Drake in the Wake of Magellan, understanding this maritime painting.

Drake in the Wake of Magellan, a maritime painting explained.

Francis Drake paintings
Drake in the Wake of Magellan.

Drake in the Wake of Magellan, 81 x 50 cm (32″ x 20″), 3375 £., by Gordon Frickers.

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Drake & Magellan Straits

A guide to this painting written by Gordon Frickers © 05 July 2023.


Golden Hind is not an anonymous galleon.

At five o clock in the afternoon of 15 November 1577 Drake’s five little ships made sail and quietly slipped their moorings to leave the safety of the Plymouth Cattewater for Plymouth Sound and the open sea.

Francis Drake’s motto could have been “to boldly go where no (English) man has gone before”. He chose the more modest motto “Sic Parvis Magna”, which translates as: “Great achievements from small beginnings”.

The ‘Race Galleon’ Golden Hind is one of the most famous ships in all English history.

You can visit her superb replica in St Mary Overie’s Dock, London.

These paintings are to inspire and celebrate, draw attention to the beautiful and sturdy Golden Hinde replica and England’s most famous seaman before Nelson, Sir Francis Drake.

The Golden Hinde replica is now in her fiftieth ‘birthday’ year, 2023.

You can visit this ‘time machine’ St Mary Overie’s Dock, London. Golden Hind truly is window into history open and ready for you.

The replica Golden Hinde has also made a circumnavigation, more of that in the hyperlink attached article ‘Drake and Queen Elizabeth the First.’

Drake in the Wake of Magellan, understanding this a maritime painting.

The Golden Hind is one of the most famous ships in all English history.

Francis Drake her captain remains one of the of finest seamen and navigators of all time and an example of a great leader.

The voyage was given out to be a routine cruise to trade in the Mediterranean.

Neither Drake or Queen Elizabeth wanted any commission in writing.

Those five diminutive ships were embarking on what was about to become the longest and the most daring voyage to that date in Human history.

Golden Hind’s voyage was to become three years of high adventure with all the seas of our globe passing beneath her keel and an exceedingly rich treasure taken on board.

The Magellan Straits were sighted on the 20 August 1578, winter in the southern hemisphere.

Drake in the Wake of Magellan this English squadron passed through the Magellan Strait the ships literally sailing in the wake of Magellan.

Fifty eight years earlier Magellan was the European to discover this keyhole and to open this door into a world of new possibilities.

Drake in the Wake of Magellan, understanding this maritime painting.

The following remarks enable a better understanding of the real value of this painting. They explain and guide you through many of the finer points of this painting, profit, enjoy.

Drake in the Wake of Magellan, a water detail, currents, turbulence and ice.

Drake in the Wake of Magellan as a painting is at first impression an appeal to awaken your intuition, your emotions, your imagination and invites your senses to feel, to smell, hear and touch while the minutiae of the supporting details complement the sense movement and of quiet drama.

Drake in the Wake of Magellan has been painted using a variety of techniques including pallet knives for much of the underpainting and the semi abstract parts as well as a variety of sizes and types of brush ranging from number 10 hog’s hair to 000 sable.

This atmosphere of this painting is inspired by my many years of experience at sea, of boat building and of life, by my senses of romance and poetry.

The detailing is valuable having been carefully researched and painted discretely to be subordinate to the overall atmosphere of the scene.

The plentiful miniate of the details are fascinating rather than obsessive.

The location.

The penguins are of a species named in honour of Magellan.

Ships were so rare in the straits during the 16th century that the penguins were curious about rather than afraid of the ships.

Including penguins helps set the location and I’ve been careful to portray the correct species, Spheniscus Magellanicus.

Drake in the Wake of Magellan is set in Magellan Straits during a southern winter at the narrowest most spectacular part of the very hazardous Straits as described by those men who have sailed through the notoriously difficult and dangerous Magellan Strait and reinforced by my reviewing photographs and video of the straits.

“not a quarter of a league wide….” (deposition of Nicolas Jorje written in New Light).

