The National Park Service approved designating Drakes Bay north of San Francisco as a historic landmark based on the recommendation of a panel of scientists and archaeologists who concluded it was the likely site of the notorious admiral's 1579 landfall, the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa reported (

"It is a significant step, It is the final step," said John Dell'Osso, chief of interpretation and resource education at Point Reyes National Seashore, where Drakes Bay is located.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar still must sign off on the designation.

Historians have spent decades debating the location of the site where Drake sought refuge and claimed for Queen Elizabeth I as "Nova Albion." Based on maps and journals describing the topography and encounters with Native Americans, some have said it was on the Oregon coast or even as far north as Canada, while others have pointed to another bay slightly north of the spot under consideration.

Among the evidence the Park Service panel considered was the research of San Francisco maritime archaeologist Ed Von der Porten, who traced back to Drake some shards of porcelain discovered at Point Reyes National Seashore.

"They are looking to see if there are any flaws," Von der Porten told the Press Democrat.

Under the national historic landmark status being sought, Drakes Bay also would be commemorated as the site of the earliest known shipwreck on the West Coast—the 1595 sinking of the San Agustin, a Spanish Manila galleon. The remains have never been found but are believed to lie in the area.

While the government may be persuaded that Drake landed at the bay that now bears his name, the debate among scholars will not be settled so easily. Brian Kelleher, author of the 1997 book "Drake's Bay," said he still is convinced that Drake visited Bodega Bay, about 40 miles north of the proposed landmark.