The northern European countries, England, Holland, and France, watched the Spanish and the Portuguese grow wealthy from trade with a mixture of envy and resentment.
Unable to challenge the Spanish in the southern Atlantic, the northern European explorers searched to the west and north for a sea route to the Indies. They were blocked by a giant landmass, North America. But the French and English were convinced that a channel ran through the continent to the Pacific Ocean and the Spice Islands.
Whoever discovered this channel, called the “Northwest Passage,” would grow rich from trade. Today, we know that a usable such passage doesn’t exist. But the explorers would brave the frigid waters of the North Atlantic to find it.
Their attempts failed, but their exploration of the coast of North America opened it to European settlement.