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For almost 175 years following Vizca&icaute;ino's voyage, the officials of New Spain were too preoccupied elsewhere to push the exploration of the Humboldt Coast. During the years immediately preceding the American Revolution, the activities of the Russians to the far north, along with the push of the Hudson's Bay Company to the northeast compelled the Spanish to take countermeasures. Monterey and San Francisco Bay were occupied. Expeditions were organized and dispatched up the coast to determine if the rumors of Russian and British encroachments were true, and to cement the claims of Spain to that region.

Bruno de Heceta in the summer of 1775 beat his way up the coast of Alta California with two vessels—his flagship, Santiago, and a schooner, Sonora, with "a keel of eighteen cubits and breadth of beam of six." The latter vessel was commanded by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Cuadra. The expedition had sailed from San Blas on March 16, the schooner being towed by the ship. By May 21 the vessels were in the latitude of Monterey, but it was determined not to enter that port, as the principal goal of the expedition was exploration, and it was hoped to secure water at a river presumed to have been discovered by Aguilar in latitude 42° or 43°.

Adverse winds compelled the pilot, Francisco Mourelle, to hold a course well to the seaward. As the ships approached the latitude of Cape Mendocino, the color of the water told the pilot and crews that they were approaching shore. Bodega ordered Mourelle to steer a course toward land. Mourelle reported:

On the ninth [of June] . . . we saw, with greatest clearness, the plains, rocks, bays, headlands, breakers and trees. At the same time we sailed along the coast, and endeavored to find out a port, being at the distance only of a mile, and approaching to a high cape, which seemed to promise shelter, though we were obliged to proceed cautiously, as many small islands concealed from us some rocks, which scarcely appeared above the surface of the sea.

As we now perceived a land-locked harbor to the SW., we determined to enter it. The schooner cast anchor opposite a little village, which was situated at the bottom of a mountain.

As soon as we had anchored, some Indians in canoes came on board, who, without the least shyness, traded some skins for bugles.

On the 11th we had fixed everything with regard to our anchorage, and we determined to take possession of the country, upon the top of a high mountain, which lies at the entrance of the port. The crew marched in two bodies, who adored the holy cross upon disembarking, and when at the top of the mountain formed a square, the center of which became a chapel. Here the holy cross was again raised, the mass celebrated, with a sermon, and possession taken. We also fired both our musquetry and cannon which naturally made the Indians suppose we were irresistible. As we took thus possession on the day when [the] holy mother church celebrates the most holy Trinity, we named the port accordingly. [12]

What they saw of the country, satisfied the Spaniards of its fertility, and its capability of growing all the plants raised in Europe. They found strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, onions, and potatoes. The hillsides were "covered with very large, high, and straight pines, amongst which . . . [were] observed some of 120 feet high, and 4 feet in diameter towards the bottom." These trees, it was observed, would be excellent, for masts and shipbuilding. [13] These trees were Redwoods.

Sonora remained anchored in Puerto de la Trinidad for nine days, during which the ship was careened, a new mast, sails and yards positioned, the harbor charted, the customs of the Indians observed, and a fresh supply of water taken aboard. A day was spent in reconnoitering either the Little or Mad rivers, to a distance of a league. On this river, the sailors saw "larger timber trees than we had before seen." Sighting a large flock of wild pigeons, the Spaniards named the river, Rio de los Tortolos. [14]

One sailor was lost by desertion, and on June 19 the sailors re-embarked and left the port of Trinidad. The ships beat a course to the northward. Heceta in Santiago kept on to latitude 49° where on August 11 he resolved to return to his base, as many of his crew had been felled with scurvy. He held a course offshore and made observations down to 42° 30', but then the weather changed and the coast was fogbound. Cape Mendocino was passed on the night of the 25th, and four days later Santiago dropped anchor in Monterey Bay.

The schooner Sonora, after parting from Santiago, continued up the coast to about 58°, before she turned back. On October 7 she rendezvoused with Santiago. The return voyage from Monterey to San Blas took 20 days, from November 1 to 20, 1775. [15]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004