Monday, October 19, 2015

El Galeon Andalucia Virtual Tour Part 1: Main Deck

One of my favorite visitors to the Galeon was a middle-aged black gentleman who came aboard in New York City. He commented on my nametag, one of the very few who got it right,and told me somewhat admiringly that "Janye" is a black name. (Um, yeah, and I think it's so cool.) We had a nice conversation about the ship, and about our jobs.  He was a tourguide on a bus tour of Manhattan. He commented that the ship was beautiful, and I gave my stock reply, "I had nothing to do with the construction, but thank you anyway," and he burst out laughing.  Huh? I thought to myself, that phrase is not that funny; I don't get it.  "Now I KNOW you're a real tourguide," he told me. "I heard you use that same line, with the same inflection, a few minutes ago!" And then it was my turn to laugh, because he was right, in a takes-one-to-know-one kinda way. I was busted! After you've been giving tours for a while, you learn what works best for the visitors and you say the same thing the same way.  Completely memorize your lines. He gave me his card and offered me a complementary tour on his bus, which I never got to take, but I was inspired to write out, word for memorized word, my tour. So if you never got to visit the ship while I was aboard, here, in the first of four blog posts, is what I would have said when you visited. And note, this is MY tour. I do my very best to get facts accurate; but any mistakes here are my own.

The galeon docked in St Augustine

At the entry on main deck:
Welcome aboard El Galeon Andalucia. My name is Janye and I’m a crew member here; I live oucia. My name is Janye and I'n the ship and travel around with it (I know, tough life).

A galleon is basically a cargo ship, and Spain used some variation on the galleon design for about 300 years, in the 16th, 17th, and 18th century. It was a very successful design for Spain, in those 300 years galleons moved 1.4 trillion dollars’ worth of goods across the oceans – settlers and their supplies to Spain’s colonies in the New World; gold, silver, and spices on the return voyage.  (Including a galleon similar to this one that founded the city of St Augustine 450 years ago.) We are armed with 12 cannons, not because we’re a fighting ship (we’re not, we’re merchants, we hate fighting – it cuts into our profits) but because we’re slow.  So: full of valuable cargo, too slow to run away, we better be ready to defend ourselves because this ship is not a pirate ship, it is a pirate target

This ship is a replica; it was built in 2009 in Huelva, Spain, and since construction it has traveled over 40,000 miles under its own power, mostly under sail; the map in the corner shows all the places we’ve been.  We have two, 375-hp diesel engines; we use those mostly for docking and close maneuvering. There was no such thing as marinas 400 years ago so they neither had nor needed that kind of exactness, they’d just drop anchor anywhere in the harbor and row ashore in small boats. Instead, we visit marinas so people like you can come aboard. We also use the engines for meeting a schedule, because of course in the old days if the wind ain’t blowin’, the ship ain’t goin’.  You’d simply wait. But we have a schedule of port appearances to keep. So if there’s no wind, or wind from the wrong direction, we turn on the motor. But we prefer to sail.  Sailing is more fun, it’s more comfortable, and hey! We’re owned by a non-profit! Wind is free, diesel is expensive! And we use a lot of diesel, we don’t measure our diesel in gallons; we measure it in tons.

As galleons go, we’re at the large end of the historic size range. We’re 170 feet long, 496 tons, and our main mast is 120 feet from its top to its base two decks below our feet.  We all have to climb it to do our work today.  And, being 21st century people even though we live on a 17th century ship, we all have our selfies from the top. 

In the old days, a ship like this would have needed a crew of 130. (If there are any kids in the audience, add: “starting as young as 9 years old.  One of the first jobs for the 9 year olds is to climb the rigging up to the crow’s nest and be a lookout.  Look for enemy ships, look for land, look for whatever the captain tells you to look for.  Do you think that would be a good job?” If they say yes, “That’s why they used 9 year olds! They have this rockin’ awesome attitude that everything’s an adventure!” If they say no, “Nine year olds are so much smarter today than they were back then.” Continue, “They used 9 year olds because they are light, they are agile, they are fearless, they have great eyesight.  And they’re also … disposable. If one falls, at least you haven’t wasted years training them.  Just go to the next port and pick up another one.”) This modern replica ship crossed the Atlantic with a crew of 34, plus Mr. Computer, Mr. GPS, and Mr. Radar. So thank you, modern technology.

