The Coveted Pacific Coast

The Nootka Crisis

Britain and Spain on the Brink of War

In Madrid, King Carlos IV also ordered a mobilization of his navy, but to avoid being dragged into a hellish chain of events in spite of himself he informed the European governments that he would not be the first to declare war. In England, on the other hand, the winds of war were blowing! In July Admiral Howe was cruising off the European coast at the head of a powerful Royal Navy squadron consisting of 29 large warships to impress the Spanish with something resembling "gunboat diplomacy." The strategy backfired when the British Cabinet learned, to their great consternation, that an equally powerful Spanish squadron had left Cadiz to sail northward! What would happen when these two powerful fleets met on the high seas? Would they plunge Western Europe into a war over the possession of Nootka, which was located at the far end of the known world?

Fortunately, the two squadrons did not meet, but war, had it been declared, would have involved the navies of three countries. First the British navy, with approximately 400 ships of all sizes, but only partly in condition to do battle immediately. Then the Spanish navy, the third largest in the world after the English and French fleets but formidable chiefly because of its many large vessels - 64 out of 110 ships, including the largest warship in the world, the Santisima Trinidad, with its 130 guns. Lastly, because of the Franco-Spanish alliance, the French navy, with approximately 150 ships, could also have become involved. The Royal Navy was faced with a considerable challenge.