Basques Build the Replica 16th
Century Whale Ship SAN JUAN
How Basque Shipbuilding Changed My Understanding
Of the History of the Americas Story and photographs by Richard Frisbie
in San Sebastian, Spain, in May to help celebrate its being named the
2016 European Capital of Culture. I ate, very very well, as San
Sebastian's restaurants have the highest concentration of Michelin
stars in the world, drank the excellent
local wine, visited many museums and enjoyed walking the
charming old city as the festivities occurred.
Museum director with a model of SAN JUAN
But I have to admit that the strangest thing was to
travel to the Basque region of Spain to learn the truth about North
America's early exploration, stranger still to explore where it all
began: Albaola, the Sea Factory of the Basques, located at the entrance
of the Bay of Pasaia, in San Sebastian. That is where they are building
the replica of one of its most famous of Basque ships, the 16th century
whale ship SAN JUAN.
When the British arrived in Newfoundland in 1610 they
found ships of many nationalities anchored in the harbor, attracted
there by the abundance of cod and whales. Nevertheless they had the
hubris to claim the land for Great Britain. At that time all the fishermen
in Newfoundland knew that only the Basques understood how to hunt the
many whales congregating in these waters. Using ships built in San Sebastian,
Spain, where the museum Albaola is located now, the Basque people explored
the world, most notably the Outer Banks of the United States and the
Canadian Maritimes. They brought home many barrels of whale oil and
so much salted cod (the cod was salted and dried to preserve it for
the long voyage) that Spain is still known for its cod dishes.
The ribs and planks shape the outline of the replica
The Basque fishermen were well-known to the Native Americans
of both countries, so much so that Basque was the lingua franca
of the New World. So much trading and interacting occurred between them
in Basque that fishermen of other nationalities learned enough Basque
to communicate, too. In fact, Basque fishermen were fishing in American
waters when Christopher Columbus "discovered" America.
Drawing of the oak harvesting and shaping
In the converted ship factory Albaola, now a museum,
the largest sailing ships of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries were
built. Using wood from a nearby oak forest, first just harvesting it,
but later shaping the trees as they grew to provide the correct angles
and curves, centuries of Basques earned a reputation as the best ship
builders. The other Basque product, the widely drunk hard apple cider,
was how the sailors avoided scurvy in their travels to and from distant
fishing and trading grounds.
The tedious and exacting hand work of ancient shipbuilding
In the 16th century the Basque whale ship SAN JUAN
sank in Newfoundland. Its recent discovery, perfectly preserved in the
frigid waters, gave archeologists the best look at the complex construction
techniques and materials used by the early Basque shipbuilders. Beneath
the hull they also found a complete whaling boat. Drawings and photos,
along with exact measurements, are being used at Albaola to build a
replica of each. The large open-room of the museum is a ship building
showcase where volunteers use ancient hand tools to measure, cut and
shape the oak ribs and planking for the replica.
By coincidence, I visited the museum on the 115th anniversary
of the killing of the last whale by the Basques (the skeleton hangs
in the nearby Aquarium) lending this visit more significance. I was
one of nearly 100,000 visitors expected this year, all of whom will
see the replica SAN JUAN being built, rib by rib and plank by
plank, as ships were hand-built there for centuries. Many will learn
a greater awareness of the Basque influence on the history of the Americas.
I know I did.
For more information on this and other attractions of
San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque) during the European Capital of Culture
visit this website.
Let Richard know what you think about his traveling adventure.
* * * * *
Hey Richard - another winning series of words, all put
together in your usual brilliant, and very creative format. And hey,
love those glorious photos - Wow, what scenery - looks like some sort
of paradise. What a super life you lead!!!
--- John Clayton, Palos Verdes CA
* * * *
I want to go there!!!!!!! Mmmmm! Yes! Love the photos
and your article, Richard! Have read the book, seen the play several
times and now dream of seeing these historic places. I've been wanting
to go to Spain for some time. Now at 12:30 a.m. I'm heading off to bed
with songs from Man of La Mancha ringing in my mind. Thanks!
--- Betsy Tuel, Rosendale, NY
* * * *
You are fortunate to have Richard on your staff. Richard
is a fantastic writer and a wonderful person. Congratulations to Richard
and to you.
--- Denise Dubé, New England
Journey to the Bottom of the Globe: Exploring the
White Continent of Antarctica
As a travel journalist I am constantly asked what are
some of my favorite travel experiences. The list is endless. But there is
one destination that seems to raise the most eyebrows. That destination
is a cruise to Antarctica. Sadly, that cruise line I was on is no more,
but today there is a plethora of cruise lines that offer similar packages.
