Islands and History

Farallon Light

When all was ready and the land duly claimed in the name of Queen Elizabeth I, Drake set sail on July 23. The next day he hove off to the southern Farallones, which he named, for reasons that are not documented, the Islands of Saint James. While Drake gives July 24, 1579, as the day spent at the Farallones, according to our present-day Gregorian calendar, the date is August 3.

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When Drake or one of his crew stepped ashore onto the islands, a full 41 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, he became the first European to set foot in what is now the city of San Francisco (the islands are within the city’s limits).
~Peter White, The Farallon Islands: Sentinels of the Golden Gate

The Farallones captured my attention years ago, when I still lived in California, and saw an ad for a day-trip to go take pictures of white sharks, or even cage dive near the islands (with a hookah – not with scuba gear).

Their hold on me grew several years ago, when I read Susan Casey’s book about them: The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks. In it, she mentioned a much more scientific book, the one quoted above, which is really a comprehensive history of the islands.

It only made me more intrigued. In my mind’s ear I hear the roaring waves, and the cries of birds, and in the dimmest corner of my imagination, a ghost story about the little girl who used to live on the island starts to form, because anyone will tell you that if there’s anyplace on earth spookier than these islands and the water that surrounds them, it would be difficult to name them.