The end of Native American domination began in 1542 when Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed north toward the future Del Norte shoreline. Leaving from the port of Navidad in June 1542, Cabrillo’s two ships, the San Salvador and Victoria, reached Point Reyes by year’s end.
With the winter waters turning rough, Cabrillo ordered his ships to turn around. However Cabrillo died in January 1543 on the Channel Islands.
His chief pilot, Bartolomé Ferrelo, took command and turned the ships back north up the coast of what was then called “Alta California.” In February a storm struck and threatened to sink the two ships however the sailors sighted Cape Pinos.
Then a couple of days later when the winds had died, the navigator determined they were at 43° north latitude. But due to several days of storm, in which gale-force winds swept sea water onto their decks, threatening to sink them and eventually separating the two ships, they were forced to turn south.
The two vessels finally met up at Cedros Island on March 26.
Originally, historian’s believed the Cabrillo expedition never sailed farther north than Cape Mendocino, which is more than 150 miles south of Del Norte County. But a re-examination of the ships’ logs said the ships probably got as far north as the mouth of the Rogue River in southern Oregon.
If so, those sailors saw the Del Norte County shoreline in late February and early March 1543. However it is unlikely they ever made landfall.