Adventures in an 17th Century Ship: El Galeon Andalucia

It’s not every day that you get to go on a 17th Century ship so I wasn’t going to miss seeing the El Galeon at the recent Tall Ships Festival in Philadelphia. I was going to wear my Vermeer dress and be uber-appropriate but alas, it seemed a little on the warm side and I wimped out. Of course, later on, I wish I had just gone ahead and worn the dress because so many people were in historic attire and it wasn’t really that warm just sitting there. Sigh.

Despite the purgatorial waits for the ferry across the Delaware river, one hour there and almost two hours to return(!), it was well worth it to walk around on the galleon-class ship.

Galleons were a moderately-sized (for the time) sea-going vessel of choice from the 16th through the 18th Century (Wikipedia – Galleon). As building a galleon was expensive business, they were intended for trade. However, they often showed up in military activities as well. The great sea battle between Queen Elizabeth’s navy and the Spanish Armada in the 16th Century was fought primarily by galleons, along with other smaller boats. When most people think about pirates, they picture galleons.

These days, there is only one vintage galleon in existence, the Vasa, a Swedish ship from 1627 located in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden (Wikipedia – Vasa). The Vasa, a warship designed for combat, is larger than El Galeon Andalucia and had two cannon decks instead of just one. The Andalucia was made for a more peaceful purpose, to study sailing techniques and technology of ships from that period. After a little research, I discovered some other type of boats from the period, including:

  • Carrack – Originally Spanish-style.
    Famous boats include the Victoria, sailed by Ferdinand Magellan to circumnavigate the globe for the first time, (Wikipedia – Victoria) and the Santa Maria, sailed by Christopher Columbus. A replica of the Victoria was made and lives in Punta Arenas, Chile. Carracks typically have three to four masts and large square sails.
  • Great Ship – Labels based on English Navy rating system.
    Depending on what size, or how many guns your ship could carry, a carrack could be rated a royal, great, middling, or small ships status. (Wikipedia – Rating system of the Royal Navy)
  • Caravel – Originally Portuguese-style.
    A caravel is a smaller boat that evolved earlier, during the 15th Century. It was light-weight, highly maneuverable, and fast, thus being very popular among period sailors. The shallow keel allowed the caravel to traverse inland coastal waters. caravels were integral in the exploration and establishment of trade routes. Once trade was well established, they were replaced by the large carrack ships. (Wikipedia – Caravel) A replica, the Notorious, lives in Victoria, Australia (Wikipedia – Notorious). Caravels typically have two to three masts and have lateen sails (Wikipedia – Lateen), which are triangular and look sort of like a 45 degree triangle facing backwards.
  • Pinnace – Dutch- or English-style.
    A pinnace is similar to a carrack but generally built in England and Northern Europe. One Dutch pinnace of particular note, is the Kalmar Nyckel, which brought early Swedish settlers to the Delaware region.  A replica of the Kalmar Nyckel lives and sails from Wilmington, Delaware (
  • Fluyt – Dutch-style.
    The fluyt is also similar to a carrack, however, they were never intended to be re-fitted for military use and therefore had more cargo space, could be operated by a smaller crew, and were cheaper to build. They had two or three masts that were taller than the other types of boats to allow for larger sails which made them fairly quick. The Mayflower is a famous example of a fluyt. (Wikipedia – Fluyt)

Regardless of style, there aren’t too many replica 17th Century ships floating around so when there is an opportunity to walk around on one, I’d be crazy not to take it considering the 17th Century is one of my favorite periods. There was also an 18th Century replica of the l’Hermione, the ship that brought General Lafayette to America to assist with the Revolutionary War. Alas, my plans were completely thwarted by the very slow, slow, slow ferry (grrrrr).

After waiting on the very long line, we arrived at the stern of the boat. Immediately, the craftsmanship is apparent. Not only is there a beautiful painting of, what I’m guessing is the Virgin Mary, but each medallion in the balcony railing also contains a small image or insignia.  If you look closely at the doors, you’ll notice they have leaded and stained glass.

El Galeon Andalucia

I love how the rigging is secured with what looks like buttons. In general, on these older sailboats, the way the ropes are tied down is almost a work of art in itself. It’s very windy and I was juggling my phone as well as a bag so I got a little of my finger in the shot, but in the bottom left, you can see a cannon just barely peeping out.

El Galeon Andalucia

Here is the ship’s bell, commemorating the launch of the ship in 2009.

El Galeon Andalucia

I’m not entire sure what this is, but on a ship, everything has a purpose. It does appear to keep the ropes nice and tidy. It’s important to note that this ship has crossed the Atlantic ocean so everything is designed to be seaworthy and necessary.

El Galeon Andalucia

Everything must have its proper place in tight quarters but I love the way everything is placed just so. It is logical that ropes must be stored in such a way to be easily accessible when needed. It is also logical that if you just leave your ropes lying around, your crew will trip over them, fall into the sea, and certainly be gobbled by a Kraken. So it’s therefore logical to keep things tidy and it’s an added bonus that it’s aesthetically pleasing.

El Galeon Andalucia

Because galleons were commonly used in military operations, or fending off pirates, here is a cannon. On one of the earlier days of the festival, I believe they did fire off the cannons on one of the boats, blanks, of course.

El Galeon Andalucia

In the photo of the stern, above, you can see the rudder of the ship. Here is the wheel. In the background, is a higher deck we weren’t allowed to view.

El Galeon Andalucia

Obviously there was no plumbing on the original ship but the ceramic bowl has the style of traditional Spanish pottery. Something similar might have found it’s way on board in the 17th Century.

El Galeon Andalucia

This is where the ship’s officers would have, and likely do, eat and gather to discuss ship business.

El Galeon Andalucia

I have to admit that this room is not quite what I would expect a room, even a nautical one, from the 17th Century to look like. Maybe Regency? Especially that sofa? I feel like it needs a little more Vermeer. However, it does the job of giving one the overall feeling of this being a VIP room.

El Galeon Andalucia

The only person with an actual bed is the captain. Unlike the state room, this bed is very similar to simple furniture from the 17th Century.

El Galeon Andalucia

If you are not the captain, you are sleeping wherever there’s room. We had a chance to venture to the lower deck and it was very dark, hot, and stuffy. I can’t imagine being stuck down there for any length of time. For those on the deck with the guns, just below the main deck, these vents provide air circulation and light.

El Galeon Andalucia

Walking around on the ship was like being inside a very large piece of fine furniture. Everything was polished and smelled really good: wood, polish, sunshine, with a hint of sea salt. Realistically speaking, the original probably would have smelled like animals, vomit, sweat, gunpowder, mold, and rotting things. Not nearly as pleasant. But, that’s the nice thing about experiencing history today. All that unpleasantness is omitted from the experience. As an aside, I am taking notes for kitchen cabinets. I just loved this door.

El Galeon Andalucia

Finally, as we departed the galleon, we ran into this little fellow. Thankfully, you are unlikely to have too many of these on modern journeys but there would have been many, many rats on original crossings.

El Galeon Andalucia

By the time we boarded, I really regretted not wearing my dress. There were a few women in 18th Century interpretive dress but only men in 17th Century garb. It was an original idea of mine to venture to Delaware to see the Kalmar Nyckel to take photos so I think we’ll stick with that idea and aim for the fall, when it’s cooler. Maybe even entertain an actual sail.


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