El Galeon at Santa Elena

El Galeon Under SailNot only do you meet people while cruising, you also join some groups. One such group is the St. Augustine Cruisers Net. Now, I’m able to keep up with all you’d ever want to know (and more) about the cruisers in, and cruising around, St. Augustine. One item I learned from SACN long after we left St. Augustine concerned the display of the ship at left, which is a full-sized replica of a 17th century Spanish galleon. I’m a big fan of the old pre-industrial square-riggers, and have seen several original and replica ships of that era, mostly of British and American design. I’ve never been aboard a Spanish ship. The ship would be at the municipal dock in St. Augustine for a time in April, and would be open to the public for tours. I learned of the event while we were in Vero Beach, and we’d be passing through St. Augie on our way home, but it didn’t appear that we’d get back in time to see the galleon before it moved on. This photo is a promotional picture of the ship under sail.

GalleonImagine my surprise, then, when we recently slogged through St. Augustine on our worst travel day so far, and there was the ship, still at the municipal dock. The same bad weather that we had been racing to stay ahead of, and which ultimately caught us that day, had forced the ship to stay in St. Augie. Even if we’d been able to get a safe mooring ball at the municipal marina, we might not have been able to tour the ship. We didn’t know the circumstances under which it was still there, or if it was still open for tours while it waited out the weather. I counted it as a lost opportunity, and was sad to have missed it.

Now skip forward two weeks. Suzy and I have arrived home late Friday night after dinner out with friends. The next day is my birthday (yay, I’m old enough for Social Security now — ugh) and she’s asking me what I want to do. Nothing, I say. So, I’m checking my Facebook feed and I see that a friend has “Liked” a picture of his son and daughter-in-law, and the picture now on my timeline is that of a young couple standing ON THAT SPANISH GALLEON. I immediately text my friend to confirm that it is the same ship. He soon replies that it is, and it will be in its current location of Port Royal for two more days. That’s Port Royal, SC, next to Beaufort, about two and a half hours by car from St. Marys, and location of Port Royal Landing Marina, being the home port of M/V Dubhe, the little Willard trawler owned by our new besties Perry and Nancy, to whom we just said farewell three weeks ago. Coincidence? I think not. Divine intervention? Possibly. Are they free on Saturday? Hell, yeah!

El Galeon

Saturday is a beautiful day, so we hop in the car and drive to Port Royal. We meet the Dubhes and tour the ship. Then we have lunch in town before going to their house to visit for a couple hours. It was great. We got back to St. Marys around six o’clock and didn’t do anything else the rest of the evening. My brother called to wish me happy birthday, and we talked for over an hour. Overall, one of my favorite birthdays.


El Galeon 3

View from the dock near the bow, looking aft, showing the main mast and mizzen. We traced practically every line on the ship, checking its function and how it was likely to be used. The replica was amazingly detailed. Of course, almost everything, including the blocks (pulleys), was made of wood. There was very little iron or bronze on the ship.




El Galeon 1View of the foredeck from the dock, showing the foremast and bowsprit. Unlike the replicas of British ships of the same era that I’ve seen, the stays and shrouds (ropes supporting the masts) on this ship were not saturated with tar. Tar was used to keep the ropes from rotting, but in hot climates the tar would ooze and drip on the deck or anyone below.


From the ship and the website of the Santa Elena Foundation, which sponsored the visit, we learned a great deal of history about the Spanish presence in America between the time of Columbus and the first English settlement at Jamestown over a hundred years later. The Spanish territory of “La Florida” extended much farther than we usually think, based on the current state boundaries and areas in the southeastern US that display a marked Spanish flavor. The intended capital of that territory was Santa Elena, a fort and town that was built on what is now the grounds of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, just south of Port Royal. The Spanish chose the site because Port Royal Sound is the largest natural deep water port on the Atlantic coast south of Norfolk. Now it’s just a sleepy little town, replaced by Charleston, Savannah, Brunswick and Jacksonville — all of which have dredged shipping channels for access. To avoid pirates and British and French privateers in the Straits of Florida north of Cuba and west of the Bahamas, the Spanish were trying to establish an alternate route for shipping the gold they took out of Mexico back to Spain. They wanted to carry the gold by ship from Mexico to Tampa Bay, then cart it overland from Tampa Bay to Santa Elena, then put it back on a ship for the final leg from Santa Elena to Spain. Of course, this meant subduing the local native population and keeping the British and French out of North America, both of which never happened, so the effort ultimately failed.