Thursday, September 25, 2008

Who the heck is Juan De Fuca?

Call me geographically illiterate, but I first heard of the Straits of Juan De Fuca (photographed above) from my cousin Doug of Bainbridge Island [where “Juan De Fuca” or at least the straits bearing his name are, no doubt, household knowledge.] We had a little time to kill while taking my sister Annie to the airport [after traveling with her for three lovely weeks in Alaska] and so Doug stopped at Delta, the boat building company where he works, to show us around. Delta doesn’t build just any ordinary boat; they specialize in high-end luxury yachts, finely engineered, beautifully designed, and tastefully appointed playthings of the ultra-rich. We got a glimpse of Delta’s latest project, a gorgeous 158’ yacht that took three years to build. That week Doug was going to deliver it to the new owners in international waters [apparently, for tax purposes] beyond the Straits of Juan De Fuca. Okay, I think silently to myself: “Who the heck is Juan De Fuca?”

Dave found the answer in the Rough Guide to the Pacific Northwest. Apparently, Juan was really Apostolos Valenane, a Greek huckster who posed as an exiled Spanish sea captain under the assumed the name of Juan De Fuca. In Venice around 1590, Apostolos was boasting that he had sailed from the Pacific to the Arctic Ocean. Needless to say, his bold claim to have found the Northwest Passage created quite a stir and many explorers set out to follow his route. Just the other morning, while sipping coffee overlooking the strait between Washington State and Vancouver Canada that still bears his assumed name today, and I saw a huge grey whale spouting and diving on its southern migration to warmer waters. I wonder where that whale will spend the winter…

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