WORLD FOCUS: Spain’s pride: El Galeon
Soledad Gea Shaw isn’t the captain of the El Galeon Andalucia. But when the ship is in port, as it was recently at the Riverwalk Landing Piers in Yorktown, Virginia, she is in charge. Shaw knows not only every aspect of how to sail the authentic replica of the famed 17th century Spanish Galleon, a Class A ship, a square-rigged vessel with four masts and six sails, 170 feet long, 32 feet at its widest point, at 500 tons, with 21 crew members.
She also knows its history. “The El Galeon was designed for establishing trade routes between Spain, America and the Philippine Islands,” Gea Shaw said in an interview with the Lake Placid News. “It was used by the Spanish Crown between the 16th and 18th centuries for discovering and establishing trading routes. Although it was built for merchants, at the lower deck the ship had several heavy guns to defend itself against pirates.”
Nevertheless, Shaw noted, several El Galeons that routinely carried gold and silver as cargo were taken over. “Some of them got captured by pirates in the Caribbean and become pirate ships,” she said. To teach people Spanish history in an unique way, the Nao Foundation, a Spanish nonprofit organization, commissioned the building of El Galeon Andalusia and sent it to sail the world’s largest seas and oceans.
During its 35,000-nautical-mile voyage, it visited more than 50,000 ports. In each port, visitors were able to step on the deck, enter the bowels of the ship and learn from museum-like displays the intricacies of sailing a 16th century ship and its history. Although the Nao Fondation built El Galeon is an exact replica of 17th century ship, and I was greatly impressed by the technology used at that time, to sail such a large ship, the new El Galeon had to be outfitted with engines, hidden away.
“To sail the boat, it needs 15 to 20 knots of wind,” explained a deckhand serving on the ship. “Covering 35,000 nautical miles while sailing across the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, as well the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the South China Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Bosporus Strait and the Caribbean Sea, we couldn’t have taken chances.” According to Shaw, who interacts with the public while El Galeon is in port, the journey of the historic ship couldn’t have been more successful. “We have been welcomed in every port we visited,” she said. “It is said, people nowadays are not much interested in history.
But watching the crowd who steps on the deck of our ship, you wouldn’t think so. It depends, how history is presented.” Frank Shatz’s column was reprinted wuth permission from the Virginia Gazette.
Shatz is a Lake Placid seasonal resident.
He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place, ” a compilation of his selected columns.