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San Francisco - City of Gold

California Clipper 500 300x187  The first thing the Americans changed was the name of the village on the peninsula’s inner cove. Yerba Buena acquired the more dignified title of the bay around it – San Francisco.

More shops began to anchor there, and the population grew steadily for a couple of years until it reached about eight hundred. Then, with scarcely any warning, the newly named town exploded into a fury of activity unparalleled before or since.

350px Gold rush poster  James Marshall had sighted the fateful gleam in the tailrace at Sutter’s mill in the Sierra foothills. Sam Brannan, after shrewdly stocking his store near Sacramento which mining supplies, strode through the streets of San Francisco waving a bottle of gold dust and booming: “Gold” Gold from the American River!” It was the voice heard around the world.

On February 29, 1849, a pennant-bedecked, thousand-ton paddle-wheel steamer, the California jammed to the rails, scrambled with each other and with members of the crew to be the first to get ashore.

In the month to come the California was followed by more ships, first by the dozen, then by the hundred, each loaded to the danger point – and often beyond it – with excited gold seekers. They had sung, as they came:

I soon shall be in San Francisco
And then I’ll look all ‘round
And when I see the gold lumps there
I’ll pick them off the ground.
I’ll scrape the mountains clean, my boys,
I’ll drain the rivers dry,
A pocket full of rocks bring home,
So brothers, don’t you cry.

Circus San Francisco 1849 300x199  Attribute it to greet or avarice, to love of adventure or simply the urge to do better, the fact remains that the Gold Rush was the symbol of the American dream of opportunity.

All bets were off; restraints and social distinctions were swept away. All men, in that first rush to the Mother Lode, were equal; there were equally privileged to use their muscle and ingenuity and enterprise in looking for the best claims, in panning the post gold from the Sierra creeks.

46e0a0be55789f805251df4fbca30ff6 300x242  They swarmed ashore in San Francisco, looked for a temporary room or a camp side, slogged along the muddy streets, and inquired about equipment and the way to the “mines.” Some got pack mules for the overland trek to the foothills; other bought passage on the river boats to Sacramento.

As ship crews deserted their vessels and headed for the mountains, Yerba Buena Cove became a forest of masts. Hundreds of hulks lay abandoned. Some of them were used as warehouses, offices, or public buildings. One became the city jail. Around others the land was filled in, and they became a permanent part of the city.

SanFranciscoharbor1851c sharp 300x201  San Francisco 1851

As waterfront lots became increasingly valuable, energetic promoters bought beachside piece of the bay, dumped dirt into them, reared buildings, and left the former waterfront owners high and dry. Eventually the cove was completely filled in.

The city itself was spreading not only into the bay but in every direction, across the hills and sand dunes. San Francisco was the capital of all this Western land, terminus of the sea lanes bringing the Argonauts and the food and equipment to supply them. Bayard Taylor wrote for the New York Tribune:

Of all the marvelous phases of the history of the Present, the growth of San Francisco is the one which will most tax the belief of the Future. Its parallel was never known, and shall never beheld again. I speak only of what I saw with my own eyes … Like the magic seed of the Indian juggler, which grew, blossomed and bore fruit before the eyes of the spectators, San Francisco seemed to have accomplished in a day the growth of half a century.

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The Conquest of the Golden Gate

Election poster for John C. Fremont 1856 300x237  Onto that stage, with a bow toward the footlights, strode a flamboyant young man fully conscious of his role as an empire builder and paying the part with zest.

His name was John Charles Fremont, and he entered the California scene with a flourish which was characteristically dramatic but never less superbly appropriate.

fremont 1848 detail 300x297  Fremont’s Map of California from 1848

Like many others coming to this place Fremont was gripped by a vision of the future. He saw the establishment of towering cities on this wild shore. He envisioned processions of ships coming and going on long trade routes to Asia. Like the ancient harbor of Byzantium at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, this too would surely become a center of world commerce. For the mighty portals giving entrance to this harbor Fremont conceived an inspired name: Golden Gate.

“I gave [it] the name Chrysopylae, or Golden Gate, for the same reason that the harbor of Byzantium was called Chrysoceras or Golden Horn,” he later wrote.

