical and hypsometrical observations from Frémont's expeditions to locate a number of related lost sites---

by lines of geographical position.
by hypsometrical data.
by graphic record.
by GIS (Geographic Information System).

---Mr. Kellerher asked me if I would "take a look at Drake's latitude determinations."

(2) Aker: It applies equally as well to Drakes Bay.
It does not. My study shows that at the estero at Drake's Bay the June/July 1579 determination would have been 38°, or 38° 10', depending on the size of the instrument used. At Campbell Cove the determination would have been 38° 30' using an astrolabe of either 7" or 20" diameter.

(3) Aker: No observation was obtained for two weeks after arrival.
This information comes from The World Encompassed. But, in fact, these conditions were said to have occurred for fourteen days, out of thirty-seven days:

"In 38 deg. 30. min. we fell with a conuenient and fit harborough, and Iune 17. came to anchor therein: where we continued till the 23. day of Iuly following. During all which time, notwithstanding it was the height of Summer, and so neere the Sunne; yet were wee continually visited with like nipping colds...neither could we at any time in whole fourteene dayes together, find the aire so cleare as to be able to take the height of Sunne or starre."

If the sun was obscured at noon on "fourteene days together" during the period from June 17 through July 1, there were still twenty-two days outside that 14-day sequence. It is most likely that at least a few of those twenty-two days would have provided the opportunity.

go An analysis of the determinations of latitude that would have been made on the particular days in that period.

(4) Aker: the only latitude that he could have used must be assumed to be dead reckoning.
Mr. Aker here contradicts his own conclusion in his published study on latitudes (see footnote 7 below), wherein Mr. Aker states (p.447) that Drake's determination recorded as "38. deg. 30. min." in The World Encompassed...

"...implies that at Drake's Bay an observation was taken on shore." The accepted authority Mr. Aker cited in 34 of 36 reported latitudes was The World Encompassed.

It is worth noting that of the seven lines of latitude given in Hakluyt's The Famous Voyage, six are given only in whole degrees; to the seventh is added "and a terce [third]."
In contrast, of the 50 lines of latitude given in The World Encompassed, 32 are given in degrees and minutes. Of those containing minutes, twenty-three of contain minutes that represent fractions of a degree that can be easily estimated on a scale divided in whole degrees: 1/4=15', 1/3=20', 1/2=30', 2/3=40', 3/4=45'. In the remaining nine cases, the minutes given in The World Encompassed seem to represent a precision that lies outside the resolution of that one degree scale. However, rather than representing false precision, these nine lines of latitude which contain minutes of arc expressed as 32', 55', 55', 5', 27', less 3-4', 6', 13', 4' suggest two possibilities: (1) they were calculated means of a series of observations--remembering that at the resolution of these instruments there is a window of some several minutes of time preceeding and following meridian transit in which to take multiple altitudes of the single event; (2) they were estimated when it was apparent that the index pointer did not come quite to, or was just over, a division of the scale.

Re. "dead [deduced] reckoning," It is interesting to note that the log and line, though described in theory by Bourne in 1574, was not in use at this peiod.

go On sighting error.

(5) Aker: we can assume that Drake took a latitude on the SE Farallon, but we do not know that, or know what it was.
According to The World Encompassed after departing the port of Nova Albion on July 23, 1579, Drake arrived at certain islands the next day out, July 24. From there he set sail on July 25 en route across the Pacific for the Mollucas. Assuming Drake did indeed harbor in the San Francisco area, these certain islands had to have been today's Farallon Islands, the largest of which stands at about 37° 42'--thus marking the southern extent of Drake's exploration of the California Coast which The World Encompassed reports to have been "38. deg."

By modern calculation the altitude of the sun at noon at that latitude on July 24, 1579 (old calendar) was 68° 50'. If Drake had taken an astrolabe sighting for the Farallons that particular day, he probably would have measured the altitude of the sun as 70° even, and, after reduction using the best published tables of solar declintaion of the time (Bourne, 1574), and not being able to correct those declinations for 8 hours west of London, calculated the latitude as "38. deg." Given the relatively short distance from port (38. deg. 30. min.), Drake may also have reckoned the "38. deg." If so, this would be consistent with a July 23 departure from Campbell Cove under Bodega Head, which is roughly a half degree north of the Farallons--such is not the case for having departed from Drakes Estero, however, which is only about 1/4 degree north of the Farallons.

(6) Aker: The reasons for the Drakes Estero site are well laid out in the booklet
Aker, Raymond, & Von Der Porten, Edward, Discovering Francis Drake's California Harbor* Drake Navigators Guild, Palo Alto, 2000.

