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History comes alive at Spanish Landing Park

The San Salvador is a historical replica vessel being built at Spanish Landing Park.

In the 16th century, Kumeyaay Indians were San Diego’s only residents until Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo arrived by boat. Now, a full-size re-creation of that ship, the San Salvador, is taking shape at Spanish Landing Park on the shores of San Diego Bay.

Construction of the 92-foot-long ship is a project of the Maritime Museum of San Diego. The original San Salvador was the founding ship of San Diego and the state of California.

“We’re half-way along in completing the hull,” said Dr. Ray Ashley, president and CEO of the Maritime Museum of San Diego. “We’re making progress every day.”

The ribs of the hull, a strong Southern Live Oak, are now visible from Harbor Drive. For a closer look, visitors are able to enter the ship yard — named San Salvador Village — and watch the construction.

So far, about 9,000 visitors have toured through the village, with many returning weekly to keep abreast of the progress.

Bruce Heyman, San Salvador project manager, said the hull is scheduled for completion at the end of this year. The ship will then be launched, and the work crew will complete the rigging, plumbing, wiring and installation of electronic systems.

Although the 200-ton, 24-foot-wide re-creation will look like Cabrillo’s flagship, it is being constructed with all current safety features to conform to U.S. Coast Guard regulations. This will allow the vessel to sail the California coast as a goodwill ambassador and provide “living history” educational programs for children.

Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay on Sept. 28, 1542, and noted that the area was “an enclosed harbor which was very good.”

The voyage, which began in what is now Guatemala, resulted in the first appearance of the California region on a European map and was the basis for future colonization and development of the West Coast.

Ashley said building the San Salvador places emphasis on the history of America from a Pacific viewpoint and calls into focus that Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay 78 years before the pilgrims landed on the East Coast.

“San Diego is one of the places where America began,” Ashley said. “That is a powerful statement that could drive heritage tourism to San Diego.”

Upon completion, San Salvador will usually be docked with the museum’s fleet of ships at the North Embarcadero and is expected to draw visitors from across the country.

The Port of San Diego has provided the construction site and annually provides financial support to the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

“A mission of the port is to activate the waterfront and San Salvador will bring millions of people to the San Diego bay front,” said Port Commissioner Scott Peters, while speaking at the ship’s keel laying ceremony held in April 2011.

“This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to build something this historic. This is the founding of San Diego,” said Heyman, who on-site oversees 13 museum craftsmen and about 20 volunteers.

If you would like to volunteer, please contact Heyman at 949-289-8400, or e-mail bruceheyman@cox.net. Volunteers must sign a standard legal waiver, be a member of the Maritime Museum of San Diego and have health insurance.

“We provide instruction, wood and tools. You provide the enthusiasm,” Heyman said.

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