Never was a name bestowed more prophetically. Even Fremont could not know that within a few years hundreds of ships would pour through this Gate in history’s greatest gold rush.

But he did know that this land was rich, that this bay was its natural capital, and that its Mexican warders were amiable but impotent. The bay and its magnificent hinterland were clearly destined to be the western bulwark of the United States of America. With somewhat more finesse than that customarily shown by conquerors Fremont reached out to pick the golden plum.

John C. Frémont 1856 217x300  As a United States Army officer in command of a detachment of Americans ostensibly making a topographical survey, he could not take direct action on his own initiative. Early in 1846, however, he surreptitiously organized a revolt of a group of Americans at Sonoma, near the bay’s north shore. Carefully avoiding direct contact with Fremont, they tore down the Mexican flag, ran up a banner of their own with a grizzly bear as its symbol, and proclaimed the Bear Flag Republic.

Fremont was soon able to intervene openly under the pretense of “protecting” the revolutionists. After a brief and easily victorious skirmish at San Rafael against a handful of Mexican troops he rode south to Sausalito and there borrowed a boat from the captain of an American ship. In the gray light before dawn Fremont and twelve of his men rowed across the Golden Gate toward El Castillo de San Joaquin. As they approached the shore, the captain thought he heard the sound of horses galloping at full speed toward Yerba Buena.

The Americans jumped ashore, climbed the bluff to the old fort, and proceeded to spike El Castillo’s rusty cannons. The ghostly horsemen did not reappear. The place was deserted. The conquest completed, Fremont returned to Sonoma and proclaimed the independence of California.

A few days later in Yerba Buena Cove, a company of sailors and marines under the command of Captain John B. Montgomery marched ashore from the United States sloop of war Portsmouth to the sound of a fife and drum and ran up the Stars and Stripes over the town square, now Portsmouth Plaza.

It was July 8, 1846. The United States and Mexico had gone to war below the Rio Grande, and Montgomery’s orders came from Washington via Commodore John Drake Sloat, who had occupied California’s capital at Monterrey.

The Mexicans were amazed at the dynamic energy of the conquering Americans. General Jose Castro told his countrymen:

These Americans are so contriving that some day they will bid ladders to touch the sky, and once in the heavens they will change the whole dace of the universe and even the color of the stars.

The great prize had been taken by men who were riding with destiny.

San Francisco Bay: Prize of the Empire

San Francisco Bay: Prize of the Empire

H10216_afc2043b9bac3c3890ac43bc6b9aef7aAlthough Rezanov died before he could present his proposal in person to the Czar, it was perhaps in response to his enthusiastic report on this region that the Russians six years later established Fort Ross as a trapping and trading port near the mouth of what came to be called the Russian River, sixty miles north of the Golden Gate. Subsequently they set up a colony at Bodega Bay and even…

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San Francisco Bay: Prize of the Empire

H10216 afc2043b9bac3c3890ac43bc6b9aef7a 215x300  Although Rezanov died before he could present his proposal in person to the Czar, it was perhaps in response to his enthusiastic report on this region that the Russians six years later established Fort Ross as a trapping and trading port near the mouth of what came to be called the Russian River, sixty miles north of the Golden Gate. Subsequently they set up a colony at Bodega Bay and even established an outpost on the Farallones, twenty seven miles off Point Bonita.

If Rezanov would have lived to return to San Francisco – or if Russia had possessed more men of his caliber and ambition to follow up on his bold dreams – the Czar might have sized the great prize of the Pacific coast and planted his own empire on the shores of this bay. Doubtless the history of California would have taken some interesting turns.

But another destiny was waiting instead. The Russian Empire, like that of Spain, was spread too thin and lacked the vitality to grasp its opportunities. A younger, more vigorous people was moving in this direction.

dana jr 245x300  One of the first of this breed to sail into the harbor was Richard Henry Dana in 1835. In Two years before the Mast the Yankee noted, that a Russian brig from Sitka was the only other vessel in the bay. He gathered wood for his ship from the forests on Angel Island and watched the “hundreds and hundreds of red deer … great numbers of which overrun the islands and hills of San Francisco Bay.”

