Explorers pass Del Norte on journey up coast

January 22, 2007 11:00 pm

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

The second Spanish expedition whose mission was to formally claim lands north of Alta California for that nation's crown, brought Bruno de Hezeta (Heceta) and Bodega y Quadra past the coast of what would later become Del Norte County.

No one had sailed so far north during the 250 years that passed after Vasco Nuez de Balboa claimed the Pacific Ocean, and all the lands touching it, for the Spanish Crown in .

Heceta had command of 90 men on the ship Santiago.

Originally Bodega y Quadra, a lieutenant, was given the position of second officer on the Nuestra Seora de Guadalupe, a 37-foot schooner Because he was the only non-Spanish commander, born in Lima, Peru, he was passed over for promotions.

The smaller, two-masted ship was needed for its abilities to actually make landfall and allow the crew to formally claim the territory.

It was refitted in San Blas, but still described as too cramped to comfortably accommodate its 16 crew.

The two men set sail from San Blas, Mexico, eventually reaching Sitka, Alaska, and passing the Del Norte coastline along the way.

Three days out of harbor a third ship on the voyage, San Carlos, signalled of distress on board. Its captain, Lt. Miguel Manrique, was in psychological breakdown and unable to function as commander. Heceta ordered him returned immediately to San Blas and Bodega y Quadra assumed command of Seora after a three-day delay.

Progress was impeded further when the Santiago was forced to tow the smaller Seora to make headway through the open waters.

The ships sighted the California coast June 9, 1775, anchoring for two days to trade with the local tribes and formally claiming Trinidad Bay for their crown before continuing north.

The next landfall came July 11, a sighting of the Washington coast. The two ships maneuvered through shoals, finding a bay now identified as Point Grenville, several miles from the mouth of the Quinault River.

The Spanish had named it Rada de Buracreli to honor the Viceroy of Spain.

While the Santiago stayed far off the rocky shores, the Seora sailed toward land. Nine canoes greeted the ship, quickly encircling it.

After several days of trading with members of the Quinault tribe a last party of sailors made landfall, but were massacred by Indians waiting in ambush.

To honor them, Bodega gave the point now known as Point Grenville "Punta de los Martires" (Point of the Martyrs).

The sister ships Santiago and Seora separated July 29. Santiago, with Bruno de Hezeta at the helm, continued north until August 11 about to the international border between what is now Washington state and the Canadian province of British Columbia. At that point it turned back to San Blas, Mexico, its crew sick with scurvy.

The smaller ship, with Bodega y Quadra in command, continued on its original course to reach 60 degrees North.

On her way home, Santiago shadowed the coast line to map its new prize for ships that would follow.

Spotting what he thought was a huge bay, Hezeta gave the name "Bahia de la Asuncion de Nuestra Seora" (Bay of the Assumption of Our Lady) to what would later be named the Columbia River by American mariner Robert Gray.

Bodega took the Seora north almost to his ordered destination, Sitka, at 59 degrees North, which they reached Aug. 15. He continued north until Sept. 8, turning south for San Blas because of illness.

Seora dropped anchor at Monterey Bay Oct. 7, five weeks after Heceta reached it.

Bodega Bay and Heceta Head in Oregon carry their names.

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About This Series

Del Norte County turns 150 this year. To celebrate our county's storied history, The Daily Triplicate will carry an article, about the past 150 years, in each edition for the rest of the year. We continue with a look at the first European expeditions to the area.