Saturday, October 24, 2015

El Galeon Andalucia Virtual Tour Part 4: Gun 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, spacing, tone, and inflection. 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 fourth 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.

A line of cannons

Welcome to the gun deck. In contrast to the elegant spaces in the Noble Area, 70 to 100 people might be crowded together to sleep here.  They’d put their hammocks wherever they could – above the cannons, in a corner, wherever they could carve out a little bit of space for themselves. The food was bad – remember they hadn’t yet invented refrigeration or canning, so everything was dried or pickled or salted. Dried rice, dried beans, salt pork, a kind of hard biscuit, whatever fish they could catch, maybe some nuts. There was just enough water to drink, assuming it didn’t go foul after the first few weeks, nothing left for bathing, not that they bathe every day the way we do. And you’re sharing that space with the livestock!    There is no privacy at all. You are elbow-to-elbow with 100 of your closest (illiterate, unwashed) friends, for two to three months. And that’s just the inconvenient part of the voyage. You’ve also got real dangers.  There are storms that you can’t predict and can’t outrun. There could be pirates. The navigation of the day was quite sketchy – they could determine their latitude but not their longitude.  They knew they’d get to their destination, but they couldn’t tell exactly when. They might be ahead of where they thought they were, closer to shore, and run aground in the middle of the night; or they might be behind schedule – should they start rationing food? One of the few who was literate wrote in a journal or a letter home, “We are in constant fear for our lives. Only about three inches separates us from death.” Because that was the thickness of a hull plank; that was all that kept out the Atlantic that would drown them. Think about what that voyage must have been like.  Now, think about what conditions must have been like in Europe, if people thought that making that trip was their best option.

Now we use it as a museum display about galleons in history and the settlement of St Augustine, the first Spanish city in Florida, in 1565. But in the old days, can you imagine 100 people sleeping together in this space?

Scant light and ventilation below. The grille of the cargo hatch, looking up from the gun deck

Let’s talk about the cannons themselves. These are approximately 10-pounders. On land, say if it was mounted in a fort (like the Castillo), a cannon this size could fire accurately about a mile and a half. But of course the ship is rocking and rolling with every wave, so we would have to wait until an attacking ship was right next to us before firing. In this leather bucket is a cannonball. (Let kids feel the weight)  And this is two cannonballs held together, called chain shot. This is what our enemies would use against us. They don’t want to sink our ship, because they can’t steal our cargo if it’s at the bottom of the ocean. So they use the chain shot. When it’s shot the two cannon balls tumble and spin and can knock down the mast or rip up the sail.  Then we can’t get away and they can raid us at their leisure. And this other is grape shot – this is what they would use against people. These smaller balls would scatter coming out of the cannon, and the aim doesn’t have to be quite so good. The bucket itself – before firing they would wet down the decks with sea water so a stray spark doesn’t set the ship on fire.

Something interesting, count the cannons on this deck, and when you exit the ship count the number of cannon ports. 8 ports on each side, but only 5 cannons. This actually wasn’t all that uncommon.  Cannons are expensive, and we can make it look like the ship is more formidable than it really is (or that we can afford!)

Measuring boat speed by literal "knots" in a piece of rope.

This log is how they measure speed. They had no technology, but they were pretty creative. They throw the wooden end off the stern of the ship and as they sail away the line unreels. There is a knot tied in the line every 50 feet, and they’d count how many knots slip between their fingers in 30 seconds. 50 feet in 30 seconds is 100 feet in a minute. 60 minutes in an hour, 6000 feet = 1 nautical mile per hour, and that’s why we measure boat speed in “knots” even today.

A note about the flags on display in the second picture: the nearer one, red "X" on a white background, is the Cross of Burgundy. It is a military flag and the flag of the Spanish overseas territories, and would have flown over the Galeon when it sailed in historic times.  The scraggly X symbolizes St Andrew, who was crucified on a hastily-made cross of brambly branches. The modern flag of the state of Florida contains a red X on a white ground with the seal of the state in the center, in a nod to the state's Spanish origins. The further flag represents the houses/kingdoms of Castile and Leon (castle and lion) in 1230 and might have flown over Columbus' ships.

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