San Salvador Replica Progress

by on October 28, 2014 · 0 comments

in California, Culture, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego

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The San Salvador, October 2014. Photo by Eric Gerhardt

 Building a Historically Accurate Replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s Flagship

Vince showing where the molding will go

Vince showing where the molding will go

By Judi Curry

There are not many times in life that you meet a person you don’t want to say goodbye to. This was not a romantic endeavor, but rather a person that is so genuine, so humble that you obtain energy just from being with him.

I recently met one of those extraordinary men – a Sicilian, who has worked in the boat business for 50-odd years, learning the trade as a teen in Sicily. He is a wonderful craftsmen and you can’t help but marvel at the finished product he creates.

Who is this man, you ask? A little background first. A while ago I did a story of the “Women volunteers of the San Salvador.” This is the ship that you can see being built just west of the airport on Harbor Drive. I was going to go back and do a story of the men volunteers but never got around to it.

Luckily, I’m on the mailing list of the San Salvador and had received a message from the volunteer coordinator regarding the stepping of each mast for measuring shrouds, or the rigging that secures the mast on either side. This involves holding the masts and their crow’s nests in place on the boat with a crane while temporary lines are used to measure the distance to the deck.

The message went on to say the event would also include the firing of one of the cannons, and remarked that it “should be a great day to come by if possible.”

And…it was possible. This article is two-fold; I’ll first introduce you to this extraordinary man. And then I’ll show you what the San Salvador looks like now.

Vince working the wheel

Vince working the wheel

Vince Sardina began working on boats when he was 10 years old in Sicily. His father owned a boat yard and when Vince was finished with school for the day he helped his father at the yard.

By the time he was 16, he was managing the yard when his father was not there. And even though it was his father’s boat yard, he still became an apprentice first; and a journeyman later on. He was one of three sons and three daughters. Only he became interested in the boat business.

In 1933 his maternal grandparents moved to San Diego while his paternal grandparents moved to Buffalo, New York. By 1955 the entire Sardina family was in San Diego. Vince settled in Buffalo originally, and his second day there he was employed at the Richardson Boat Yard.

Later on in his life, he met his wife and they lived in Chicago, where, again he worked in a boat yard. He constructed many different kinds of boats from yachts to large sailing vessels.

When he and his wife moved to San Diego with their three children, Vince began working for the Kettenberg company. When they sold out, he went to work for the company that bought the business. Throughout his entire life he has worked in boatyards and you should see his finished product.

Everyone I spoke to talked about this man, primarily how he did not want to take credit for what he had done, but everyone knows he did the work. While I was there, he was creating the instrument panel and working on the molding of the windows. He said the most exciting part of working on the San Salvador was laying the planking – and lest you think that didn’t amount to much, there are more than 1,000 planks that bear his workmanship, each one set beautifully next to each other.

Vince standing where he made the doorway

Vince standing where he made the doorway

If you look at these pictures it will give you an idea of just what type of man Vince is. You can see the strength in his face and hands. He is gentle but firm, confident in his ability, quiet in his demeanor.

All of this while being humble at the same time. He is respected by those he works with and they admire him and his ability. There does not appear to be any jealousy from his co-workers. Rather, they enjoy working – and learning – from him. He told me that he loves getting up in the morning and coming to the San Salvador. There is something new happening each day, and he is proud to be part of the building of the ship.

He works from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and loves every minute of the day. I asked him if his wife resents the time he puts in at the San Salvador and he told me that she owns her own Italian Deli – BMH on the 7600 block of El Cajon Blvd. They only live a few blocks from it so Maria is there almost as much as Vince is at the San Salvador.

I would suggest that you go visit the San Salvador and for a $5 donation take a closer look at what he, and all of the workers are doing. They hope to launch the ship in March or April. Look at it now and see the “inner workings.”

I can’t thank Vince enough for spending the time with me; it was a enlightening and joyful. I hope I get another chance as they get closer to launching the ship.

Vince hosing off the dust

Vince in his workshop

When I arrived at the San Salvador to see the progress being made in the building of the ship, I was a few minutes late and the “fighting top” was already being placed on the ship. As I stood on the ground and looked up to the sky, one of the volunteers – Bob Wilson began explaining to me what was happening. I asked him if it was the “Crow’s Nest” they were installing, but he said “no”; in the days of the San Salvador, what was being placed there was called a “Fighting Top.”

san salvador Oct2014 jc jinstallfightopsHe went on to explain that “(A fighting top was an enlarged top with small guns, designed to fire down at the deck of enemy ships. They could also be manned by snipers armed with muskets or rifles; ) The fighting top of yesterday is now referred to as the “Crows Nest” but with a slightly different role.

Eric, the volunteer coordinator, arranged for me to go on board the ship to see the installation being done, and turned me over to Bob Popp, a retired physic’s teacher that was saddled with me most of the morning. He was the one that designed the cradle for the cannon, and it is truly a work of art; I asked him how a physics teacher could design such an stunning and beautiful piece of work, and he told me that he had been doing things like this for years. It was truly a labor of love and as I watched he and Jeff Loman get ready to launch the cannon, I could see and feel the pride and satisfaction evidenced by Bob.

san salvador Oct2014 jc cannonJeff Loman, who spent a great deal of time showing me how the cannon would be shot off and what went into making it was a truck driver for the Navy after he retired. He said he started volunteering for the Maritime Museum many years ago. He said that he has been to all the “cannon firings” – probably 19 – since he started his time there.

I asked Jeff and Bob if they could estimate how much the cannon weighed. Their guess was about 700 pounds. To shoot it off they took approximately 7 ounces of gun powder and rolled it into a ball using aluminum foil. Then they tamped it down into the cannon. Jeff used a “linstock” – a large pole that a lighted match is attached to light the gunpowder; and he used a piece of rope approximately 6-8 inches long that, when lit, slowly moves to the end inserted into the linstock. (This was similar to lighting a cigarette and having the fire slowly drift down to the edge.) The slow movement gives the person firing the cannon a chance to get out of the way before the cannon fires.

San Salvador Oct2014 jc Bob Pope

Bob Pope

The cannon was shot off two times – there was a filming crew there from the “Discovery Channel” and they wanted to make sure they got good footage during the firing. And, although my camera was trained on the cannon when it was shot off, it happened so suddenly that I did not get a picture of the smoke coming from it, but suffice it to say that I had trouble hearing for 2 hours!

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Judi and Bob Pope on deck

The entire time was one of excitement and interest. I want to thank the volunteer coordinator, Eric Gerhardt, for letting me know what was taking place so that I could be a part of the activity.

I can’t stress enough the fantastic experience you will have if you go visit the ship. And take your children with you. They will love it too.

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