Building the San Salvador

Building the San Salvador Tourist Attraction in San Diego.  Party like it’s 1542! How about witnessing history being made, or re-created, live and in person. This construction was also done without modern power tools.

What’s old has become new, not just for history buffs and maritime fanatics. For old and young alike to experience firsthand the historic process of ship building unlike any other. The San Diego Maritime Museum, and a host of volunteers, are bringing to life  the total accurate replication the 1500’s exploration ship the San Salvador.  As children we all grew up learning in school about Christopher Columbus and the founding of America at Plymouth Rock.  The story of the Pilgrims and Indians sharing a meal of “thanks” was not the beginning of American History for those of us on the West Coast however.   The rich Golden State of California was in fact discovered by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Some eighty years earlier sailing aboard the original San Salvador he sailed in to San Diego.

San Salvador

San Salvador Sailing Ship

Life Aboard the San Salvador

Life aboard the San Salvador, like most ships of the 1500s, would have been challenging and demanding. The San Salvador was a Spanish galleon, likely manned by a crew consisting of sailors, soldiers, and officers. Here’s what life might have been like aboard:

  1. Work and Duties: Sailors would have been responsible for handling the sails, navigating, and maintaining the ship. Soldiers would have been tasked with security and defense, as piracy was a significant concern during this period.
  2. Living Conditions:  Crew members would have slept in hammocks or on the deck when weather permitted. Sanitation would have been primitive, with chamber pots used for waste disposal.
  3. Food and Provisioning:  Rations typically consisted of hardtack (a type of biscuit), salted meat, beans, and dried fruits. Fresh water was stored in barrels and rationed carefully, as it could spoil easily.
  4. Navigation and Exploration:  Navigation tools were rudimentary compared to modern standards, with sailors relying on instruments like the astrolabe and compass, as well as celestial navigation.
  5. Health and Safety: Sickness and injury were common risks aboard ships. Poor nutrition, cramped living conditions, and lack of hygiene could lead to outbreaks of diseases like scurvy and dysentery. Injuries from accidents or combat were also prevalent, and medical care was limited.
  6. Discipline and Hierarchy: Life aboard a ship was governed by strict discipline and hierarchy. The captain held absolute authority, and disobedience or mutiny were dealt with harshly. 
  7. Entertainment and Recreation: To pass the time during long voyages, crew members might engage in activities like storytelling, card games, or music. Religious observances were also common, with prayers and services held regularly.

Overall, life aboard the San Salvador would have been a mix of hard work, discomfort. 

San Salvador Tourist Attraction


Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo

The process of watching history being made before your very eyes is a fleeting opportunity at the Spanish Landing area.  The San Diego Maritime Museum, where blacksmithing and sail making are also demonstrated. Complex issues such as the use of ten different kinds of wood,  is a process that leaves you amazed how a vessel like this could have ever been built in the mid 1500’s by a mere crew of no more than 100 Spanish workers and without the invention of power tools! This fully functional replica of the galleon measures 92 feet long, 24 feet wide and upon completion will set sail as an educational flagship. It will travel the West Coast as living museum and ambassador for West Coast history and more specifically our beloved San Diego.

Construction of the ship so far has required over 10 thousand pounds of hand selected wood, meticulous in detail yet retrofitted for safety regulations of today.  Once this endeavor is completed the ship will be able to charter small groups with modern luxuries not available in the 1500’s such as toilets, refrigeration, radios and two large diesel engines.

Join San Diego Boat Tours for a cruise to see all the historic sites of San Diego Bay on one of out luxury yachts.  Whether a private charter or a corporate event – we can show you a great time!

The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat. (Jacques Yves Cousteau, June 1910 – June 1997)

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