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A monthly feature that highlights an object from the CIMM collection! 



Spanish Galleon San Salvador - CHUmash people greet captain juan rodriguez cabrillo in redwood tumols off the california coAst

Designed and Built by Greg McKay

On loan to cimm from the National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

the ship

In 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was the first European to explore the coast of California. He had three ships: the 200-ton galleon San Salvador, the 100-ton La Victoria, and lateen-rigged, 26-oared San Miguel. The San Salvador was named after Pedro de Alvarado's newly founded city in western El Salvador. The ship was the flagship of Cabrillo’s fleet. She was a 100-foot full-rigged galleon with 10-foot draft and capacity of 200 tons. She carried officers, crew, slaves, and a priest.

A requirement of exploration ships was the ability to sail with ease into small harbors. The ships were rigged with triangular sails supported by swept booms. This sail arrangement, a forerunner to the sails found in the modern-day fore-and-aft rig of sloops, ketches and yawls, made the craft more agile and gave them the ability to point higher into the wind than square riggers. The San Salvador has been described as having four masts: a square-rigged foremast, lateen-rigged main and mizzen-masts and an even smaller mizzen-type mast with a boom that swung well outboard, in the style of the modern-day yawl.

Cabrillo and his fleet departed from Navidad on June 27, 1542. On September 28, after three months of sailing, Cabrillo brought his ships into a bay, which he called a “very good enclosed port.” He named it San Miguel, and claimed the land for Spain. Today it is San Diego Bay. Cabrillo’s was the first known landing of a ship on the coast of Alta (Upper) California. He named all of his discoveries, but they were ultimately renamed later.

The ships then continued on up the coast of California, stopping at islands now called Santa Catalina and San Clemente, and passing the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. Along the way they saw and talked with many Indians, admiring the tomols (plank canoes) of the Chumash Indians near present-day Oxnard. Cabrillo always made friendly gestures toward the Indians and avoided any fighting. Forced back by strong winds at Point Conception, the ships anchored at one of the Channel Islands now called San Miguel. During the week they stayed there, Cabrillo apparently fell and broke his arm. However, as soon as the weather allowed, he continued north.

On November 16 the three ships anchored in Monterey Bay. They may have gone further north, perhaps as far as Point Reyes, but they did not see the entrance to San Francisco Bay. The seas were very stormy and the ships were taking a hard beating, so Cabrillo decided to turn south again and they reached San Miguel Island on November 23. Cabrillo died on this island on January 3, 1543. One story says it was a result of his broken arm in October, other stories say that he slipped on a rock in December and shattered his shinbone, becoming very ill and dying. It is said that he was buried on San Miguel Island, but the site of his grave is not known.

San Salvador Replica

Starting in spring 2011 and concluding in 2015, volunteers at the Maritime Museum of San Diego built a full-sized, fully functional, historically accurate replica of San Salvador. The ship was constructed in full public view at Spanish Landing Park on Harbor Drive in San Diego. The keel was laid on April 15, 2011 and the construction site, called "San Salvador Village", opened on June 24, 2011 and was open to the public. The project gave people the opportunity to see an example of sixteenth century shipbuilding, which was the first modern industrial activity in the Americas. The replica galleon is 92 feet long with a beam of 24 feet. Upon completion, San Salvador was launched on San Diego Bay and became part of the Museum's fleet of historic and replica ships. She made her public debut on September 4, 2015, leading a parade of tall ships for the start of San Diego's annual Festival of Sail. She will visit the Channel Islands Maritime Museum on September 15 – 18 as part of the Pacific Heritage Tour.