Ship builders install San Salvador ‘whiskey plank’

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SAN DIEGO — A group constructing a $6.2 million replica of the San Salvador at Spanish Landing Park Wednesday installed the final wooden plank in the vessel’s hull, which is considered a major milestone.

Now that the so-called “whiskey plank” has been put in, the hull can be treated, sealed and painted, and work can begin on the inner fixtures of the full-size replica galleon.

“It’s an occasion for a party when you reach this point. It’s kind of like launching or commissioning or laying a keel or the other waypoints of construction,” said Ray Ashley, president of the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

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More than 200 volunteers with the museum have worked on the replica 16th century, 92-foot-long galleon. The construction of the reproduction, which began three years ago, is giving the public a chance to see an example of historic shipbuilding — the first modern industrial activity in the Americas.

The San Salvador was the flagship of explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542 when he sailed into San Diego Bay. Cabrillo, who sailed from Portugal, was the first European to explore the bay — he named the area San Miguel — and the coast of California.

Construction of the replica, which is partly funded by a grant from the Coastal Conservancy Commission, is about 65 percent complete, according to the museum.

Once it’s finished, the full-size galleon will be opened to museum visitors and host educational programs. Museum officials said it would also sail to ports throughout the state “as a travelling learning platform and symbol of our region’s Pacific origins and maritime heritage.”