Around the middle of the 16th century, at least 100 Spaniards and slaves on the Pacific coast of Mexico constructed the San Salvador, which led explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo to discover what is now the San Diego Bay. Nearly 500 years later, a slightly smaller crew at Spanish Landing Park is attempting to duplicate their efforts and construct the most historically accurate replica of Cabrillo's voyager. Click on the buttons above to explore the ship and discover the San Salvador from 1542 and today.
A portrait of San Salvador, the saint for which the vessel was named, adorned the stern of Cabrillo's ship. Other than the picture, the original didn't have many embellishments because it was constructed on the shore of Mexico, which was far from supply lines. Plans are in the works to display a portrait of the saint on the replica, but details about how it will be fastened are still being worked out.
Part of the ship's aft castle served as Cabrillo's quarters. Of the estimated 100 to 125 crew members and slaves on board, Cabrillo was the only one to have sheltered quarters. The rest lived on the main deck, where they were exposed to the open air. Just in front of Carbillo's quarters is the helmsman, who is responsible for steering the ship.
Wreckage of a different 16th century galleon ship, the San Juan, was discovered in 1978. Its discovery, and a subsequent study released in 2007, provided details about a galleon's rudder, such as its size, shape and how it attached to the ship.
To comply with safety regulations, the lower deck of the San Salvador replica is separated into five water tight compartments. (Before it can set sail, the replica must prove it can stay afloat even if one of the compartments is flooded.) Located on this deck (from left): the galley, where food is prepped; the engine room, which houses fuel tanks and the ship's two motors; living quarters with bunks for guests; the crew's area; and the chain room, where the anchor will be located. On Cabrillo's San Salvador, there were no separated compartments, and the open area would have been full with cargo.
The front part of the replica's keel is constructed of wood, while the rest is crafted out of 18 tons of lead. This is called ballast, which gives the ship stability. Fifty-six more tons of lead are placed in the ship's hold. The original San Salvador's keel was constructed of wood, and Cabrillo used river rocks and the ship's cargo for ballast.
The main deck of the replica is made of Douglas Fir and Alaska Yellow Cedar from the Pacific Northwest. The original ship was constructed out of wood found in the forest near the construction site of Puerto de la Navidad, Mexico.
The length of the replica's hull is 93 feet, and its main deck measures just more than 74 feet. An estimate puts the length of the original ship at 100 feet, but it's difficult to know for sure because no plans actually exist. The design of the modern-day San Salvador is based on the study of historical documents and ancient charts, which the shipwrights studied for years. The design process has been in the works for a decade.
On the modern-day ship, the spars (which includes the bowsprit on the front of the ship, the boom kin in the back and the three masts: mizzenmast in the back, main mast in the center and foremast in the front) are crafted out of Douglas Fir. They are each solid pieces and range from 8 to 22 inches in diameter. Without the the original plans, these details of Cabrillo's San Salvador are unclear.
The first hurdle to designing the San Salvador replica was determining what type of ship it was: a caravel or a galleon. The reconstruction team relied on the documentation of a person's oral description of a now-lost painting and settled on galleon. Back in Cabrillo's day, at least 100 people — if not more — were necessary to sail the galleon. But now, thanks to some modern adjustments, such as two 300-horsepower engines, only about a dozen people are needed to sail the San Salvador replica.
The replica's hull is fashioned out of some marine grade plywoods and six types of hardwood(s): Angelique and Purpleheart from South America; Sapele from Africa; Southern Live Oak from the state of Georgia; and Hackmatack from Nova Scotia. The heavier hardwoods help lower the center of gravity. Finishes for the wood include a mix of enamels, epoxies and turpentine. Cabrillo's ship was constructed from wood found in the forest near Puerto de la Navidad, Mexico, and he likely used pine tar as a finish, which would only have lasted five to six years. The modern-day San Salvador is designed to last at least 50 years.