Aboard Cabrillo’s Galleon

Written by Christine Echeverria Bender
Review by Diane Scott Lewis

Tasked by Spain to explore in the Pacific and locate the mythical seven cities of gold, as well as a route to China, conquistador Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sails his fleet from Mexico (New Spain) to California in the 16th century. A young priest accompanies the expedition, a man Cabrillo has once had whipped, and Cabrillo questions the man’s motives. The galleons sail up the savage coast, trading with the local natives, the Spanish always leery of attack. Cabrillo is magnanimous with the natives, as well as his own men, as they name the myriad islands and bays they discover. A dangerous storm threatens the fleet, and Cabrillo fears they must turn back as winter approaches.

Experiencing exotic customs, flora, and fauna, from San Diego (which Cabrillo had named San Miguel) to the modern-day Russian River above San Francisco (a large bay that eluded them), Cabrillo ventured where no European had gone before.

Overly descriptive writing, and time spent on repetitive events – trading with friendly natives – slow the story’s pace. The omniscient viewpoint keeps the characters at a distance, especially the young priest. The tension is light, the inhabitants usually accommodating, except for the final skirmish that determines Cabrillo’s fate. Bender sailed aboard a ship similar to Cabrillo’s to better experience the voyage, and her research feels authentic; the maps included are invaluable. More travelogue than novel, this will please readers interested in Cabrillo, geography, and the early exploration of California.