The Sea and currents as painted are a clear warning to a mariner, saying this is a turbulent passage where two oceans contest for dominance, where the rocks and shoals are uncharted with many rocks rising as pinnacles strait up from a sea bed to deep for anchoring.

There are big tides with contesting currents, whirlpools, ice flows and fierce gusts of cold wind including williwaws that drop down the mountain sides like undetectable thunderbolts confusing the sails of hapless sailing ships.

Other winds contest the channel from the numerous creeks, bays, fiords and the from the two great oceans.


Navigating in unknown waters makes the leading four oared longboat essential.

This longboat has the leadsman sounding the depth while another seaman takes notes so shows one of the techniques that made this hazardous navigation possible.

It is very likely the third longboat would be carrying a kedge anchor to be quickly available to assist if by chance or misfortune one of the ships touched bottom or worse, grounded.

The ships sails are slack, ready to be trimmed or let fly depending on where the next breeze or gust comes from.

The ships have anchors catted, ready to let go.

Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 is the first to traverse the 300 miles passage, ocean to ocean.

Drake in 1578 made this passage in 14 days, a record for many decades after.

Golden Hind.

The Pelican was renamed most felicitously off the mouth of the Magellan Straits as the Golden Hind to honour one of the voyage sponsors, Sir Christopher Hatton who has a hind in his family crest.

I have closely based my Golden Hind on the beautiful replica ship Golden Hinde with the owner and staff’s generous cooperation.

Before entering the notorious Magellan Straits the squadron refreshed itself at Port San Julian, a sheltered bay and unlikely by coincidence, the same bay used by Magellan 58 years earlier.

The Englishmen arrived on the 20th of June staying until standing out to sea on the 17th of August.

The objective of the sojourn was to re-victual and restore the ships to pristine condition in anticipation of a very trying voyage and including to change the sails for their best, newest suit.

With unknown dangers before them the seamen had plenty of motivation and took ample time to prepare to the best of their considerable ability.

Thus I have shown the ships freshly painted and with new sails.

Elizabethan’ Rigging and sails.

There was no standardisation among English ships of the 16th century.

Rigging depended on the Capitan and crew’s experiences, ideas and what was known to work.

The rigging shown here is an ancestor of modern Tall ship rigging.

Sails and handling were evolving towards but with a long way to go before achieving the complex, efficient tall ship rigs of today.

Reef lines and foot-ropes which are today considered essential on square rigs were innovations for a distant future.

The courses, that is the main and fore sails were lowered to the deck for handling, just as seamen had been doing since at least as far back as Viking days.

A ‘bonnet’ was fitted to to enable sail reduction, much as was done at sea 500 years earlier and the upper yards had to be narrow enough to be reached from the ‘tops’, that is the platform landlubbers sometimes call a ‘crows nest’.

Many ships of this period sported designs on their sails by way of announcing who they were.

The English often used the cross of Saint George.

I have not shown that cross here because there are written accounts of the Golden Hind being mistaken for a Spanish ship and only hoisting her English flags the moment before she opened her attack.

I hope you will agree, this could not have happened if she’d had a nice jolly Saint George cross on her sails?

Fore and aft sails in the form of staysails and jibs are rare seen on pictures from this period of ocean going ships so they don’t appear in my painting. Where today you see staysails, jibs and genoas, the painting shows Drake’s men relied on a quite large square spritsail.

The spritsail could be pulled inboard over the ship’s ‘beak’ which provided a platform to facilitate safe sail handling.

Safe being a relative term in the 16th century…

Having used a spritsail at sea I can assure you they work better than to the modern eye, they do look.

English ships were by this period distinctive as clearly shown in this painting in that their ‘beaks’ were almost horizontal not steeply canted up.

This made them by comparison wetter to work on while the benefit was a more level working platform.

Drake returned to England with so much invaluable navigational information that Queen Elizabeth I had his log and journals after reading them and interviewing Drake impounded the documents as state secrets.

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