Overview of the main deck, looking forward from the quarterdeck

(FAQ: Why did it take so many more people back then? “They would have had to maintain the ship; they would have had sailmakers and carpenters and caulkers, in addition to sailors. All things that are not necessary now with modern materials.” )
(FAQ: How long did the trip take? “Then, two to three months. Now, the modern ship crossed the Atlantic from Canary Islands to Puerto Rico in 24 days, and 17 of those days were sail only.”)
(FAQ: Why the difference? “Three reasons. (1)  Modern weather routing lets us take advantage of winds. (2) Modern hull materials – the old wooden hulls would grow barnacles and algae that would add friction and slow them down. We have modern fiberglass hull and antifouling paints to make that far less of an issue. (3) When they had no wind, they waited. We could use the engine.)
(FAQ: Who owns the ship and why was it built and how long did it take and how much did it cost? “Built and owned by the Nao Victoria Foundation, a non-profit in Spain, for purposes of education and outreach and to help preserve Spain’s maritime heritage. 150 people worked for 16 months to build it at a cost between 5 and 6 million Euros (about $9 million))

Overview of the main deck, from foredeck looking aft

The main cargo hatch

We’re here on the main deck and behind me is the main cargo hatch. They could remove this grill and load cargo directly into the cargo hold. If they are small items they’d form a human chain and hand things down via a bucket brigade; if they are larger heavier items they’d use ropes and pulleys and the capstan you will see when you go below to the gun deck.  And, at the end of the day, when you reward yourself with that cold beer and go, “Glug, glug, down the hatch?” This is the “hatch” where that expression comes from.

At the back of the main deck is the Zona Noble, the Noble Area. These ships only go downwind, which means the freshest air and best breezes come from the back. So the wealthy and powerful glommed onto this area.  The officers and VIPs and wealthy had their cabins here, and here is where the captain would entertain visiting dignitaries or the ship’s owners, for example.

Map of the galeon's travels

This map shows everywhere this replica ship has been. Built in Huelva in southwestern Spain near the Portugal border. This is the same place some of the original galleons were built 400 years ago. The maiden voyage was to Shanghai, China in 2010, and back to Spain in 2011. The worst weather the ship has ever been in was in the Philippines, they caught the tail end of a typhoon. I’m told that the waves were as high as the quarterdeck. Then in 2012 they visited various ports around Spain, and in 2013 crossed the Atlantic and have been traveling up and down cities on the East Coast, and Puerto Rico. Winter before last they were in Puerto Rico filming an NBC mini-series about Blackbeard called “Crossbones,” and a couple of Captain Morgan rum commercials.

The Atlantic crossing was similar to the route the original galleons took. The ships could only go downwind. So they would leave Spain and sail down the coast of Africa until they got to the latitude in the 20s, where the trade winds blow steadily from the east. They’d ride those winds straight across to the colonies in Florida or the Caribbean, do whatever they’re doing. Then they’d get on the Gulf Stream and let it carry them north and back west. Here at the latitude in the low 40s, New York City or Madrid, the winds blow predominantly from the west and would carry them home. One giant clockwise circle around the Atlantic once a year. This is also why Spain clung so tightly to the cities of Havana and Miami: the Gulf Stream runs very close to shore here and they wanted to protect that shipping route. It is one of the reasons Spain was so powerful during this period, because they knew about and controlled the Gulf Stream to get them across the ocean faster than their rivals.


  1. Oh no - I've always called you Jaye but its really Jayne! So sorry! In any event, Jaye/Jayne is a great tour guide!

    1. Wow I've really done it now. It's not even Jayne, it's Janye. Can I just call you Bob instead?

  2. Now let me make the name thing even more complicated. I go by "Jaye" everywhere. Janye is the greatest typo in the history of English, and I love my (accidental) name. On the ship about half the people used Jaye and half used Jane. "Jane" was very practical. There was another crew member named Roger, and with their accent, Roger became "ro-ZHAY" which sounded way to close to the way they pronoucned Jaye "ZHAY." Being "Jane" made it easy to tell which one of us an order was being addressed to. 99.9% of the visitors saw Janye on my name tag and proceeded to call me either Jayne or Janey.