Two days after Christmas, Dana’s Pilgrim hoisted anchor and headed for home:

We sailed down this magnificent bay with a light wind, the tide, which was running out, carrying us at the rate of four or five knots. It was a fine day … We passed directly under the high cliff on which the presidio is built, and stood into the middle of the bay, from whence we could see small bays making up into the interior, large and beautifully wooded islands, and the mouths of several small rivers.

With Yankee foresight Dana added:

If California ever becomes a prosperous country, this bay will be the center of its prosperity. The abundance of wood and water; the extreme fertility of its shores; the excellence of its climate, which is as near to being perfect as any in the world; and its facilities for navigation, affording the best anchoring-grounds in the whole western coast of America – all fit it for a place of great importance.

Dana noted how little the Spaniards and Mexicans had accomplished. More than half a century after their first settlement he could see only their scattered adobe structures at the Presidio and the Mission. Significantly, the only other building visible on the bay’s shore was a “shanty of rough boards put up by a man named Richardson, who was doing a little trading between the vessels and the Indians.”

Birth1richardson portrait 249x300  William A. Richardson had left a British ship and become a citizen of California. After Dana’s visit he expanded his small trade into a prosperous commercial operation, running a trans-bay ferry, raising cattle, and trading with the Yankee ships which increasingly began to call at the port. Richardson’s shanty was not at the Presidio but around the corner on the east side of the peninsula in Yerba Buena Cove and thus the first building of what was to become the village of Yerba Buena.

It was increasingly evident by this time that the Mexicans, who had achieved their independence from Spain in 1821, held only a faltering grip on this bay. They took no further steps to colonize, and their only fortification was the crumbling Castillo de San Joaquin on Fort Point, so feeble that a discharge of its cannons would shake it to its base and crack its walls.

The Hudson’s Bay Company, advance guard of the British Empire, established a branch at Yerba Buena. Even the Russians at Fort Ross flouted Mexican authority by ignoring orders to leave California and defiantly pursued seals and sea otters into the bay itself.

The young giant of a nation on the east coast of this continent was stretching its libs in answer to the call of Manifest Destiny. Yankee whalers began to drop anchor for wood and water in the bay off Sausalito, avoiding the display of their colors in order not to offend the Mexican comandante at the Presidio, who had his orders to keep all foreign vessels out.

Andrew Jackson, symbol of the West, was in the White House, and demonstrated his awareness of the ripe prize on the Pacific coast by offering to buy this bay and its hinterland from the Mexicans for $3,500,000. His negotiations fell through, but the overture had been placed and the sage was set for the main drama.

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A Mexican-Russain Love Story

8ba3e4817b82e6bb6fe26c8f4e9ef7b0 300x171  Ship of Rezanov Count Nikolai Petrovich

An even more avid interest in the bay was shown by representatives of another empire, considerably closer than the British.

 

The Russian Bear was spread halfway around the world from Europe till Alaska, and the Czar’s fur trappers were reaping a rich harvest in pelts along the northwest coast of the American continent. In 1806 a shrewd emissary of the Czar sailed south from the Russian outpost at Sitka, entered the Golden Gate, and played the leading role in a poignant idyll resembling the plot of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

images  Count Nikolai Petrovich

Nicolai Petrovich Rezanov was an ambitious young diplomat who came to the California settlement with a double objective – to secure an emergency food supply for the hungry Russian colonists at Sitka and to arrange for regular trade between California and Alaska. But he faced formidable obstacles. The Spanish crown, wary of Russian imperialism, had ordered that all non-Spanish ships be barred from California ports.

Rezanov’s continental charm, however, won not only the esteem of Jose Argüello, the Presidio comandante, but the affection of his sixteen year old daughter, Concepcion. Historians have ling debated whether Rezanov was actually in love with the dark eyed beauty or was hardheartedly using her to achieve his diplomatic end.

In any event, despite the difference in religion, the family finally agreed to a tentative betrothal pending approval by the pope. Rezanov was to return to Sitka with a shipload of food for the settlers there, proceed across Siberia to St. Petersburg to place before the Czar a proposal for Russian-Spanish trade on the Pacific coast, then go to Rome and ask the Pope for approval of the marriage – a plan which would require two years.

images 1  María Concepción Argüello

Rezanov never returned to San Francisco. Concepcion waited year after year, turning down all suitors, devoting herself to ministering to the poor and sick. Many years after Rezanov’s ship had disappeared beyond the horizon she learned the truth: Her lover had died on the three-thousand-mile treck across the wilds of Siberia. She took the veil, became Sister Maria Domenica, and died in the Dominican Convent at Benicia in 1857.