Here's a look back at my Antarctica cruise.
Hanging Out in Huntington Beach, California
Huntington Beach is legendary around the world as one
of the best surfing spots. Its waves and beaches are so great, it is also
officially known as "Surf City." But as I learned on a recent
getaway, the town is more than just tasty swells and beautiful white sand;
it also boasts gourmet restaurants, luxury, ocean-front hotels, great
shopping, and tons of California coastal charm.
Would You Believe She Can Carry 800 (Yes, 800!)
As she came around the corner we could not believe
how big she was. Massive, and yet incredibly beautiful almost elegant
in fact. Her lines were so symmetrical she seemed to blend into a classic
example of astonishing good looks. The other fact that amazed all of us
was how quiet she was. We felt sure that with the obvious overwhelming power
she evidenced, she'd be extra loud. It's a cliché, but she was as
quiet as a church mouse or "as quiet as dreaming trees."
Highway 49 Revisited: Exploring California's
In the 1840s, the population of California was only
14,000, but by 1850 more than 100,000 settlers and adventurers had arrived
from all over the world and they came for one reason: gold. James
Marshall had discovered the first gold nugget at Sutters Mill in El
Dorado County, creating the largest gold rush in history.
Lake Charles Family-Size Low-Key Mardi Gras
The Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras in Lake Charles,
the second largest in Louisiana, does not need parents there to avert their
childrens eyes. This is family entertainment and children are very
much part of it. The main office of the Lake Charles CVB has costumes from
last years Mardi Gras but it also has figures to fascinate little
ones from country boys fishing for their dinner to alligators who have already
fed and are rubbing their stomachs.
Puerto Vallarta: Magic and Mayhem on the Malecon
So I heard that you could spend from dawn to dusk on
the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and never get bored and I thought,
"Okay, I'm up for that challenge." Well, maybe not the dawn part
I'm not a morning person so I had no problem leaving those
early hours to the joggers and those seeking an early start to catch their
red snapper for dinner.
Costa Rica's Green
Sitting at an umbrella table in downtown San Jose overlooking
the Plaza de la Cultura is like a page out of Hemingway's "The
Sun Also Rises." The plaza is laid out in a maze of stalls where
passive vendors sell sparkling silver jewelry by the trayfull, hand-carved
clay masks, colorful Guatemalan belts, area rugs, and hammocks perfect
for a midday siesta. Three men play an old wood marimba over the buzz
of the crowd while a steaming plate of Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) is
served to an elegant lady who was performing with her guitar...
Tahiti and Her Islands
Just their names (pronounce each vowel!) conjure up romantic
images: Tahiti Nui, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine, Ra'iatea, Taha'a. Her
people are gentle; the air, tiare-perfumed. Warm lagoons, majestic peaks,
tropical fruits from the land and bounty from the sea all tantalize the
senses. Paradise! As near as can be found on planet earth. And, in my
experience, the finest way to explore her is on a ship designed for that
Japan: Bullet Trains, Monkey Shows and Whale Steaks
Last month, I went to Japan for three things... Ok,
let me back up a little bit already. The #1 reason I went to Japan was to
visit my girlfriend, Yuki, and she will kill me if I don't say that, so
there it is. Hi Yuki! Anyway, so after that, reasons number 2, 3, and 4
were the following: I wanted to ride a bullet train, go to a monkey show,
and eat a whale steak. That's right. That's right.
Tim Robbins On His Road To Stardom
Award-winning Tim Robbins began his career on episodic
television. Robbins' film work, however, is what catapulted him into becoming
a major movie star including "Bull Durham" and "Mystic
River" for which he won multiple awards. Equally at home behind the
camera, he directed the riveting "Dead Man Walking." He is Founder
and Artistic Director of The Actors' Gang, which he formed thirty-five
years ago and has directed multiple provocative productions. Robbins recently
sat down for an exclusive two-part interview, which has been edited for
content and continuity for print purposes.
John January and Linda Berry Have Chemistry
Chemistry by its very definition is the spontaneous reaction
of two people to each other, especially that sense of mutual attraction
and understanding. This month John January and Linda Berry release their
new project, Chemistry 101 and together they explore a range and
depth of musical styles on both organic and physical levels. As a joint
labor of love, January says Chemistry 101 is pretty straight-forward.
NOLA: New Orleans, Louisiana
Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, the Garden District,
the streetcar (now a bus) to Desire, the jazz clubs, the beignets at the
Café du Monde and breakfast at Brennans come to mind when you
think of New Orleans. But thats not all there is to this unique American
city, filled with treasures both culinary and cultural.