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Replica Of San Diego Explorer’s Galleon Taking Shape

Interactive Feature

Explore The San Salvador

Click on the buttons to explore the San Salvador and learn about the modern-day ship and the original from 1542. Sources: Naval architect Doug Sharp of Sharp Design; San Diego Maritime Museum.

Aired 12/10/13 on KPBS News.

Construction of a replica 16th century Spanish galleon used by explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo to explore early San Diego is about 80 percent completed.

Two years in the making, the replica of a 16th century Spanish galleon is taking form at a work site near Lindbergh Field. The ship was supposed to be launched by year's end, but construction is about only 80 percent complete.

On a recent day, an excited group gathered aboard the deck of the unfinished San Salvador, eager to hear how the progress was coming. They learned construction — done almost entirely by volunteers — was running about a year behind schedule.

But Maritime Museum president Ray Ashley said delays actually had been good for the project and community.

“As a consequence, more schools have come to visit the ship while it's being built, more people have come to see it while it's being built, and we've had an opportunity for more volunteers to work on it,” Ashley said.

Construction began at Spanish Landing Park back in February 2011, on what will eventually be a 200-ton, historically accurate replica of the first ship to land on San Diego's shores.

In 1542, explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed the original San Salvador into what is now San Diego Bay, and claimed it for Spain. Now, volunteers and Maritime Museum employees are building this replica by hand and almost entirely from wood -- 230,000 pounds of it.

They hope to launch next summer and they're inviting some special guests to the christening.

“We'd love the king and queen of Spain to come, and as soon as we have a firm date, we'll let them know,” said Dave MacVean, chair of the Maritime Museum’s board.

Despite construction delays, the project is within its estimated $6.2 million budget, thanks to donated materials and volunteer manpower. But that project still needs about $1 million in funding. The hope is that special behind-the-scene tours will draw more volunteers and capital.

Volunteer coordinator Eric Gerhardt said his workforce grew from 300 in February to nearly 500 volunteers Monday.

“I think it's the spirit of the San Salvador, the ship. How many people in the world have the opportunity to work on a Spanish galleon?” Gerhardt said. “And people that have wood-working as their nature, this is certainly the largest wood-working project you can probably find in the entire world.”

Volunteers are also installing the mechanical innards of the ship, like modern-day engines, which will be hidden from view to keep the ship looking as it did in 1542. The rigging is being built, planking is being placed on the frame. The 60-foot masts — cut from one huge Douglas fir — also just arrived.

The ship eventually will serve as a floating classroom. Children will sail on it nearly every day, taking ocean samples and doing meteorological experiments along the way.

"We want school kids to know about our maritime heritage,” MacVean said.

“Most of us came to the United States or California on a boat one way or another. And so for a kid who maybe plays video games a lot of times, or he's watching TV, to get aboard a ship like this — and to really sail it, to pull a line, to adjust a sail, to feel a 100-foot ship move through the water — is something that can really affect them for the rest of their lives," he said.

For now, the shipyard is open every day between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., for the public to watch the construction, or even take part in it.

Evening Edition

Over the past two years, we've brought you stories on the 16th-century Spanish galleon replica that's being built just across from the airport. The ship was supposed to be launched by the end of this year, but KPBS video journalist Katie Schoolov checked up on the progress and says the ship is now about 80 percent complete.

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Avatar for user 'DonWood'

DonWood | December 9, 2013 at 3:52 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Where does the Maritime Museum plan to berth the new ship when its completed? The museum's existing piers are full.

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Avatar for user 'DeborahDozier'

DeborahDozier | December 9, 2013 at 11:37 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Cabrillo enters history in Cuba where he was assigned harvest pine pitch for ship building. After he helped sack Tenochtitlan, he was given the land and resources of Honduras and the Hondurans by the Viceroy of New Spain. He built a small fleet of ships and took the many of the women and girls he was given by the Viceroy and used them as sex slaves on his ships. He enslaved and worked many Honduran men and boys to death in the silver mines he controlled. This is all well documented. Is this the kind of person we want to honor? I hope not.

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Avatar for user 'Katie Schoolov'

Katie Schoolov, KPBS Staff | December 10, 2013 at 9:37 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

DonWood, I asked Maritime Museum president/CEO Ray Ashley, and here is what he says about the berthing of the San Salvador once it's complete: "She is intended to be an active vessel and once we have completed her rig and comisssioned her, she will be traveling quite a bit up and down the coast. Her home port will be the Maritime Museum, which is where she will be found when not out exploring and discovering."

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Avatar for user 'thompsonrichard'

thompsonrichard | December 10, 2013 at 3:42 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

On August 15, 1914 a Japanese wireless advised Germany to vacate the Pacific and specifically to withdraw from its colony at Qingdao,Shantung Peninsula, China. Captain Keizaburo Moriyama of the Idzumo, before his departure from San Diego for San Francisco on August 17, 1914, said to a San Diego Union reporter: "Whether the Leipzig leaves for Samoa or for the Canadian coast, we shall follow." Idzuma's four fourteen-inch guns and four eight-inch guns outclassed the ten four-inch guns of the Leipzig. Perhaps a replica could be built here. When the Chinese missile destroyer Qingdao made a goodwill visit to Pearl Harbor on September 6, 2006 the American destroyer chosen as her escort was named for Chinese-American Gordon Chung-Hoon who'd won the Navy Cross while serving on the USS Arizona during the December 7, 1941 attack.

The wireless mentioned above from the Taisho Emperor to Willem II was curt and offensive. It was meant to be reminiscent of the earlier ultimatum forcing Japan to give back the Liaodong Penninsula in 1895. In the treaty which concluded the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) -- China was obliged to recognize the independence of Korea, over which it had traditionally held suzerainty. Also, to cede Taiwan, the Pescadores, and the Liaodong Peninsula to Japan; to pay an indemnity; and open the Yangtze River ports. But the Triple Intervention (late 1895), secured by Russia, France, and Germany, subsequently required Japan to retrocede the Liaodong Peninsula to China. Small wonder that China's aircraft carrier bears the name "Liaodong" (Liaoning is the Province / Liadong is the Peninsula).

Waikiki Beach bathers witnessed one of the first naval encounters of The Great War when the Aolus -- a German gun boat -- was sunk by the Japanese Battle Cruiser Hizen [12,700 tonnes, 30.5cm guns]. Hizen thereafter joined her sister ship Idzumi in North American waters, and together they hurried down the west coast of the Americas in pursuit of Admiral Maximilian von Spree's German Asiatic Squadron. At the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile on November 1, 1914, the German force sank two British armored cruisers (the British Vice-Admiral, Sir Christopher Cradock -- and 1,570 tars -- were killed). But the Japanese cruisers couldn't catch von Spree before he left the Pacific.

One reason for the shift of the Japanese naval forces north-ward in early 1915 was to protect the Emperor's representative, Admiral Baron Dewa Shigoto, at the opening of the Panama Canal. The admiral also posed at the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego with Col. Joseph Pendleton and the exposition's president, G. A. Davidson.

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