In a report written before his death, Rezanov revealed that the senorita was not the only feature of California that excited his admiration. While wooing the maiden he was also looking over her shoulder at the great bay itself.

USA Benicia Saint Dominics Cemetery Grave of María Concepción Argüello 1 199x300  Grave of Concepción Argüello

Rezanov may or may not have envisioned, as some historians have suggested, the spires and domes of a Russian city on this bay; but it is clear that the did contemplate the extension of the Russian domain south toward this bay from its colonies in Alaska, He wrote to his superior in St. Petersburg:

Your Excellency perhaps will laugh at my far-reaching plans, but I am certain that they will prove exceedingly profitable ventures, and if we had men and means, even without any great sacrifice on the part of the treasury, all this country [north of the Golden Gate] could be made a corporeal part of the Russian Empire …

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Idyll on the San Francisco Bay

8ba3e4817b82e6bb6fe26c8f4e9ef7b0 300x171  Ship of Rezanov Count Nikolai Petrovich

The seeds were a long time sprouting. Anza’s colonists, lacking their leader’s vision of cities on the bay, subsequently left the windy sand hills of the peninsula and established the village of San Jose forty miles to the south in the fertile Santa Clara Valley.

There, too the second mission was built. This left on the peninsula only Mission Dolores tended by the padres and their Indian converts, and a small military garrison at the Presidio.

The age of Spanish supremacy in the New World was on the wane, and if the complacent proconsuls of Madrid were unable to think and act in terms of tis bay’s destiny, there were others who could. As the existence of this great body of water and potential base of empire became known in the other capitals of Europe, covetous eyes began to look in this direction.

Probably George Vancouver from NPG 232x300  George Vancouver

The first non-Spanish navigator to enter the bay after Ayala was an energetic young spiritual heir of Drake, Captain George Vancouver, who sailed his British sloop of war, H.M.S. Discovery, into the Golden Gate on a windy November night in 1792, failed to sight what he assumed would be the “Spanish town of San Francisco,” and anchored a few miles to the east in a cove named Yerba Buena, for the good herb or wild mint which grew in abundance there.

When later he located the Presidio and the Mission, he was surprised at the lack of a more substantial settlement, and noted significantly in a report to his superiors the decrepitude of the Spanish colony in contrast with the great natural advantages of the bay.

An even more avid interest in the bay was shown by representatives of another empire, considerably closer than the British. The Russian Bear was spread halfway around the world from Europe till Alaska, and the Czar’s fur trappers were reaping a rich harvest in pelts along the northwest coast of the American continent. In 1806 a shrewd emissary of the Czar sailed south from the Russian outpost at Sitka, entered the Golden Gate, and played the leading role in a poignant idyll resembling the plot of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

images  Count Nikolai Petrovich

Nicolai Petrovich Rezanov was an ambitious young diplomat who came to the California settlement with a double objective – to secure an emergency food supply for the hungry Russian colonists at Sitka and to arrange for regular trade between California and Alaska. But he faced formidable obstacles. The Spanish crown, wary of Russian imperialism, had ordered that all non-Spanish ships be barred from California ports.

Rezanov’s continental charm, however, won not only the esteem of Jose Argüello, the Presidio comandante, but the affection of his sixteen year old daughter, Concepcion. Historians have ling debated whether Rezanov was actually in love with the dark eyed beauty or was hardheartedly using her to achieve his diplomatic end.

In any event, despite the difference in religion, the family finally agreed to a tentative betrothal pending approval by the pope. Rezanov was to return to Sitka with a shipload of food for the settlers there, proceed across Siberia to St. Petersburg to place before the Czar a proposal for Russian-Spanish trade on the Pacific coast, then go to Rome and ask the Pope for approval of the marriage – a plan which would require two years.

images 1  María Concepción Argüello

Rezanov never returned to San Francisco. Concepcion waited year after year, turning down all suitors, devoting herself to ministering to the poor and sick. Many years after Rezanov’s ship had disappeared beyond the horizon she learned the truth: Her lover had died on the three-thousand-mile treck across the wilds of Siberia. She took the veil, became Sister Maria Domenica, and died in the Dominican Convent at Benicia in 1857.

