El Galeón, (The Galleon) replicates a massive 170-foot long wooden 16th-century ship from Spain’s West Indies fleet. Pedro Menendez, founder of St. Augustine sailed the San Pelayo, a ship similar to El Galeón, however, Juan Ponce de Leon and Magellan used smaller vessels (called caravels) to explore. Spanish galleons were used to transport troops of men, animals, munitions and supplies between the Caribbean, Spain and the New World. As many of 300 men might have been onboard.
As part of the yearlong Viva Florida 500 celebration, El Galeón and her crew retraced the route of La Florida discoverer Ponce de Leon across the Atlantic to Puerto Rico then up along the Florida coast. The voyage took 22 days using technology of the past era and covered more than 900 nautical miles.
I went out to greet the ship as she arrived in the Matanzas’s Inlet from the Black Raven, a pirate ship that operates daily cruises from the St. Augustine marina. The Black Raven fired welcoming canon blasts.
El Galeón is one huge boat; I questioned whether the masts would fit between the openings of the Bridge of Lions. She entered the harbor with onboard power because the replica operates under majestic full sail only when out at sea – or in Captain Morgan rum commercials.
I boarded her the next morning by climbing up a steep gangplank. Polished wood gleamed from every surface and smelled of varnish. I discovered the ship’s wheel, the only way to steer the craft directly below the poop (uppermost) deck. Because this vessel was built just three years ago, modern navigational equipment is required, but hidden from view.
Three masts support seven sails with 10,010 square feet of sail area. Raising the sails takes a crew of at least 20 over an hour. Currently crew consists of 18 men and two women, one who is the chef.
I took in the view of St. Augustine imagining a voyage that was likely quite unpleasant. You can also go below deck and see numerous canons and further below to watch a video. There’s 3,444 square feet of visiting area on six decks.
Information and tickets for El Galeón are available at www.vivaflorida.org or at ticket booths at Ripley’s Red Train Tours and the St. Augustine Visitors Information Center. Tickets are $8 for children age 12 to 6 years and $15 for adults. Children age 5 and under are free. The ship will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the St. Augustine City Marina. Hurry, El Galeón is only in town until June 3rd.