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Hurricanes: Science and Society
1568- Hurricane Leads to British Conflict

Sir John Hawkins was a notable British shipbuilder, naval administrator, commander, navigator, and merchant. As a navigator, he went on three overseas voyages to the Caribbean, based largely on the slave trade. His third voyage in 1568 proved to be quite troublesome. In early September, 1568, as Hawkins was crossing the Gulf of Mexico, his fleet was blown off course by a hurricane. The fleet spotted the port of San Juan de Ulua, near present day Vera Cruz, Mexico, and landed there on September 16, 1568. This was a Spanish-controlled territory, but the lost, British sailors were able to form an initial truce with the Spanish upon their landing. This truce did not last for long, however. A fierce battle ensued that month as the Spanish launched a surprise attack on the English. Many men lost their lives and all but two British ships were sunk. Sir Hawkins commanded one of the surviving ships, Francis Drake the other.

After his experiences with the hurricane and resultant battle with the Spanish, Hawkins went on to greatly strengthen the British Navy. He became chair of the English Naval Board and enacted beneficial financial reforms. He also redesigned the British Galleon, a ship that would help the British defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Fast Facts:

  • After commanding the second of the remaining British ships, Francis Drake was knighted (Sir Francis Drake), and vowed revenge against Spain. Drake sailed to the West Indies several times looking to attack the Spanish. In 1572, he and his men were able to raid 20 tons of gold and silver from the Spanish settlements in Panama. Taking back as much as they could, Drake returned to England very rich and his exploits made him a hero in British legend. Craving more adventure, he set off to circumnavigate the world, another historical achievement.


Emanuel, Kerry A. Divine Wind. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. 262.

“John Hawkins” Wikipedia. 2009. Web.

“Francis Drake.” Wikipedia. 2009. Web.

“Galleon.” Wikipedia. 2009. Web.