Spanish ship returns to site of expeditions in the 1500s – Coastal Observer


Spanish ship returns to site of expeditions in the 1500s

The Trinidad heads to the dock at Georgetown Landing Marina this week.

The first Spanish ships arrived off the coast of Georgetown County in 1521, exploring the Santee River and Winyah Bay and making contact with the natives over the course of about a month.

This week, the Nao Trinidad, a replica 16th century ship, docked in Georgetown, giving the locals a chance to do the exploring and make contact with its international crew.

“It’s exciting to have a tall ship in here finally after all these years,” said Justin McIntyre, curator of the S.C. Maritime Museum who traveled aboard the Trinidad from Charleston. “We talk a lot of the history, but you miss that component of how things were unless you’re actually on the deck of a ship.”

The Trinidad is one of several historic ships owned by the Nao Victoria Foundation in Spain. The museum has been working to get one of those ships to visit Georgetown, said Hope McFaddin, the museum director.

The offer of a visit by the Trinidad, which came two weeks ago, was a welcome surprise.  Because the ship has a draft of 10 feet, it wasn’t able to dock in the harbor behind the museum, where the channel is only 6 feet.

“It would be great to have this behind the museum,” McFaddin said.

But she also noted that being docked at Georgetown Landing Marina at the head of the bay serves as an eye-catching invitation to the traffic on Highway 17.

At 93 feet in length, 26 feet wide and with a mainmast rising 82 feet above the water, the wooden Trinidad towers over the sportfishing boats at the marina.

The ship takes its name from one used by Ferdinand Magellan’s 1519 expedition that sailed around the world. Exhibits onboard provide information about that journey as well as that period in maritime history.

It was the reports of the Magellan expedition that led to exploration along the Atlantic coast for an alternative route to Asia. A Spanish expedition to colonize this area in 1526 is thought to have reached the Georgetown County coast, where the lead vessel wrecked in a storm.

The Trinidad is “a similar type of ship. For us in the present day, it’s as close as you’re going to get to what Lucas Vasquez would have experienced,” McIntyre said, referring to the leader of the ill-fated venture.

The trip from Charleston took about 12 hours. It was made under power, a concession to the Trini​dad’s need to keep to a schedule, but it was still enough time to give McIntyre of sense of history, particularly when the ship began to roll in the swell.

“She’s very alive. When she rolls, she rolls a lot and she goes very fast,” said Carlos Lorente, who has captained the Trinidad for the last six months. “It’s like a roller coaster.”

The ship sails best with the wind behind it. When the wind is from the side, the sails can be arranged to provide stability, but they don’t help with the speed, he explained.

The Trinidad was built from wood, fiberglass and steel and launched in 2018.  It was built to sail.

“If we have wind, we do sails. This ship is a very close design to the old ones,” Lorente said. “If you are by engine, the ship doesn’t feel the same. When she’s under sail, she’s happy. She sails great.”

Lorente, 25, decided on a career at sea as a teen growing up in the port city of Cadiz. After four years of study, he needed time at sea. He found it at the Noa Victoria Foundation, starting as a volunteer and working his way up from paid deckhand to officer to captain.

“All that I learned about sails was on the foundation’s ships,” he said.

And what he learned gave him new admiration for those who sailed on the Trinidad’s namesake.

“Without GPS, without the forecast in your hand like we do today, what they did was completely crazy,” Lorente said. “Once you read that history, you start to think, Wow.”

The Trinidad is open for tours from 10 a.m to 7 p.m. through Sunday. The cost is $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 5 to 12. There is also a family discount of $35 for two adults and up to three children.



Georgetown County Board of Education: First and third Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Beck Education Center. For details, go to Georgetown County Council: Second and fourth Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Council Chambers, 129 Screven St., Georgetown. For details, go to Pawleys Island Town Council: Second Mondays, 5 p.m. Town Hall, 323 Myrtle Ave. For details, go to   , .