In a report written before his death, Rezanov revealed that the senorita was not the only feature of California that excited his admiration. While wooing the maiden he was also looking over her shoulder at the great bay itself.

USA Benicia Saint Dominics Cemetery Grave of María Concepción Argüello 1 199x300  Grave of Concepción Argüello

Rezanov may or may not have envisioned, as some historians have suggested, the spires and domes of a Russian city on this bay; but it is clear that the did contemplate the extension of the Russian domain south toward this bay from its colonies in Alaska, He wrote to his superior in St. Petersburg:

Your Excellency perhaps will laugh at my far-reaching plans, but I am certain that they will prove exceedingly profitable ventures, and if we had men and means, even without any great sacrifice on the part of the treasury, all this country [north of the Golden Gate] could be made a corporeal part of the Russian Empire …

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Anza - The Empire Builder

Anza Statue  At about the same time that a little band of revolutionists on the opposite shore of the continent was planning to proclaim the right of all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, an event of decisive importance took place on San Francisco Bay.

On a clear day in spring seven men mounted a rise near the tip of the peninsula and sighted the inland sea. They stopped there, staring in wonder. Padre Pedro Font wrote in his diary:

“And there we saw a prodigy of nature which it is not easy to describe.”

The leader of the group was the soldier, explorer, colonizer, and first of the West’s empire builders, Juan Bautista de Anza. It was Ann who first saw clearly the possibilities of this bay
as a center of civilization.

juan bautista de anza 248x300  Juan Bautista de Anza

Anza had performed the feat – unequaled in pioneer annals – of leading an expedition of 240 men, women, and children some sixteen hundred miles from Mexico to the Spanish settlement at Monterey. There he left the group to he scouted ahead for the best site to plant a colony on the shores of the Bay of St. Francis.

The point from which Anza and his party first sighted the bay was the high mesa where the Presidio now stands. He named the southern promontory of the strait (now Fort Point) “Punta del Cantil Blanco,” Point of the Steep White Cliff – possibly the same cliff which two hundred years ago had reminded Drake of Dover.

Font wrote with earthy accuracy, “The cliff is very high and perpendicular, so that from it one can fly.” He also observed “the spouting of whales, a shoal of dolphins or tunny fish, sea otter, and sea lions.” There, on the point of the Cantil Blanco, Anza set up a cross overlooking the bay’s entrance.

The excitement of Anza and his men at the possibilities of this place was vividly recorded by the padre:

The port of San Francisco is a marvel of nature, and might well be called the harbor of harbors… This mesa affords a most delightful view, for from it one sees a large part of the port and its islands, as far as the other side, the mouth of the harbor, and of the sea all that the sight can take in as far as beyond the Farallones.

The sense of an awaiting destiny that impresses nearly everyone who beholds the bay for the first time filled Font and Anza with wonder, and they envisioned its great future:

Although in all my travels [wrote the padre] I saw very good sites and beautiful country, I saw none which pleased me as much as this. And I think that if it could be well settled like Europe, there would not be anything more beautiful … for it has all the conveniences desired by land as well as by sea, with that harbor so remarkable and so spacious that in it may be established shipyards, docks and anything that may be wished. This mesa the commander designated as the site for the new settlement and fort which were to be established on this harbor.

IMG 9000 300x200  A short distance down the inner shore of the peninsula, they came upon a “beautiful arroyo which, because it was the Friday of Sorrows [the Friday before Palm Sunday] we called it the Arroyo de los Dolores.” Up the arroyo, or lagoon, the soil seemed good, and Anza decided it was the best place to build one of the two Franciscan missions which Spanish authorities had ordered established on the bay area. Mission Dolores, now restored, still stands on the site Anza designated.

By a twist of fate the actual establishment of both the Presidio and the Mission was left to Anza’s lieutenant Jose Joaquin Moraga, after the commander had returned to Mexico, and it was Moraga who led Anza’s settlers from Monterey to San Francisco. The Presidio was founded on September 17 and Mission Dolores dedicated on October 8. 1776.

