John DeBry


From the early sixteenth to middle eighteenth centuries, the Flota System was Spain’s lifeline to the riches of the Americas. Two fleets traveled more or less annually between Spain and the Americas; the squadron of Tierra Firme from Spain to South America, and the Flota de Nueva España toward Veracruz, Mexico. On the return voyage, the two fleets would often sail together for added safety and protection. The return voyage was more dangerous. The galleons were fully loaded with precious cargoes of gold, silver, jewelry, tobacco, spices, indigo, cochineal, leather, and other New World products. The crews were tired and often plagued by health problems brought on by tropical diseases, malnutrition, and deplorable hygienic conditions on board. These conditions made the ships even more vulnerable to attacks by pirates, but the greatest danger came from an uncontrollable element: the weather. The general weather and ocean conditions were more favorable during the summer months. The waters of the Atlantic Ocean were calmer, and the prevailing winds gentler. However, the very warm waters of the south Atlantic contributed to unstable weather, as well as rapid development of unpredictable violent and devastating tropical storms called hurricanes.