Tuesday, July 23, 2013

El Galeon--Replica Spanish Galleon

El Galeon sitting at the St. Augustine marina.
St. Augustine, Florida recently was home for a two month stay by El Galeon, the wooden replica of a 16th-18th century Spanish galleon.

The history of galleons is an interesting one. These large ships were primarily made of hardwoods such as oak, teak, and mahogany. Masts were traditionally made of pine. The ships were multi-decked with the forecastle being lowered and the hull being long. This design helped give the large and tall ship stability in the water while also helping the ship be able to travel faster. Galleons would typically be outfitted with artillery and the crew would also have hand-held weapons as well.

Due to their size and the complexity of the work involved in building a galleon these were expensive investments so it was vital that she ship become profitable quickly. Many were used as merchant vessels. A bonus on this type of ship however was its flexibility with many being converted to warships.

The romance of the galleon is through the stories of the Spanish treasure fleet which operated from roughly 1570-1800. This fleet was really a convoy system used to bring goods, raw materials and also treasure; gold and silver, back to Spain while sending manpower and finished goods back to Spanish colonies in the "new world". Certainly there were no precious metals coming from Florida but other parts of the Spanish crown were able to supply gold and silver in abundance.

Sailing on a galleon could prove dangerous. Rough seas, pirates, illness, and bad weather including hurricanes were just some of the dangers crew and passengers faced. Treasure hunters continue to search for the remains of shipwrecks and the treasures that they might hold. A prime example being Mel Fisher's search for the Atocha and other Spanish wrecks near Key West. These salvage operations often lead to long and expensive legal fights as to who the actual owner of these wrecks is.

Don Pedro Menendez
de Aviles
The first galleon to arrive in St. Augustine was the San Pelayo in 1565. This ship was the flagship of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, considered the founder of the first permanent European settlement in the United States. The San Pelayo itself weighed approximately 650 tons and was part of a group of ships that brought 800 colonists and supplies to Florida.

The El Galeon, which recently called St. Augustine home, is a replica of a 16th century galleon. It measures 180.4  feet high, has a main beam of 35.7 feet and a draft of 19.9 feet. The ship has three masts, seven sails, and over 10,000 sq. feet of sail area.

El Galeon is owned by the Nao Victoria Foundation from Seville, Spain. The galleon is on a long term tour that has taken it from Spain, to Puerto Rico, to several stops in Florida, and now the crew of almost 30 is taking her to New York City. Judging by the success she had in St. Augustine, 12,000-13,000 paid visitors (total visits are much higher including school tours, free tickets, and private events) and the stay being extended several times due to high demand, she will have a long visit in New York.

For those who did not visit the El Galeon while she was in St. Augustine do not fret; she will be back soon enough. The city and the ships owner have signed an agreement by which St. Augustine will become the Florida home to any of the Nao Victoria ships. City officials believe that El Galeon will return by spring of next year and possibly sooner.

The details of the agreement are not completely known but the city does receive ten percent of ticket sales, fifteen-forty percent of fees for private events depending on what source you use (you can rent the ship for approximately $5,000 if you have a cocktail party in mind), and fifty percent of merchandise revenues.

Overall this is a really cool ship. It's not like you will get to see a replica galleon every day. The detail work is really nice, this is a sailing ship after all. The "crew" that we met were friendly enough and willing to answer questions. Most questions seemed to come from younger visitors of course. There is a short film on the bottom level of the ship, but boy is it hot down below. There were a couple of box fans but that didn't do much. There are of course parts of the ship you are not allowed to visit as would be expected. Admission cost while in St. Augustine was $15 for adults, $8 children ages 6-12, and children 5 and under free. I did not see anything about a senior discount but I suppose it doesn't hurt to ask. It's not cheap considering that for most people they will probably spend an hour or less on board. The ship was not handicapped accessible while in Florida. Also, if you have issues with climbing stairs or steep ramps this is not for you. Remember also that you are on water so the boat will rock while you are aboard. It's not like being in the ocean but if you have balance issues be forewarned. Personally though, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to others.

By way of full disclosure neither the owners of El Galeon nor the City of St. Augustine have asked for this piece to be written. I paid the $15 admission price to tour the ship.

Much of the information above came from the brochure that was available to guests on board. It is titled El Galeon St. Augustine: Explore America's Oldest Seaport.

No pesky pirate cruise ship is ever going to take
the El Galeon. We will blow you and
your tourist captives from the water.

The flags flying over the ship.
Some of the nice detail work found aboard
the ship.

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