Pirates Were Among First Europeans In Baja

And it seemed like life was not so jolly for them
BY: EDGAR GONZALEZ

Los Cabos is known to be a favorite vacation spot for the rich and famous, but what most don't know is that this trend has been going on since the 16th century. In those years some very famous pirates roamed the coastal waters of Baja California, and used this peninsula as a retreat in their quest to get rich by raiding the Spanish galleons that came here from South East Asia to take on fresh water. In the late 16th century America and the Pacific ocean was controlled by the Spanish empire and the Baja California peninsula was right in the middle of the Manila trade route. This commercial route extended from Luzon in the Philippines to Acapulco in the southwestern pacific coast of Mexico. The galleons that traveled this route used the famous Cabo San Lucas arch as a navigation point of reference and would stop at San Jose’s estuary to get fresh drinking water for the long journey.

Constant traffic of galleons filled with gold, silver and all kinds of riches came to be quite an attractive feast for the pirates of that era. The pirates were mostly British.

This trade route was a long journey for the sailors, three months to get there and once the galleons were loaded with their precious cargo it took seven long months to fight the winds to get back home.

One of the better known pirates preying on this trade route was Sir Francis Drake, also known as the Prince of Buccaneers. Drake would be the first major English pirate to challenge the Spanish armada, a formidable fleet of that time. He would pillage and plunder from aboard his vessel the Golden Hind, some said under orders of the British crown.

On March of 1579 the Golden Hind captured the richest ship of all, Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, carrying priceless cargo and pesos in silver and gold. This ship also had the funny nickname of “Cacafuego” or fireshitter. Kind of a dirty way of saying spitfire. It is said that after this attack Drake stopped in La Paz to hide his treasure before embarking on the next adventure up north in the San Francisco bay. And it has never been found!

Los Cabos was also witness to the adventures of admiral Thomas Cavendish, a young English explorer and privateer known as The Navigator. Cavendish was a fervent admirer of Drake, and emulating his hero, he also attacked the Spanish fleet, again, maybe as a service to England:

On November 14 of 1587 a galleon called Santa Ana in the charge of captain Tomas de Alzola was on its way to the Cabo San Lucas bay when the cew saw a couple of ships between them and their destiny. Unknown to the Santa Ana's captain was that the two ships Desire and Content were under Cavendish command and had waited patiently for them to arrive. At first the Spaniards thought the ships were Spanish too and were joyous to encounter a friend in their long journey. But this joy soon turned to alarm when they saw the white, blue and red color of the flag, identifying the ship as part of the British fleet. After a long pursuit, part of Desire’s crew boarded the Spanish Galleon but their initial attack was repelled. Not discouraged by this, Cavendish charged again, and after a fierce battle of six hours the Santa Ana surrendered and the surviving crew was left ashore while the pirates took what they could of the enormous booty the ship had in its cargo hold. After loading their ships with the booty, Cavendish burned and sunk the Spanish ship. The marooned Spanish sailors spent 36 days in Cabo San Lucas while they salvaged the remains of their ship and sailed for Acapulco. They must have been a pathetic sight limping into port.

Another pirate that attacked the ships in the Manila trade route surrounding Los Cabos was Woodes Rogers who is best known for rescuing Alexander Selkirk who had been marooned on an island and whose adventures are said to have inspired Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Is it us, or does it seem to be a tough life for these guys?

The story says Rogers and Stephen Cortney landed in Puerto Seguro or safe harbor which was the name Los Cabos was known as at the time. They are said to have stayed for months in the area coexisting and cohabitating with the native Pericue Indians while they waited for the Spanish Galleons to arrive. After a few months the crew grew impatient and mutiny was a very close possibility. But like in the movies, on the verge of disaster, a ship ripe for the pickings appeared on the horizon.

According to the historic document, History of Cabo San Lucas- Municipality of Los Cabos, On December 21 of 1709 Woodes entered the Cabo San Lucas bay aboard his two ships Duke and Duchess and the next day attacked the “Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación y Desengaño.” a well-armed Galleon loaded with all kinds of riches that was on its way to deliver them to the Spanish Crown. The attack was victorious but not without its consequences: Woodes was shot in the jaw. Ouch.

Also a second ship companion of the captured Galleon was able to repel the pirates and headed to its original destiny, not before damaging both of Rogers’ ships.

These are only some of the pirate adventures in Los Cabos, there are more. Safe sails and keep an eye out for those pesky British privateers.