(7) Aker: you may find my analysis of latitudes from the Guild's 1970 Report of Findings to be of interest.
Enclosed were sent his photocopies of pages 436-450 of Report of Findings Relating to Identification of Sir Francis Drake's Encampment at Point Reyes National Seashore, Raymond Aker, Drake Navigators Guild, 1970 (reprinted 1976).


Two Examinations of the Latitudes in The World Encompassed

Raymond Aker

1970 (and 1976)
17 June -23 August, 1579, Drake's Bay, Coast of California.

The true position given here is for the landing site. World Encompassed implies that an observation for latitude was taken on shore.

In summary, [Drake's] average error in latitude for places that can be reasonably pinpointed (36), excluding the doubtful latitudes of Valparaiso and Arica, is about 16'. Of these, the average error for latitudes that were probably obtained on shore is about 09' with nearly half of them being of less than 10' error. The average error of latitudes probably taken at sea is about 21'.
Report of Findings Relating to Identification of Sir Francis Drake's Encampment at Point Reyes National Seashore

Ed. note: The authority cited for all of the latitudes referred to in Aker's analysis, except for Valparaiso and Arica, is The World Encompassed.
But then, in 1978...

1978
The question as to whether to consider 38° 30' [The World Encompassed] or 38° is almost conclusively resolved in favor of the lower figure which Haklyut, who may have consulted with Drake and had access to the same source as the compiler of The World Encompassed, chose to use a totally different description of the discovery of Drake's haven and apparently rejected "38 deg. 30. min." in favor of "38 degrees towards the line."
Sir Francis Drake at Drakes Bay: A Summation of Evidence Relating to the Identification of Sir Francis Drake's Encampment at Drakes Bay, California.

2000
No observation was obtained for two weeks after arrival (3) , therefore the only latitude that he could have used must be assumed to be dead reckoning." Letter above.

Brian Kelleher

1997
My own analysis confirmed Aker's [1970] findings. I found twenty-seven that identify locations which can be reasonably pinpointed without inciting the wrath of most current Drake scholars. Of these, eleven of the associated measurements were likely made on land and the other sixteen aboard ship. For the 16 readings likely made aboard ship, fourteen appear to be accurate within plus or minus thirty minutes with a standard deviation of nineteen minutes. Based on this simple statistical analysis, assuming "38 deg 30 min" came from a latitude made on land, as seems highly likely, there is better than a 95 percent probability that Drake made port either at Bodega Harbor or Tomales Bay. Conversely, the probability is less than 5 percent he made a port at Drake's Estero or points south.

Not only did Aker's [1970 latitude] findings contradict the findings of the venerable [George] Davidson, but according to The World Encompassed, on which the Guild relied heavily for most of its corroborating evidence, Francis Drake did not appear to land in Drakes Bay! The World Encompassed reports Drake's fit harbor was at "38. deg. 30. min." With Drake's Cove located at thirty-eight degrees two minutes, according to Aker's findings, the twenty-eight minute discrepancy is outside the expected average error for measurement made either on land or sea.

Drake's Bay, Unraveling California's Great Maritime Mystery

DNG site--N38° 02' 03"
Drakes Estero, Drake's Cove, Drakes Bay

Kelleher site--N38° 18' 16"
Campbell Cove, Bodega Harbor, Bodega Bay


A chronology of the DNG interpretation of

1970 and 1976. Raymond Aker, Report of Findings Relating to Identification of Sir Francis Drake's Encampment at Point Reyes National Seashore, p. 447: "The World Encompassed [38.deg 30.min]...implies that at Drake's Bay an observation was taken on shore."

1974 Historical Society debates: Tenet 2 being agreeably disregarded in favor of 38° by all three participants, the Guild offered no discussion of "38. deg 30. min."

1978. Raymond Aker, A Summation of Evidence Relating to the Identification of Sir Francis Drake's Encampment at Drakes Bay, California, p. 11-12: "within 38 degrees" from 'The Famous Voyage'" reflected an exceptionally precise navigational reading taken on land, while "38 deg. 30. min." from The World Encompassed was an imprecise sea-reading taken from dead reckoning in a period of fog.

2000. Raymond Aker, Letter, (above): "No observation was obtained for two weeks after arrival [out of the 37 days of the sojourn--ed.], therefore the only latitude that he could have used must be assumed to be dead reckoning."

On pages 440-450 of Aker's Report of Findings Relating to Identification of Sir Francis Drake's Encampment at Point Reyes National Seashore, he presents a comparison of actual latitudes with the latitudes published in The World Encompassed for the same places, and on page 450 states that the average error for the published latitudes, when taken from land, was "about 9'."

