Vessel: EL GALEÓN ANDALUCÍA
Vessel Type: Galleon
Homeport: Sevilla, Spain
Draft: 10’ 6”
Rig height: 121’
Sail area: 10,010 square feet
All photos courtesy of Fundacion Nao Victoria
The Galeón Andalucía is a replica of a 16th-17th century galleon, the only one in the world that sails in present days.
These ships were the type of vessel used by the Spanish Crown for maritime expeditions during the 16th through the 18th centuries. Galleons were intended to discover and then establish trade routes between Spain, America and the Philippines islands, and formed what was then called the “Fleet of the Indies”. For three centuries, these Spanish galleons crossed the Atlantic Ocean back and forth, sailed around the Caribbean Sea and the American coasts, and covered the Pacific route as well. They carried plenty of seamen, merchant traders and settlers, while their holds bore the fabulous loads resulting from American and Asian trade.
It took three years to research the main historical and maritime archives in Spain and compile all necessary information about galleons’ shapes, details and measures so that this replica could be built. Essentially, this is a 500 ton galleon, with length overall reaching 160 feet and a beam of 32 feet. Four masts hold 6 sails which measure almost 11,000 square feet. Her average speed is 7 knots. Since her launching, a crew between 15 to 35 people have manned her across the seas and oceans around the world. She has navigated the Pacific and Indian oceans, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and her wake has spread over the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the South and East China seas, the Aegean Sea, the Bosphorus strait, the Caribbean Sea and the whole East Coast of the US, covering thousands of nautical miles in an attempt to evoke her ancestors.
THE REPLICA OF THE GALLEON
It took three years to research the main historical and maritime archives in Spain and compile all necessary information about galleons’ shapes, details and measures so that this replica could be built.
Historical research was then followed by structural design, a work that took 6 months, and later on followed the construction of the galleon, which lasted 17 months and employed 150 people until her launching in Punta Umbría (Huelva, Spain) on November, 2009. The replica has been designed and built by Ignacio Fernandez Vial, a naval engineer and historian, commissioned by ship owner, the Nao Victoria Foundation.
During construction, a completely original and innovative technique was used: the hull and decks were built up in layers of fibreglass and after that the whole structure was lined with wood. It was the first time this method was applied to any ship heavier than 500 tons meant for oceanic sailing.
Essentially, this is a 500 ton galleon, with length overall reaching 160 ft. and beam 32 ft. Four masts hold 6 sails which measure almost 11,000 square foot. Average speed is 7 knots. Since her launching, a crew between 15 to 35 people have manned her across the seas and oceans around the world. She has navigated the Pacific and Indian oceans, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and her wake has spread over the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the South and East China seas, the Aegean Sea, the Bosphorus strait and the Caribbean Sea, covering thousands of nautical miles in an attempt to evoke her ancestors.
This area is a working deck which hosts the Fore mast, a maneuvering capstan, the bell and two cast iron, wooden stocked anchors that weigh 2,200 pounds each.
The bell was used for communication purposes between galleons of the same fleet during foggy days and also to mark daily work shifts. Officers and seamen would take care of the sails and rigging, obeying all instructions given by the captain and main officers such as cleaning up the decks, preparing oakum, checking sails or pumping out bilge water. There were three night watches divided in turns of four hours each: the first one or “guardia de prima”, that finished at midnight, the “guardia de modorra” (literally, drowsiness), that covered the coldest and most ungodly hours and finally the “guardia del alba” or dawn watch.
Today, three bell rings announce lunch or dinner time, two bell rings mark a shift change, and a number of various chimes is used to announce emergencies.
Most daily activities were carried out here. More than 150 people, including officers, seamen, soldiers, traders, servants, families and passengers would fit in a 550 ton galleon similar to this one. And they had to share the room with livestock such as horses, hens, lambs and even cows!
All goods were loaded to the hold through the main grille which can be seen in the middle of this deck. Right behind is the Main mast, which reaches 120 ft. high and holds two sails. At least 18 people are needed to hoist them: the main yard weighs more than 4,400 pounds.
