No treasure has been found; there are no secret chambers and no sacred burials. Yet an obscure, archaeological investigation on the Oregon coast has made newspaper headlines in England and Canada. Although virtually ignored by the local media, a serious attempt is underway to re-write the history of the discovery of NW America.
It is led by Bob ward, an amateur, English historian who has spent 16 years collecting evidence to support his theory that Sir Francis Drake landed in Oregon in 1579, 199 years before Captain Cook reached the northwest coast. This year he returned to Whale Cove, 100 miles SW of Portland, with a group of specialists from Oregon State University.
Using a computerised magnetometer, the team located and traced a 300-foot, underground feature running straight away from the shore. Ward feels that this must be the remains of a stockade erected by Drake's crew while they repaired their ship Golden Hind.
The presence of a Canadian TV crew and front page stories in the Sunday Times of London, Victoria Times Colonist and Vancouver Sun suggests this attempt to re-write the history of the west coast has already struck a chord in British hearts. It's been dubbed "The Lost Birthplace of the British Empire," evoking Britain's nostalgia for her lost American colonies and harking back to a time when Britannia ruled the waves. (Drake sailed under the authority of the first Queen Elizabeth--a monarch who knew how to silence her critics.)
The losers, should this site gain acceptance, would be the supporters of Drake in California, who had the foresight to name a bay in Marin County and a street in San Anselmo after the sea captain, but have no scientific evidence to fall back on. Bob Ward is an engineer by training and never had any particular inclination to history until he spent a year working in British Columbia. An old Indian he met happened to mention an ancient Nootka legend about the first sighting of Europeans.
According to the story, which was recorded in the 1790's, white men had visited the Nootkas centuries before Cook and Vancouver. The idea intrigued Ward, who found a reference to it in the provincial museum in Victoria. To him it suggested only one revolutionary possibility-that Drake had visited Vancouver Island in " the year of our Lord 1579," while in search of the Northwest Passage.
Many events in history can never be documented, that's why we celebrate Columbus not the Vikings as the first Europeans to reach America. Experts in marine history, many of whom lived in California, have argued for a hundred years over exactly where Drake landed and repaired his good ship the Golden Hind.
Ward began his personal quest by examining the outline of every bay on the west coast to find a match with the best clue--an inset on the world map, printed in Amsterdam in 1590 by Jacob Hondius. As he explained, he didn't "choose" Whale Cove. It was simply the only place that fit the outline shown on the original illustration. Subsequently, he found many irregularities in the literature supporting the California site. He began researching the flora and fauna of the west coast, the history of cartography and the 250-year search for the fabled Northwest Passage.
Ward's theory has successfully integrated information from many disciplines and appears to have gained a degree of respectability recently. However, he continues to stress that short of an authenticated, archaeological artifact, it remains hypothetical.
Unfortunately, the cove is in no way a suitable anchorage for a cruising sailor, and visiting yachtsmen should resist the temptation to close this lee shore and "have a look." ((Besides which, one's underwriter would take a very dim view of the whole undertaking.)) The best way to see the spot is via the scenic coastal highway and a state park which overlooks the mouth. During the short summer season, however, wildlife-watching trips depart daily from nearby Depoe Bay (itself labeled "the smallest harbor in the world").
((Accustomed to their home port, which has the most narrow and unforgiving entrance imaginable,)) these tourboat skippers turn into Whale Cove without hesitation, ignoring the waves breaking on the headland and a drying rock near the shore. Inside, they have room to motor in a tight circle past the seal colony and behind the promontory which offers protection from the westerly winds. The cove is completely open to the south, however, and the prevailing swell still breaks lightly on the shelving, sandy beach.
According to Ward, it was here that Drake spent 36 days, careened his leaking ship, and found timber and fresh water to replenish his supplies. ((In the 19th century, other holes-in-the- wall on this coast were used by lumber schooners to load wood by means of an overhead wire.)) But there is no record of any vessel ever having moored in Whale Cove. To do so securely would require backing up the anchors with a line strung around a rock on the seaward side.
A few hours of south wind would likely have turned the Golden Hind into the first wreck on the coast of Nova Albion, the name Drake bestowed on this first possession of the nascent empire. It took luck to find the cove, confidence to send in a long boat, and hearts of oak to sail their unwieldy ship inside. But if any man could have done it, it would have been Drake, the consummate daredevil and navigator.
Herb Beals, principal researcher at the Oregon Historical Society says Ward's theory is "interesting but highly speculative."
Dr Helen Wallis OBE, FSA, an internationally-known lecturer :"Bob Ward offers a new and controversial interpretation-how many events in history have left uncertainty as to where they actually happened?"
Warren Hanna, a California Lawyer, member of state Francis Drake commission and author of the book Lost Harbor. "Opinions have not and never will solve the question. Only archaeological or documetary evidence can resolve this problem."