Boarding El Galeon

Hundreds of visitors to Yorktown have been boarding the Spanish replica El Galeon Andalucia for self-guided tours. It’s called El Galeon for short and its home port is Seville.

The ship spent the summer touring the Great Lakes and most recently sailed in from Long Island, where thousands of New Yorkers boarded for a look above and below decks. El Galeon is every bit of 164 feet long. The Replica was completed in 2010 and has sailed 35,000 miles.

Boarding Le GaleonOver the course of three centuries, ships like these linked Spain with America, the West Indies and the Philippines. According to descriptions scattered aboard the ship, the Spanish covered the largest trade routes for the longest period in the history of navigation. Their convoys comprised 30 galleons at a time, an immense presence comparable to today’s U.S. Navy aircraft carrier fleet of 20 ships.

Boarding Le Galeon

Boarding Le GaleonFive cannons rest on each side of the deck for defensive purposes against pirates and other enemy attacks. The crew ranged from 70 to 100 and slept on the deck near these guns. Today it takes only 20 crew to operate the ship since of course there is no cargo aboard.

Below decks

Boarding Le GaleonA modern railing protects the crew as they descend to the cargo holding, a large warehouse for food, fresh water and items for trade. The cargo hold is off limits to visitors, perhaps because it carries the mundane baggage of goods needed for promotional tours. Too bad, because here is the largest part of the ship.

In days of old, pirates lurked offshore because as much as 95% of the cargo load would consist of silver. Yet the Spanish fended them off well and were considered highly profitable sea merchants, especially in the Caribbean.

Boarding Le GaleonThe cutwater above the main deck holds the bowsprit for sails to extend out over the bow. Shipwrecks were an ever-present threat as violent storms cast galleons and smaller vessels onto the shoals and rocks. Strong winds, shallow water and hidden sandbars snagged many ships. Veracruz, Bermuda and the Bahamas were especially dangerous. Most galleons and their valuable shipments are still in the depths of the ocean, out of range by scavengers.

Boarding Le Galeon

Boarding Le GaleonThe forecastle holds the captain’s quarters and conference table for planning navigation. Passengers and crew were crammed in on the decks, where they often fell victim to scurvy for lack of fruits and vegetables. Mid-day dinner was eaten on the main deck. It consisted of a pound cake cookie that often went bad after getting wet or attracting mold. Worms permeated them as well. There was precious little fresh food, usually animals taken along and fish caught at sea. Legumes, flour, rice, salted meat and wine were also served. Typically 5,350 gallons of wine were taken on board for the duration. More water was caught in rain barrels at sea.

Passengers on board

Boarding Le GaleonOfficer’s quarters were comparatively spacious and tidy, as well as private. Typically 150 passengers booked these ships to travel to the New World and beyond. Women traveled with their husbands or to reach the distant land to meet and marry their husband. Few children made the voyage, except for the ship’s cabin boys and apprentices. They were aged 10-15.

Boarding Le GaleonNext, the steering deck has the helm, the mizzen mast and crews’ quarters. Discipline was maintained by the captain. Gambling and card playing were forbidden, as was playing darts. These and other offenses such as engaging in sex were punishable by fines and lashes. 

Boarding Le Galeon

A map from 1640 shows a fairly precise contour from Virginia to Mexico.

Up on deck, myriad lines and wooden blocks are carefully laid out and stored to prevent accidents. The round swirl of a wrapped line is called a Flemish Curl. You can stand on it without losing your footing and it won’t blow around in the fiercest wind.

Boarding Le GaleonBoarding Le Galeon

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Boarding El Galeon

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