Below the forecastle are the dining room, the kitchen or galley and the rest rooms for the crew.
Astern is the so called ‘Noble Area’.
Access to this area was only permitted to officers, captains, masters, pilots and high ranked passengers, who were the only ones to enjoy a private cabin. The replica of this Noble Area includes four cabins, two restrooms and the so-called ‘Admiral Room’, which accurately reproduces the furniture proper to the 17th and 18th galleons. The Admiral Room is used for authorities and ambassadors receptions.
Many plaques presented to the captain and crew during their sailing around the world can be seen hanging on the walls in this area.
The Quarter deck hosts the Mizzen mast, the steering wheel, the binnacle and the pilot cabin. It’s the deck where the captain and officers make calculations and command the ship. A few centuries ago they had to trust their ancient navigation instruments.
The pilot was in charge of navigation and therefore the lives of the crew would be in his hands. Oceanic crossings lasted several days and he had to avoid the risks for them. Storms, hurricanes, water leaks, diseases or pirate attacks would threaten crew’s lives constantly: “we are three or four inches close to death, which is the thickness of a vessel plank”.
The feeling of danger was very present and death lurked everywhere; it was only the skills of officers and seamen what preserved them from sinking. But fate would not always smile on them, and many of those men and women who embarked in search of new opportunities for their lives found an anticipated yet final destination and now rest on the bottom of the sea. That was the highest price that oceans took from Spanish galleons over several centuries.
The poop deck was only intended for officers because it was the place from where they could overview all maneuvers. A huge lamp outstands in this deck. It would be lit at night to mark the position of each vessel in a fleet. Moreover, there was a code by which each galleon could communicate to others a change of course, a maneuver or an incident.
Every galleon kept sailing during night time and only crewmembers on watch would remain active. Fires were put off to avoid any risks and the bilge water was pumped out again. Silence surrounded the ship, only disturbed by the crackling of wood and rigging lines.
The English name for this deck derives from the French word ‘poupe’ which means stern. During nighttime sailing, access is restricted to this deck for safety reasons.
Here can be found the cannons which protected the galleon against pirate or corsair attack. Although all galleons belonging to the Fleet of the Indies would sail together forming groups of 30 ships or more and were escorted by war ships to protect them, they had these cast iron cannons for their own protection, and in case of need they were shot by the soldiers aboard.
The round wooden artifact right in the middle of this deck is a capstan, or manual winch. It would be used to help in heavy loads maneuvering or when hoisting the anchors.
The Gun deck would also accommodate most of the crew members. Aside from officers, who did enjoy the privileges of cabin accommodation, the rest of the passengers had to look for any viable space on deck where they could keep their boxes or “ranchos” containing a few of their belongings and place their mats in order to sleep.
70 to 100 people would sleep in here, on their mats or hammocks. An estimated 16 sq. ft. of habitable room corresponded to each person.
In the fore part of this deck are the docking-manoeuvring area and the orlop-deck with 30 bunk beds for the crew; the aft area holds the rudder machinery and another docking-manoeuvring area.
Under the gun deck is the hold, an area which was used in the past to stow all loads and goods for the sailing. When galleons left Spain, they carried products such as wheat, oil, wine, cloth, weapons, paper, china, glass, medicines, tools and other European stuff. However, as they sailed back from America or the Pacific Ocean, they were mainly loaded with precious metals, such as gold and silver, pearls, precious stones and other highly appreciated American and Asian goods.
Only a small part of this area was preserved to load the crew’s food rations. A sort of bread or biscuit called “bizcocho” (pound cake), which was twice-baked and prepared with thick flour constituted the base of the diet, and it was often eaten wet or in a state of putrefaction. Legumes, rice, flour, bacon, salted fish and meat, nuts, cheese and honey completed the diet, and the only fresh food that could be enjoyed on board came from the livestock some passengers carried with them and any fishing they could do along the journey. The lack of fresh food along with the regular potable water scarcity caused many diseases, some of them lethal as the dreaded scurvy, an illness provoked by the lack of fresh vegetables which turned into seamen’s worst nightmare until late 18th century.