Yet the error for Drake's landing site determination of N38 30 compared to the Guild's proposed site at the estero was 28 minutes--three times the expected error of the study. So for the Guild's purpose, their "Drake's Cove" site at the estero (N38 02) had to be "assumed to be dead reckoning."

go Text of The World Encompassed and The Famous Voyage in parallel. This is work in progress.


While the latitude examinations by Raymond Aker in 1970, and by Brian Kelleher's in 1997 (Brian also included probability analysis in his book), are in in very close agreement for the potential accuracy of the Drake latitude determinations reported in The World Encompassed, neither determined the source of the seeming random plus and minus errors in those 16C determinations.

Let's roll back the calendar to 1579, leave England and sail eight hours in longitude into the next day, and go to these very locations armed with period instrumentation, period astronomical and geographical knowledge, period published tables of solar declination, and re-make these observations ourselves?

goDETERMINATION OF LATITUDE BY FRANCIS DRAKE ON THE COAST OF CALIFORNIA IN 1579

Copyright © January 1999 by Bob Graham
The Library of Congress TX 5-606-271


* Discovering Francis Drake's California Harbor is available from The Drake Navigators Guild at the address of its president: Edward Von der Porten, 143 Springfield Drive, San Francisco, CA 94132-1456. e-mail: edandsaryl @aol.com

Some of the Drake Navigators Guild publications:

  • Nova Albion Rediscovered, Aker, Raymond, Dillingham, M. P., Parkinson, R., 1956.
  • Drake's Cove, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, republished from California Academy of Sciences, 1958..
  • A Review of the Findings of Dr. Adan E. Treganza Relative to the Site of Drake's Landing in California, Dillingham, Matthew P., 1960.
  • Our First New England, Edward Von der Porten, Drake Navigators Guild, 1960.
  • Drakes Bay Shellmound Archaeology 1951-1962 (two volumes, Von der Porten, Edward P., 1963.
  • Francis Drake and Nova Albion, Oko, Captain Adolph S, 1964
  • Drake-Cermeño: An Analysis of Artifacts, Edward Von der Porten, 1965.
  • Portus Nova Albions, 1966.
  • The Porcelains and Terra Cotta of Drakes Bay, Von der Porten, Edward P., 1968
  • Identification of Sir Francis Drake's Encampment At Point Reyes National Seashore; Report of Findings Relating to Identification of Sir Francis Drake's Encampment At Point Reyes National Seashore; A Research Report of the Drake Navigators Guild, Aker, Raymond, 1970.
  • Sir Francis Drake at Drake's Bay, Aker, Raymond, 1970.
  • Identificaion of the Nova Albion Cony, Allen, Robert and Pakenson, Robert W., 1971.
  • An Examination of the Botanical Referrences in the Accounts Relating to Drake's Encampment at Nova Albion, Allen, Robert W., 1971.
  • Identification of 'An Herb Much Like Our Lettice', Allen, Robert W., 1971
  • Edward Von der Porten, Drake and Cermeno in California: Sixteenth Century Chinese Ceramics. Historical Archaeology 6:1-22, 1972 .
  • Report of Finding Relating to Identification of Sir Francis Drake's Encampment at Point Reyes National Seashore, Aker, Raymond, 1976.
  • Sir Francis Drake at Drakes Bay. A Summation of Evidence Relating to the Identification of Sir Francis Drake's Encampment at Drakes Bay. California, Aker, Raymond, 1978.
  • Discovering Portus Novae Albionis, Francis Drake's California Harbor, Aker, Raymond and Edward Von Der Porten, 1979.
  • The Drake and Cermeno Expeditions' Chinese Porcelains at Drake's Bay, California 1579 and 1595, Shangrew, Clarence & Von der Porten, Edward P., 1981
  • Shangraw, Clarence and Von der Porten, Edward, Kraak Plate Design Sequence 1550-1655, Drake Navigators Guild, 1997
  • Discovering Francis Drake's California Harbor, Aker, Raymond and Edward Von de Porten, 2000
  • Who Made Drake's Plate of Brass? (CaliforniaHistorical Society magazine), Von der Porten,Edward, Aker, Raymond, and Spitz, James M., 2002

These publications (except the last) were the foundation of a decades long unsuccessful effort by the Drake Navigators Guild to lobby the National Park Service to designate their proposed 1597 Drake landing site at Drakes Estero as a National Historic Landmark.


©1999, 2007
Bob Graham