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San Salvador Replica Debuts At Parade Of Sail

Reported by Katie Schoolov

A parade of ships kicked off the 16th annual Festival of Sail this afternoon - and there was a newcomer in the lead. After four years of construction, and significant delays, the San Salvador made its way across San Diego Bay, cheered by large crowds along Harbor Drive - and canon fire. KPBS video journalist Katie Schoolov was there.

Photo caption:

Photo by Katie Schoolov

A volunteer scales the rigging of the San Salvador in San Diego Bay on Sept. 1, 2105

A parade of ships launched the 16th annual Festival of Sail Friday afternoon — with a newcomer in the lead. After four years of construction and some significant delays, the San Salvador led the Parade of Sail in its first public appearance.

The 200-ton full-scale replica of the first ship to sail into San Diego Bay in 1542 made its way across San Diego Bay Friday under engine power — something that explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's ship didn't have. The sails will be added in coming months.

The San Salvador will be officially commissioned Friday at 6 p.m. Local dignitaries will raise a flag above the ship's main mast.

San Diego Maritime Museum President and CEO Ray Ashley said Friday is one of the proudest days in recent history for the museum.

"It was kind of an epic struggle to get the ship built," Ashley said from the deck of the San Salvador. "It does feel really good to be here, where the ship is finally at the museum, where she was intended to be for all these years."

Photo caption:

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Maritme Musuem President and CEO Ray Ashley on the deck of the San Salvador in San Diego Bay on Sept. 1, 2015.

The museum originally projected the San Salvador would take two years to build. Four years after construction began, the ship was finally scheduled to launch in April, but engineering challenges delayed the launch until July.

"To put things in perspective, this project actually started more than 10 years ago. We began doing research then, and I think our first major donations came about seven years ago," Ashley said.

The project came in on budget at $6.2 million, mostly in the form of donations. Costs were largely kept under control by the fact that 60 percent of the workforce were volunteers — almost 500 of them. Ashley said that among other replica projects, the largest volunteer force on record is 10 percent. Without the volunteers, Ashley estimates the San Salvador would have cost $11.2 million to build.

Photo caption:

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Volunteer John Marsh works on board the San Salvador in San Diego Bay on Sept. 1, 2015.

Native San Diegan John Marsh volunteered 2,300 hours of work on the San Salvador over the last four years.

"To see this ship in the water and from a little bit afar, to me, it's very sleek," Marsh said. "I didn't see that in her initially when she was being built."

About Friday's debut of the ship, Marsh said, "It's a happy and a sad kind of thing. It's certainty crossing that [finish] line but yet there's still work to be done on her. We probably have another six-plus months before it's completely finished."

Marsh has fond memories of visiting the Star of India as a kid. Now, the San Salvador will be docked in the same area along Harbor Drive, where the public will soon be able to come aboard for tours.

San Salvador

"This is a nice exclamation mark to have for San Diego: the ship that brought the Europeans here to San Diego and the West Coast. It actually got out here before Jamestown, before Plymouth Rock. So there's a lot of history here that people kind of overlook."

Once the sails and other finishing touches are added, the San Salvador will teach this history to San Diego students on overnight sailing journeys. There's a kitchen on board and enough bunks for around 50 passengers.

In the fall, the San Salvador will also be starring in a new educational film being produced by the National Park Service for the Cabrillo National Monument.

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.

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