The mists of time have obscured some of the facts and, for some two hundred and fifty years or more, there were doubts in the western world as to whether Juan de Fuca ever actually existed. Although nothing is known about his early life it’s now generally accepted that Juan de Fuca was Ioánnis Fokás, born in Valeriano, Kefalonia in 1536 to Tzakob, son of Emmanuel Fokás.
The Fokás family tree stretches back to Constantinople, from where Emmanuel and his brother, Andronikos, fled after its fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
reached the Peloponnese; Andronikos settled there whereas Emmanuel
moved to Kefalonia in 1470, settling in Valeriano.
During this period Spain and Italy enjoyed good trading arrangements and it was common for young men from Kefalonia to find employment in one of the merchant navies, as Ioannis Fokás did aged around 19. It’s likely that he adapted his name to make it more easily acceptable to his new employers and colleagues. His skills as a mariner were brought to the attention of Philip II, King of Spain, who appointed him Pilot of the Spanish navy in the West Indies and Fokás spent some thirty years sailing between there and China.
At the command of the Viceroy of New Spain (i.e. Mexico), Fokás undertook two exploratory voyages to find the fabled Northwest Passage, known as the Strait of Anian, a sea route allegedly connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The first attempt, in 1592, faired badly as the troops on board the three ships mutinied against their captain. The second attempt faired much better and Fokás returned to Mexico with tales of discovering an island populated by savages but rich in treasure (now known as Vancouver Island, off the west coast ofCanada). Feted as a hero by the Viceroy he received none of the promised rewards and instead was advised to claim his reward from the King of Spain.
At the Spanish court Fokás was again feted as a hero but, again, received no reward for his discovery. After forty years of high office in the Spanish navy, Fokás, disillusioned with Spain, retired to his native village of Valeriano where he passed away in 1602.
strait, as described by Fokás, was re-discovered in 1787 by an
Englishman, Captain Charles William Barkley, who named it the Strait of
Juan de Fuca in honour of Fokás.
There has long been controversy regarding Fokás. Captain Cook denied the existence of the strait and, until 1860, some denied that Fokás had existed. It seems there is no mention of Juan de Fuca / Ioannis Fokás in the Spanish archives of that period and no record of such expeditions.
1859 an American researcher, Alexander S Taylor confirmed, with
evidence gathered by the American Consul to the Ionian Islands, that
Ioannis Fokás existed and was well remembered on Kefalonia.
A tectonic plate lying under the coastline explored by Fokás is named the Juan de Fuca Plate and there's an electoral district, nature trail, music festival, etc, all named Juan de Fuca in honour of Ioánnis Fokás.
Oh, and those cigars.