How the Strait of Juan de Fuca got its name

3584000To understand this, you should know something about the Greeks. The most recent immigrant in my haphazard family tree to arrive in America was my grandfather, Anthony John Pappadikis, age sixteen, sailing from Greece to the city of New York and right past Elias Island and straight through immigration and into the waiting arms of his sponsor and uncle, a successful New York fur dealer.  But many years later he would mesmerize his grandchildren with tales of how he managed to stow away on the ship bound for America, and for three days had only a little bread and goat cheese he’d brought along to eat until he was discovered and taken to the captain. Of course the captain, discovering immediately he was a clever boy and could read and write a little English, hired him on the spot as some sort of liaison between the various Greek and Italian passengers bound for America, and of course, he became a hero to everyone and took his meals with the captain. My grandfather loved children and through the telling of stories he had their rapt attention. There are many stories about him, but now on to another Greek, Apostolos Valerianus, also known as Juan de Fuca.

In 1596 in Venice, Apostolos, then 61 years old, told Michael Lok, a British merchant-diplomat and promoter of exploration, that four years before he had discovered the Strait of Anian, a mythical passage connecting the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans. Apostolos said he’d sailed on Spanish ships for 40 years and they called him Juan de Fuca, as his Greek name was too hard for them to pronounce. The viceroy of Mexico had assigned him, pilot, when three small vessels were sent north to seek the passage through the wild continent, but the crew had mutinied and the expedition was forced to turn back. A new, smaller expedition was launched with Juan de Fuca in charge. The expedition sailed north through stormy seas and fog until they came to a broad inlet; de Fuca sailed up this channel for 20 days, he told Lok, until they entered a broad sea. Along the way, he passed numerous islands and saw people clad in animal skins. This country was rich in gold, silver and pearls, he said. Not being well armed, de Fuca decided to retreat and made haste back to Mexico, where he expected to be rewarded. His efforts were praised by the viceroy but bereft of extra compensation, so he quit the Spanish and returned home to be with his family. He told Lok he would like to lead an exploration to the great channel if the Queen of England would finance such an adventure and give him his due reward. Lok tried to arrange this, but all his efforts to do so failed.

Though there has always been some doubt whether the displaced Greek, Juan de Fuca, ever actually sailed into the strait named for him, the story of his voyage remains in the minds of mariners past and present. And striking Fuca Pillar still stands like a monument on the south flank of Cape Flattery, a rock column pointing at the sky. Some of us look up and see the top of Fuca Pillar and the two Makah boys from legend, who’s ghosts still fly around the rock pinnacle. But that is another story . . .

Posted in Pacific NW Notes

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