MY WIFE, NANCIE, AND I visited Santo Domingo and found that Drake was far from forgotten. In fact, the guide who drove us about the city hated him. “His men assaulted nuns,” Juan Felipe said. “He cut our bishop’s right hand off. He slung his own hammock right in the cathedral. I will show you the marks where he drove his hammock hooks.”
Juan Felipe never could find the marks of those hooks. But in other ways Santo Domingo suffered. Drake sent messages to the governor, hiding in the country, demanding ransom for the city. When the governor procrastinated, Drake ordered his men to begin putting the torch to houses.
He collected a ransom worth only about $16,500, some eighty cannons, and such booty as his men could find. But in holding Spain’s Caribbean capital for a month, Drake had delivered a stinging insult to Philip.
Nine days later Drake’s fleet stood off Cartagena, near where he had brazenly stolen an anchored ship between forays in Panama. This time at Cartagena he repeated his Santo Domingo tactic: an amphibious assault where the defenders least expected it.
I passed a pleasant afternoon in the town of Boca Chica, beside the entrance to Cartagena’s bay. As I sat in the shade at a charming café, eating a large fried flying fish with yams and salad, small two-masted sailing vessels, schooner rigged, glided slowly past on the water. Drake would have been familiar with them; he’d pressed many such into his service round these waters.
When he attacked Cartagena, however, Drake overestimated the wealth of the city; he collected a modest ransom of 110,000 ducats—about $73,000. But when he departed, his ships were loaded with 60 more captured cannons, many of which would be turned against the Spanish Armada.
SAILING NORTHWARD along Florida, he set fire to the town of St. Augustine, and seized 14 more cannons. He continued up the coast to visit the 103 English colonists planted only ten months before in a new land named Virginia, honoring their Virgin Queen, Elizabeth. They dwelt on an island they called Roanoac, off what is now North Carolina. Drake offered them a ship filled with a month’s rations, but the vessel foundered in a storm and the colonists returned with him to England. Two years later another colony occupied Roanoke Island, only to vanish mysteriously; not until 1607 did the English establish a permanent settlement in North America.
King Philip, meanwhile, had determined to invade England. His shipyards resounded to the rasp of sawyers’ blades and the thump of caulking hammers—especially in the Bay of Cadiz, on Spain’s southwestern coast.