Wilmington’s big floating attractions are the USS North Carolina Battleship – the historic warship permanently moored in the Cape Fear River – and Henrietta III, the large riverboat that cruises the same waterway.
But starting next week, they’re about to be temporarily eclipsed by a sight so strange that even river gators will be scratching their snouts: an Armada-style Spanish galleon.
The El Galeon is a replica of the type of large wooden ship that did duty in the treasure fleets kings Carlos I and Felippe II sent to the New World to safely convey gold and other booty back to Spain. Given what those ships were hauling, galleons were built large enough to weather the long Atlantic voyage and were armed to the teeth.
The 495-ton ship arriving in Wilmington is 170 feet stem to stern. Aug. 14-23, it will be docked at a riverfront pier at the end of Harnett Street at the new Port City Marina, next to the Wilmington Convention Center.
It’s owned by the Nao Victoria Foundation, a Spanish organization that seeks to “recover, recreate and exploit historical ships.” The El Galeon is a rarity, designed and built by a team led by historians and other specialists. The goal is to give people a taste of what life may have been like during the Age of Exploration.
It’s a life-size, built-in-Spain reproduction “tall ship,” and its crew lives aboard the El Galeon when it is in its home port of St. Augustine, Fla., or on tour. When the El Galeon docked in Miami in 2013, it was toured by as many as 2,000 people per day.
Walk the ship’s five decks, talk to its sailors, look at its rigging, sails and cannon. There are also interactive exhibits, videos, documents and displays aboard. Explore it on your own; be sure to bring your camera.
The ship is coming to Wilmington from New London, Conn., and will stop in Charleston before returning to St. Augustine.
St. Augustine is a natural base for the ship: It’s the oldest European city in the United States, and the ship is similar to one in the fleet that founded St. Augustine Sept. 8, 1565.
That expedition out of Cadiz, Spain, was led by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, an explorer who became the first governor of Spanish Florida. Besides exploring the area, hunting for gold and dealing with native Floridians – trading with, converting or killing them – the admiral/administrator also had to deal with Frenchmen who tried to build a fort at the present-day site of Jacksonville. His fleet also was tasked with protecting the Spanish settlement of Santa Elena, far up the coast on what is now Parris Island, S.C.
Tickets are on sale at the ship 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. starting Aug. 14. Cost: $10; 12 and younger, free.
A loot-scooting tall ship
Ship details: www.elgaleon.org. Wilmington ticket info: www.wilmingtondocks.com/visiting-tall-ship-in-2015.