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Replica Spanish tall ship San Salvador anchored and open for tours in Morro Bay

San Salvador
Replica Spanish tall ship San Salvador sits docked in Morro Bay Harbor on Aug. 11, 2023. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

MORRO BAY, Calif. - The full-scale replica Spanish tall ship San Salvador has sailed into Morro Bay, where it will be anchored for the next several days.

The ship, which is a replica of the 16th century galleon Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo used as the first European vessel to sail the West Coast, is now open to the public for tours beginning today.

"Just wonderful," said Barbara Pearce of Boulder City, Nevada, just minutes after visiting the ship Friday morning. "We passed by it in the harbor and we didn't know it was here and it was like, whoa, and just image how they lived back then in the 1500's and what they had to do, the hard work to work on that. It's amazing."

The San Salvador was most recently seen in Santa Barbara, where it was on display for several days coinciding with the city's Old Spanish Days Fiesta Week.

Now, it is in Morro Bay, the latest stop on the ship's Pacific Heritage Tour 2023. The stop in Morro Bay is through a partnership between Maritime Museum San Diego and Morro Bay Maritime Museum.

"There aren't too many galleons in the United States, none that I'm aware of on the West Coast, so this is a galleon, a little different from the normal tall ships that visit Morro Bay," said Morro Bay Maritime Museum founder Larry Newland. "This is a really special opportunity to get kind of a look into the past. You're talking about the 16th century, the time of the Italian Renaissance. This is 50 years after Columbus got to the Indes, so it's not too often that we have a treasure like this." 

On Friday, large crowds with locals and tourists alike filled the the Morro Bay South T Pier, waiting for the opportunity to climb aboard and tour the vessel.

"We have been overwhelmed with reactions, so you have to be patient with standing in line, but it's well worth it," said Maritime Museum San Diego Vice President Susan Sirota. "There's tons of smiles coming off the boat."

Sirota described the experience for visitors as a trip back in time to the 16th century, as though the crew at that time left the ship, leaving for tourists to walk aboard and look around.

"This is history," said Brian Martinez, visiting from Hanford. "This is one of a kind. You totally feel like you step back into time. You are in awe when you see it. This thing is incredible! And to be actually able to walk onto it, it's a dream come true. It really is a dream come true."

This marks the second time the San Salvador has visited in Morro Bay. The ship last sailed into the Central Coast back in 2016. Seven years ago during the first visit, the San Salvador attracted about 10,000 visitors.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm and there's a lot to see and there's a lot more to see this time than last time, both in the ship because more of the ship is available for visitors, but we also have the museum across the street, which wasn't there in 2016," said Newland. "We are off to a very good start today. It's always working the bugs out of our operation the first day or two, but we're pretty optimistic that we should get at or near our goal of 10,000 people." 

The San Salvador is scheduled to remain in Morro Bay through Aug. 20 before embarking on an all immersive trip that is open to the public. The ship will begin a nearly week-long voyage from Morro Bay to the Northern Channel Islands and later to Oxnard. The five-night, six day tour will sail Aug. 21 through Aug. 26.

The ship will then sail from Oxnard beginning Aug. 27 to the Southern California Channels before ending at its home in San Diego on Sept. 1.

"You come and sail with us," said Sirota. "We teach you how to crew and sail the ship. We learn the parts of the ship, the sails, the line handling. We also then have evening lectures about the history of the time period, some island ecology from a historical perspective, and essentially we have a good time and you become a crew mates with the working crew on the boat."

For more information about the San Salvador, or to purchase tickets, click here.

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Dave Alley

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