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Maritime Museum, Port Celebrate Milestone in Construction of Historic Ship Replica

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Scott Peters, Chairman of the Board of Port Commissioners, hammers a bolt to lock the keel of the San Salvador replica as Allen Rawl, Master Builder, and Greg Cox, San Diego County Supervisor, look on (Photo: Dale Frost)On the shores of San Diego Bay, Master Builder Allen Rawl and his band of shipbuilders are creating a living link between California’s past, when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay, and the present.

And more than 200 people, including several elected officials and Port representatives, gathered on Friday, April 15, 2011, at the construction site in the Port of San Diego’s Spanish Landing Park to celebrate the first major milestone of the historic project - the ceremonial keel laying of the flagship that Cabrillo sailed on in 1542 - the San Salvador.


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“This replica of the San Salvador will join all the cherished attractions of this city,” said San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders.

The construction site will open to the public on June 24 with completion expected in early 2013.

“One mission of the Port is to activate the waterfront and this will bring millions to our waterfront,’ said Board of Port Commissioners Chairman Scott Peters.“We are happy to host the construction and be a landlord to great museums.”

Ray Ashley, the president of the Maritime Museum of San Diego,was the first to envision the historic project. The site will be a showcase for ship construction methods of the time and the exhibit will include craftsmen demonstrating woodcarving, sail-making and rigging and blacksmithing, which was on display before the start of the keel laying ceremony.

Attending the keel laying ceremony for the San Salvador were, left to right, Bob Nelson, Port Commissioner; Steve Kessler, shipwright; Captain Chris Welton, engineer: Peter Wilson, boatbuilder; Scott Peters, Chairman of the Board of Port Commissioners; Ray Ashley, President, San Diego Maritime Museum (Photo: Dale Frost)John Kowaleski of Escondido was there, displaying how craftsman of the time fashioned nails, and others were dressed in period costume, explaining what life was like some 500 years ago.

“I’m a sailor from the 16th Century, the ship’s boatswain, and these two ladies are sailing to meet their husbands in Guatemala,” said the sailor, who is portrayed by Roger Crawford. The ladies, standing by his side, on the way to meet their husbands were portrayed by Emily Lloyd and Amanda Gossard. Each volunteers at Cabrillo National Monument, where they explain how hard life could be in those early days.

“We had slaves, but it was very rough,” one of the ladies said. “We never knew when the next battle for the land would begin.”

The celebratory keel laying ceremony was filled with historic touches – the cannon salute to the ship, the bird singing blessing by members of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaa Indians,the keel laying and then each of the speakers and later the guests stamping their initials into the keel, “binding their hearts to the ship forever.”

“This is a great addition to the tremendous collection of historic ships,” said County Supervisor Greg Cox.“This will be one of the most significant attractions in the city.”

San Diego City Councilman Kevin Faulconer joined others in noting the historic significance and importance to the city.

“This ship will be a slice of San Diego’s heritage and history and we will have people from all over the world coming to San Diego to watch the building,” he said. “We are building something very special for the City of San Diego.”

Blacksmith Mike Hernon demonstrated making nails for construction of San Salvador (Photo: Dale Frost)When complete, the galleon will measure 92 feet long and 24 feet across. The Maritime Museum called on experts from various fields – historians, naval architects and master builders – to ensure the accuracy of the replica.

The original ship was the founding ship of San Diego and California. It set sail from Navidad, Mexico in 1542 to explore the Pacific Coast to the north. The voyage was designed to establish a route to China, find a Pacific exit for the Northwest passage and perhaps encounter civilizations that might help the Spanish.

Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay, which he named San Miguel, on Sept. 28, 1542. A small model of the vessel – depicting what the San Salvador will look like during construction – was on display at the ceremony.

The project will cost about $5 million. About $3.5 million has been raised, through a grant from the California Coastal Conservancy and private contributions. Fund raising continues and the remainder will be paid through additional donations and museum ticket sales.

Besides serving as a living history classroom for visiting school students, the Maritime Museum is planning on providing live shots of the construction for schools here and elsewhere.

To reinforce the importance of the project’s classroom lessons, 23 students from the Monarch School attended the ceremony, while others cheered from one of the Maritime Museum’s historic ships, the Californian.