Shipboard life back in the days of pirates and privateers was showcased when the tall ship El Galeón Andalucia made a port call to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. From February 22 to March 5, over 2000 of the island’s school children, families and visitors toured the full-size replica of the 16th to 18th century-era Spanish sailing vessel when it docked at IGY’s Yacht Haven Grande Marina.
“It’s really a big boat. It was fun to actually go on it,” says De’Nashia Huggins, a third-grade student and one of a dozen 10- to 17-year olds enrolled in the non-profit Marine Vocational Program who toured the ship. Highlights for the students, who have learned to swim, sail and operate a power boat as part of their training, were standing by the captain’s wheel, seeing the rows of cannons and visiting the hold, which has been converted into a movie theater that shows how the ship was constructed into a floating ‘living history’ museum in 2009 by Spain’s Nao Victoria Foundation.
A history lesson that both students and adults enjoyed was learning the origin of the nautical term for speed, which is knots. A crewmember showed a long line of rope with knots tied along it at equal intervals and a wooden triangular-shaped board fastened to its end. She explained how the line was cast off the boat’s stern into the water and in a predetermined amount of time hauled back aboard. The number of knots on the line that passed through a crew’s hands while the line was being towed astern equaled the speed. Thus, if it was four or five knots the vessel was traveling quite slowly while 10 to 12 knots meant a faster speed. A knot is one nautical mile per hour.
El Galeón is a 500-ton, 160-foot long vessel with a 32-foot beam. Its four masts hold six sails that measure nearly 11,000 square feet. Five of the vessel’s six decks are available for tours. El Galeón carries an all-Spanish crew of 19. Crewmembers live and breathe the history of the ship as it travels from port to port and in the open sea. They also conduct 45-minute guided tours onboard at each port stop.
“We reached out to El Galeón when we heard she was in Puerto Rico,” says Austin Callwood, managing partner of the 340 Group, LLC, which handled the logistics of the tall ship’s visit. “It proved a great opportunity to showcase this floating museum to our community and it tied in well to the commemoration of our Centennial this year.”
The U.S. Virgin Islands is celebrating its 100th Anniversary of the transfer of the islands from the Kingdom of Denmark to the U.S. back in 1917. El Galeón is homeported in Barcelona, Spain, one of seven countries that have flown their flag over what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands. Over the next several months, the tall ship will sail to the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. East Coast and Canada before crossing the Atlantic Ocean back to Spain.
Editor’s note – All students pictured are in the Marine Vocational Program and are members of the Boys and Girls Club on St. Thomas