The galleon San Agustín (1595)
Most of the Spanish shipwrecks in U.S. waters are located on the Atlantic coast or in the Gulf of Mexico. Very few shipwrecks have occurred in North American Pacific waters due mainly to the fact that maritime traffic in this area was much lower. The largest fleets, those of Tierra Firme and Nueva España, did not sail this Ocean, so the only shipwrecks in the area are from ships that belonged to the early explorers of the coast of California or those that, since the discovery of the tornaviaje (the return route), in 1565, made the route of the Manila Galleon, which linked this Philippine port with Acapulco, in Mexico.
This was the case of the 130-ton galleon San Agustín, manned with 83 men, and commanded by Portuguese Captain Sebastián Rodríguez Cermeño. The ship sailed on July 5, 1595 from the port of Manila, charged with two missions. One was to transport goods from the Orient, such as Chinese porcelain, wax or silks, to the port of Acapulco, where they were to be unloaded and carried by land to the port of Veracruz. The other was to inspect the west coast and look for places that offered shelter and safe anchorage on this route.
After sailing for one hundred and twenty days, they sighted land and continued their journey south parallel to the coast, until they reached a large bay that the captain of the San Agustin called Puerto de los Reyes, which is now known as Drake Bay, northeast of present-day San Francisco.
This area was Miwok territory, a people with whom they made contact and exchanged products and goods during the days they were anchored in the bay, until a strong storm carried the ship against the coast, where it ran aground violently until the hull broke. Most of the people on board both crew and passengers were able to save their lives by swimming to shore; however, about 12 people drowned.
The goods and personal belongings scattered in the bay after the shipwreck were a matter of dispute with the Miwok. The survivors decided to build a boat and sail south along the coast. Without water or food, a lucky encounter with a stranded cetacean on a beach allowed them to regain strength and continue their journey.
Finally, on January 17, 1596, they arrived at Chacala, present-day Jalisco, after about 40 days sailing along the coastline on their small boat. It was there that their questioning started and they were made to give testimony to the Spanish authorities, who considered that Sebastián Rodríguez had not fulfilled the missions entrusted to him by Viceroy Luis de Velasco.
Today, archaeological sites in Miwok villages, especially in cemeteries, often contain remnants of objects from this shipwreck, including Chinese porcelain, iron nails and table ceramics from the crew of the San Agustín. Underwater, the remains of this wreck are yet to be located.