When English sailors first began to feel the lure of the far horizon there were two enterprises that attracted them with peculiar power. One was the quest of the northwest passage to the Indies, and one was the trade of the Spanish Main. The former was to attract English explorers for three centuries and was to immortalize some of the most notable names in the annals of British seamanship. The latter had all the fascination of adventure, conflict, and unguessable turns of chance. Between them, they were the school of Elizabethan seamen. In the polar seas, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, Englishmen learned the lessons that were to stand them in good stead in 1588 and were ultimately to make them the first among sea-faring peoples. So that, roughly speaking, the reign of Elizabeth marks the beginning of England's sea-power; and if we open at random the pages of "Hakluyt's Voyages" we may obtain a glimpse into the training school.
On the eighth of June, 1576, Martin Frobisher left Deptford with two small barks (25 and 20 tons), the Gabriel and the Michael, and a pinnace of 10 tons, to seek in the northwest a nearer passage to Cathay than by the Cape of Good Hope or the Straits of Magellan. On the 11th of July "he had sight of a high and ragged land " – probably Greenland – "but durst not approach the same by reason of the great store of ice that lay along the coast and the great mists that troubled them not a little." Not far from here he lost the pinnace and was deserted by the Michael, but "notwithstanding these discomforts the worthy captain, although his mast was sprung and his topmast blown overboard with extreme foul weather, continued his course towards the northwest, knowing that the sea at length must needs have an ending." So he passed on and did at length sight two great forelands, with a great open passage between them, which he entered, and sailed above fifty leagues, believing that he had Asia on his right hand and America on his left...