The Spanish Armada sailed into Government Cut, passed PortMiami, and docked gently under a misty morning rain at Museum Park on Wednesday.
Fine, so maybe the entire Armada didn’t really show up.
But the Spanish Navy training vessel, Juan Sebastian de Elcano, did make landfall in downtown Miami — one of six ports of call on its current four-month voyage across the Atlantic to South America, Cuba and the United States.
And the cadets aboard, training for duty in the Spanish navy, do actually call their collection of ships the “Armada.”
“This represents a great joy for us,” Capt. Victoriano Gilabert said in a thick Galician accent. “It’s an opportunity to exchange cultures, learn more about the citizens of this city and give them a chance to learn more about Spain.
“We’re here to support the Spanish state abroad, while giving people an opportunity to know us. This ship, which I believe is quite beautiful, helps us reach our goals of understanding and friendship.”
The Elcano is indeed pretty cool: Think 17th century war galleon with 20th and 21st century updates that include a steel hull, satellite navigation, Wi-Fi (the Spaniards call it “weefee”) and air conditioning below decks.
And Elcano is open for free tours to anyone who visits between now and Sunday at its current dock at Museum Park, just south of the MacArthur Causeway off Biscayne Boulevard.
The ship is steeped in history because of both its namesake and accomplishments.
It is the third largest tall ship in the world at 371 feet and has the distinction of having sailed farther than any other sailboat in the world today, approximately 2.3 million nautical miles.
Yes, Elcano is equipped with one engine. But with four masts stretching 125 feet skyward, getting around using its 2,000-horsepower propulsion just wouldn’t be right.
“The history of the ship is that since 1927 it has navigated under sail 60 percent of the time,” said Lt. Pablo Mendez Estevez, the ship’s communications officer. “On this trip we are at 80 percent under sail.”
The current trip had Havana and Miami as back-to-back ports, a political irony Gilabert wanted nothing to do with.
“We are simply following the best course available for a sailing ship,” he said. “We are following the best winds, nothing more than that.”
Gilabert’s diplomacy was rewarded when Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado gave him the key to the city, which the captain accepted in the name of his ship, its crew and Spain.
The Elcano has 261 aboard including 36 female cadets, a Catholic priest who holds Mass every Sunday and others from around the world.
“Right now we have three officials who are not part of the Spanish navy aboard,” Gilabert said. “We have an official of the Royal Navy (England) aboard and she is the English professor aboard. It is traditional on this ship that, as part of the instruction, we have an official from the British Navy or the American Navy as the English professor.
“We have another official of the Paraguay navy in an exchange program. And lastly, we have a third foreign sailor and he is a coast guardsman from Thailand. He is acting as an official of the Armada but obviously when he returns to his country he will fulfill duties as a coast guardsman in Thailand.”It is appropriate that the Elcano have “foreigners” aboard because she is named after a man who sailed with Ferdinand Magellan on what was the first trip around the world.
The truth of that fateful voyage is that Magellan didn’t actually make it all the way around the earth. Four of the five ships that set out from Spain were either lost or returned to port before the circumnavigation was complete.
There was a mutiny. There were battles with indigenous peoples. There were deaths, including Magellan in April of 1521.
Elcano, who did not captain any of the ships when they set out from Spain, survived and took command of the remaining ship named Victoria. The Victoria completed the around-the-world voyage in September 1522.
A plaque recognizing the accomplishment is prominently placed on Elcano’s stern.
The Juan Sebastian de Elcano
Purpose: Training ship for the Spanish Navy
Displacement: 3,673 tons
Length: 371 feet
Draft (width): 23 feet
Sails: 30,900 total square feet
Speed: 13 knots under power; 17.5 knots under sail
Crew: 261 aboard
Armament: Two 57mm guns on the bow (ceremonial) along with light arms (rifles, side arms) and swords.
Visiting hours (free of charge):
Wednesday: 4 -7 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Friday: 10-1 and 4-7.
Saturday: 10-1 and 4-7.