Anza and Moraga had planted on the shores of the great bay the seeds of empire.

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A Welcome for the Invaders

Indians at the Misson brk00000869 24a 300x229  Ohlone “neophytes.”

When the sun rose from behind the Berkeley Hills the next morning, Ayala and his men beheld an unforgettable sight. They found themselves in a cove opposite a small grove of willow trees—a sauzalito, from which the town eventually built there took its name.

ohlone 300x216  Ohlone Indian Ceremonial Dance at Mission San Jose – 1806

Behind it the first rays of the sun were striking long-ridged Mount Tamalpais, which rose half a mile into the sky. To the south, across the strait, was the tip of a hilly peninsula where San Francisco would one day stand. And to the east the bay opened into an intriguing unexplored expanse of blue below the bordering mountains.

Canizares and his men rowed to the anchored San Carlos from a beach on the south shore, they told a story of being caught in overpowering currents which had prevented them from returning to the ship the previous day.

Ayala sent Canizares to scout Richardson Bay off Sausalito for a possible anchorage, but after an exploration the mate decided against the site because of its exposure to southeast winds and its soft bottom, in which an anchor could not take hold. Instead the vessel was moved around the tip of Belvedere to the cove at Tiburon.

07. Indians Dancing 300x173  Natives Dancing at Mission Dolores

As it passed Belvedere Point, the ship was hailed by native Americans, they seemed friendly, and the next day Ayala sent a delegation to make cautious contact. Like those who had welcomed Drake, the natives extended the best California hospitality to the Spaniards, ushered them to their village and spread before them a dinner of corn meal, bread, and tamales.

Later Ayala reciprocated by feting the natives on shipboard, where they delighted their hosts by learning a few words of Spanish.

The San Carlos finally found a good prominent anchorage across Raccoon Strait in a cove on an island Ayala named for the Virgin, Isla de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles – later shortened to Angel Island.

Ohlone Indians in a Tule Boat in the SF Bay 1822 Color 300x222  Tule Rafts on San Francisco Bay.

Increasing numbers of curious natives paddled to the cove on rafts and canoes. They stared in wonder when the padre said a thanksgiving Mass on the island and the Spaniards shouted nine times: “Viva el rey!”

Little did the natives realize what history had in store for their bay. Life on its shores was easy. The waters were full of fish for the taking; the fields and hills were abundant with rabbits and other small game. The bay tribes were among the most primitive on the continent. They had developed only the crudest of cultures. They wore little or no clothing and did not even make pottery but relied on tule baskets and lived in shelters made of poles tied together. They had lived in the area probably four thousand years without change.

Yet until the coming of white men they were healthy, strong, and apparently happy; they bore no malice toward the bearded strangers who came to their shores, displaying naive friendliness and good will. They could scarcely anticipate that Ayala and his men were the precursors of an invasion which would mean their near extinction as a race.

The Spaniards went about their work, themselves oblivious to the long-run consequences of their visit. They probed the bay’s various arms, following the windings of its shoreline, and Penetrated through Carquinez in the north and to the edge of the Santa Clara Valley in the south, making soundings, noting beaches and harbors, and preparing a crude chart – the first survey of the bay.

ohlone map scan 264x300  The exploration finally settled one vexing question. This vast landlocked arm of the sea was not connected by water with the harbor under Point Reyes, as had been supposed.

Moreover, it was vastly superior to Cermeno’s Bahia de San Francisco and clearly the great west-coast port the explorers had been hoping to find. From Ayala’s voyage on the name San Francisco was attached to this bay, and the harbor under Point Reyes, which had figured prominently in the earlier explorations, was gradually forgotten; even today – renamed for Drake – it remains isolated and almost uninhabited, bypassed by time.

At the end of a month Ayala’s job was done. He weighed anchor early in the morning and sailed outward on the tide. But again the San Carlos was caught in the swirling currents between the great cliffs, and this time she did not escape so easily. She was driven onto a rock near Point Cavallo on the north shore, and her rudder was damaged. Ayala put her into Horseshoe Bay just inside the point while the damage was repaired.

On September 18, 1775, the unwieldy little San Carlos sailed out the Golden Gate and into history.