He is best remembered as the Vice-Admiral who commanded the Spanish Mediterranean fleet at the Battle of Cape Passaro against Great Britain on August 11, 1718 off the coast of Sicily. Gaztañeta's fleet was decisively defeated.
His greatest contribution to the Spanish Navy though was in the field of ship building. He was an innovator who based his designs on science. He was at the origin of the revival of the Spanish Navy in the eighteenth century. Some of the elements he introduced were copied by the English and Dutch.
Son of Francisco de Gaztañeta, a Basque sailor to the Americas, he accompanied his father from the age of 12. In 1684, at the age of 28, he had already sailed 11 times to the Americas and back. In that year he joined the Spanish Navy. In 1691 he was posted in Cadiz and was involved in several campaigns of the War of the Grand Alliance against France. He saved a fleet coming back from Naples, cleverly avoiding an ambush by Admiral Tourville near Mahon.
During the War of Spanish Succession (1701–1714), he wasn't involved in warfare, but in ship building. He founded the shipyard of El Astillero. Later he went to the Basque Country and led the construction of many ships in Amorebieta, Pasajes and Orio.
In the following War of the Quadruple Alliance he was appointed head of the fleet which was to sail the Spanish Army under the Marquis of Lede to Sardinia and Sicily. After this was accomplished he positioned his fleet at Cape Passaro. It was sailing scattered, and the sight of approaching British ships wasn't initially perceived as any danger, as Britain and Spain weren't officially at war. The Battle of Cape Passaro was a disaster for the Spanish Navy. Francisco de Gaztañeta's ship was captured, suffering 200 killed. Gaztañeta was injured at the foot and was made prisoner by the British. He was released very soon and wasn't blamed for the defeat on his return to Spain, as the battle was seen as a treacherous action by the British.
He was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1720 and was made head of the Spanish treasure fleet. During the Anglo-Spanish War (1727) he had his revenge, when he sneaked a fleet with 31 million pesos worth on board through the British Blockade of Porto Bello, consisting of the fleets of Admirals Hosier and Wager. On his save arrival in Spain King Philip V of Spain awarded him with a great amount of money, but shortly after, Gaztañeta died suddenly on February 5, 1728, in Madrid.
Gaztañeta married twice.
Cosme Damián de Churruca y Elorza is a relative.
- Arte de fabricar reales.
- Norte de la navegación hallado por el cuadrante de reducción. (1696)
- Cuadrante geométrico universal para la conversión esférica a los planos, aplicado al arte de navegar. (1697)
- Proporción de las medidas arregladas a la construcción de un bajel de guerra de setenta codos de quilla. (1712)
- Proporciones de las medidas más esenciales para la fábrica de nuevos navíos y fragatas de guerra. (1720)
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