The St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation Brings Back History!
“A man is never lost at sea.” – Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway will always be an ‘ode’ to the life of a sailor. A life that involves adventure, fear, action – and a true type of romance when it comes to the bond between a soul and the mighty ocean.
There s a place in this country that is a true ‘home’ to the history of the sea. In fact, St. Augustine, Florida, is the ‘home’ of history, period. From the Fountain of Youth to the Spanish explorers to the epic battles waged in order to claim ownership of this incredible city, St. Augustine can boast about a great deal when it comes to the illustrious past.
Recently, we had the pleasure of being able to speak with a man by the name of Alexander Cameron, PhD, who is the Project Manager at the St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Museum; a stunning foundation that celebrates the amazing historical significance that the deep, blue ocean and the brave souls who traveled upon it, brought to the United States of America.
For a little background, it was in the early 1500’s when Ponce De Leon (a famous name to one and all) brought his ship into shore near St. Augustine, Florida and basically “discovered” this new land. This Spanish Explorer, as well as being the Governor of the Island of Puerto Rico, met up and made friends with the natives who already dwelled there; natives referred to as the “Timucua.” These particular people were extremely peaceful and lived their lives in serenity. Their daily existence consisted of smoking fish and meats on the ‘marsh’ side and then utilizing canoes in order to navigate the coastal waterways surrounding St. Augustine. This particular ‘network’ was how they and the other tribes surrounding them were able to trade with one another.
As we all know, Ponce De Leon claimed this land in the name of Spain, renaming it “La Florida,” and began changing the lives of the natives. All was well and good for a few decades until the ‘true nature of man’ came to pass, and defensive issues came into play. In other words, the battle between France and Spain was about to begin.
Suffice to say, Spanish Florida was what came to pass, and in 1565 “St. Augustine” came into being. For almost 200 years Spain retained this beautiful land until the British took over for just a bit before returning it once again to Spain. Believe it or not, America did not actually take over St. Augustine until 1823, as Florida finally became one of the great United States in 1845
The founding of St. Augustine – the rich, incredible history – brings one back to a time where men took their lives into their own hands as they rode the rough and stormy seas to ‘see what they could see.’ And the St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation is a group of individuals who are doing their very best to truly bring these days back to life, and commemorate the 450th anniversary of the founding of St Augustine. The event will be one of the biggest ever to occur in this country, and will be a true celebration of the first city in our ‘New World.’
Among the projects that are being worked on are the construction of two authentic sailing vessels that the Foundation is building; beautiful replicas of a Chalupa and a Caravel, which completely and utterly define Hispanic history and the stunning heritage that still thrives in St Augustine to this day. Not only with the vessels be an amazing sight to see, they will also be a part of the educational events and the tourist attractions that will show the history and beauty that was, and still remains, in this amazing country of ours.
Being built at the “Boatyard,” located at the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, the ships will come to life in front of one and all. The amazing talent that is a part of this project are a group of truly committed and skilled volunteers who want nothing more than to inspire and educate the country by bringing maritime projects, activities and events that focus on the historic port, to the people. Not to mention providing an in-depth look into Hispanic Cultural Heritage. The history of the maritime world is extensive and so unbelievably amazing that it should not be lost in this world of pure technology. This is, quite literally, the Nation’s Oldest Port, and must be cared for and updated so that all generations will know where our roots truly began.
One of the most amazing facets of this project is the promotion of the shipbuilding, itself. In front of the world, these ships as well as a 16th Century Boat Works will appear. This truly is a stimulating attraction that focuses and showcases the skill and tremendous hard work that the community is giving in order to ‘resurrect the past.’
In essence, the 16th Century WAS the era of exploration. Columbus discovered a brand New World and, basically, the countries wanted to ‘duke it out’ in order to see who would be the eventual ‘owners’ of the land. British, French, Portuguese, Spanish – sent hundreds of their men across the mighty ocean – risking their lives as they sailed the two thousand miles of rough and ready seas to explore anything and everything that could be found.
Looking back on history, it is amazing to believe that anyone would’ve taken the risk and climbed on a hand-built wooden sailing vessel. Yet, they did. The original explorers had no fear – just the belief that the New World was perhaps the goldmine that they had been searching for. From Columbus to Ponce de Leon to Pedro Menendez – all of these famous explorers used a ship referred to as a Caravel; as well as a boat called the Chalupa in order to get their job done.
And the 16th Century Boat Works that’s being built on the grounds of the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park will be a place of pure history, as the volunteer builders will be using the same architectural methods, tools and techniques from that era, in order to produce a completely accurate building, as well as Coast Guard-approved, seaworthy vessels.
When heading to the Heritage Museum website, you can actually see pictures of these ships. The Caravel, which was a fast 20-meter sailing vessel developed by the Portuguese was first used n coastal exploration. This ship had two masts which enabled it to sail extremely well.
As time moved on and explorations went far further distances, such as the famous expedition of Christopher Columbus, the vessel was modified with square-rigged sails on three or four masts in order to better sail downwind along the trade winds. True artisans are bringing back the expert carpentry from the 16th Century and using archeological data from the discoveries of shipwrecks and historical documentation, in order to construct the Caravel which will be christened the, “San Agustin.”
The second ship that is coming to life before everyone’s eyes is a utility longboat known as a “chalupa.” In the 16th century this was a truly needed craft for the early Spanish explorers and settlers. With his utility boat they could explore much further inland. Since it was far smaller, explorers could cross sandbars in order to delve into the shallow creeks. Not to mention the fact, that with this boat, a country could easily land their soldiers, munitions and equipment on shore in order to be prepared for the next battle. Using data from a marine archeological find in Canada, community volunteers are making sure that they bring the craft back to life perfectly.
An undertaking of this magnitude offers many individuals – from maritime enthusiasts to artisans to people who wish to bring the Spanish heritage and culture back to life – a chance to be part of something truly special. It will be amazing to watch everything come to life. Columbus…Ponce De Leon…these men would be very, very proud.
For more information, and to see the amazing pictures, go to:
Saint Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation
Alexander Cameron, PhD, Project Manager
PO Box 4363
St. Augustine, FL 32085-4363
Gear: Nikon Digital Slr, Kodak Play Sport,
Foot wear: Merrell Boots