Sebastiao Melendez Rodriguez Cermeno, a Portuguese by birth, was a Spanish navigator and explorer. He was appointed by King Philip II to sail along the shores of California, in the years 1595 and 1596, in order to map the western American coastline and define the maritime routes of the Pacific Ocean in the 16th century.
He was born in Sesimbra, Portugal, and little is known of his early life, but he grew up to be a sailor. In 1565, Spanish King Phillip II occupied the Philippine Islands with a view of participating in the profitable trade with China and the Spice Islands. At this time, Cermeno was appointed by King Phillip to sail along the shores of California to map the American west coast line, define the maritime routes of the Pacific Ocean, and to find a safe port where the galleons could take refuge. In the mid 16th century, the Spanish galleons that sailed between Manila and Acapulco carried valuable cargos that attracted foreign privateers and pirates. It was also a difficult trip for the ships and crews who needed a place to refit and restock prior to continuing on to Acapulco.
Cermeno left Manila on the galleon San Agustin on July 5, 1595, and first sighted land somewhere between Cape St. George and Cape Mendocino, California on November 4th. He then sailed down the coast looking, without success, for a port that he dared enter. A few days later, he rounded a prominent point of land and anchored in Drakes Bay on November 6th. The crew was greeted by Native Americans in a manner similar to that of Sir Francis Drake 16 years before. In late November, the San Agustin was at anchor when a large storm blew in. Heavy swells caused the ship to drag anchor and the ship sank. Several of the crew were drowned but about 80 men made it to shore. Ceremeno claimed the land, which is now known as Point Reyes, for Spain. Ceremeno and his surviving men salvaged a small launch from the wreckage of the galleon and on December 8th sailed south. They arrived at Puerta de Chacala, Mexico on January 17, 1596.
Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, June 2018.