With St. Augustine’s 16th century Spanish roots and emphasis on Spanish heritage, a spokesman today for the Nao Victoria Foundation from Barcelona called the oldest city a “perfect home” on this side of the Atlantic for their ships.
Foundation spokesman Eduardo Almagro Blanco confirmed that an agreement proposed by the city in June has been signed and – effective October 1 - does officially make St. Augustine the North American homeport for the foundation and its 170-foot El Galeon through St. Augustine’s 450th birthday in 2015.
“The foundation’s goal has been to promote Spain’s maritime history and our role in the age of exploration. When we first came to St. Augustine, we saw the (Castillo) fort and the emphasis that was placed on the city’s early Spanish heritage. We realized then - your history is also our history. It’s the story we both want to tell,” said Almagro.
The agreement follows El Galeon’s successful visit beginning June 9 to the oldest city as part of the Viva Florida 500 celebrations. With over 21,000 tickets sold and generating a gross of around $310,000 by June 19, the foundation extended the ship’s stay several times. By the ship’s departure on July 23 for a planned appearance in New York City, Dana Ste. Clare, the city’s Heritage Tourism and 450th Commemoration head estimates over 40,000 tickets sold.
“This wouldn’t include the people who viewed the ship from the bayfront or the Bridge of Lions,” said Ste. Clare, whose department has been instrumental in working with the foundation for the past two years to bring their tall ships to St. Augustine.
An estimate by City Manager John Regan when the agreement was first presented was that El Galeon docked at the city marina could generate around $8,000 in revenue per week.
In fact, terms of the agreement promise the city a ten-percent share of the ticket sales, along with 15 percent of private event fees at an agreed price of $5,000 - with the city also able to hold its own events aboard the ship, at a take of 60 percent. Also – the city will receive fifty percent of net revenues on Nao Victoria Foundation merchandise sold.
Under the terms, the foundation will also pay the monthly docking fee of $3,782.50 – or ten percent of ticket sales – whichever amount is greater.
Ste. Clare said the agreement could accomplish several major goals for both the foundation, and the city – and especially as a signature event for the approaching 450th.
“This is not just beneficial because of the possibility of generating a great deal of revenue, but also meets our goal of delivering on the expectations of the heritage visitor. As the oldest city, we should have a tall ship in our bayfront. There is also the objective of destination awareness, with a lot of interest and even worldwide press generated during El Galeon’s visit. Suddenly, the world knows we’re here. We are the 16th century Genesis of American history,” he said.
According to Glenn Hastings, Executive Director of the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council, there’s also the potential for a stateside headquarters for the foundation.
“We see exciting potential here to not only have El Galeon return – but also as a major draw for other tall ships at the approach of St. Augustine’s 450th,” Hastings said, adding that the state and local committees he works with have aided the foundation already in setting up for business with the IRS and exploring the possibility of a U.S. headquarters for the foundation that would promote its educational goals and manage appearances for both El Galeon and the Nao Victoria.
The Nao Victoria replica is a “nao” or carrack-type ship, and is a replica of Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s flagship when he became the first to circumnavigate the globe in 1519 to 1522. Meanwhile, El Galeon is a replica of a large 17th century galleon.
Hasting said a future goal of the foundation could also be a third ship constructed that would be a full-sized replica of the 6-ton San Pelayo, flagship of the city’s founder Pedro Menendez, and if that came about, St. Augustine might be a perfect base for nonprofit foundation to seek U.S. donations for such a project.
“Moving forward, this really will be a great partnership for the city with some long-range possibilities,” Hastings said.
Almagro confirmed that such a dream could be possible if the foundation’s goals find success.
“We feel a kinship with St. Augustine because of the shared heritage. The San Pelayo was one of the largest Spanish ships of the time period and carried those first settlers led by Menendez to St. Augustine. It’s an important story and we would love to help tell it,” Almagro said.
He also said the crew and the foundation would look forward to working further with all-volunteer built and newly launched 16th century caravel, El Espiritu, as well as other local boatbuilding projects. While visiting St. Augustine, the ship's crew became involved in the project to convert a wooden hull shrimp boat to a caravel, donating materials and labor. The foundation's head, Ignatio Vial also drew up plans for the 16th century rigging for Espiritu, which is the next phase of the project.
El Galeon’s online log confirmed that the ship has departed NYC heading for Ocean City, Maryland, but Almagro said El Galeon will soon be traveling to Puerto Rico to film with NBC, then possibly make a stop at Key West and Fort Jefferson before returning to St. Augustine around Christmas for a stay of about three months.
Bonus link: Follow El Galeon online!