George Adkin

While history books have only given us sneak peeks into centuries past, for 20 years it has been the dream of the Maritime Museum of San Diego to build a vessel that could actually sail us back in time. With the world’s leading naval architects, historians, and marine archeologists at the helm, the museum’s mission was a success when in 2015 Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s San Salvador sailed off the pages of 16th-century history and into present-day reality with a true-to-life replica of the ship in present-day San Diego. On May 18-23, she will visit S.B. on a multi-port voyage, anchoring at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum (SBMM) and bringing history back to life.

SBMM Executive Director Greg Gorga says he saw the ship for the first time in San Diego, where construction of the San Salvador replica took five years.

“We’ve had other tall ships,” he explains, “but what struck me is that this one sits especially high up over the water.” The timeless majesty of this early architectural marvel has indeed weathered many waves of technological advancements, still inspiring awe in its modern-day visitors.

Beyond its aesthetic, perhaps what makes the ship so marvelous is the story of human courage and curiosity that once propelled the San Salvador’s voyage in search of new trade routes from Mexico to Asia and Europe. “It’s truly amazing to see how tens to hundreds of sailors could live on the ship for months or years at a time, and they knew less about where they were going than we do today about exploring Mars,” Gorga continues. “That incredible sense of exploration is something amazing that people can take away from coming to see the ship.”

This year, 475 years after its original expedition, the San Salvador will once again take to the seas, and this time it’s our turn to step onboard. On its Pacific Heritage Tour, the ship will be docked at the SBMM May 18-23, inviting all adventurous souls to voyage back to 1542 when Cabrillo’s San Salvador graced our golden shoreline, marking the first European contact with the West Coast.

“This is the history of California,” Gorga says with audible passion in his voice, “so let’s get on deck and rediscover our past.”

San Salvador dockside tours will be offered Thursday-Monday, May 18-22 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. A day sail will take place on May 23. For more information, visit


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