Part Two: An Update on the Progress in Building a Historically Accurate Replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s Flagship
By Judi Curry
When I arrived at the San Salvador to see the progress being made in the building of the ship, I was a few minutes late and the fighting top was already being placed on the ship.
As I stood on the ground and looked up to the sky, one of the volunteers – Bob Wilson– began explaining to me what was happening. I asked him if it was the crows nest they were installing, but he said no. In the days of the San Salvador, what was being placed there was called a fighting top.
He went on to explain that a fighting top was an enlarged top with small guns, designed to fire down at the deck of enemy ships. They could also be manned by snipers armed with muskets or rifles. The fighting top of yesterday is now referred to as the crows nest but with a slightly different role.
Eric, the volunteer coordinator, arranged for me to go on board the ship to see the installation being done, and turned me over to Bob Popp, a retired physics teacher who was saddled with me most of the morning. He was the one that designed the cradle for the cannon and it is truly a work of art.
I asked him how a physics teacher could design such an stunning and beautiful piece of work. He told me that he had been doing things like this for years. It was truly a labor of love. As I watched him and Jeff Loman get ready to launch the cannon I could see and feel Bob’s pride and satisfaction.
Jeff Loman, who spent a great deal of time showing me how the cannon would be shot off and what went into making it was a truck driver for the Navy after he retired. He said he started volunteering for the Maritime Museum many years ago. He said that he has been to all the “cannon firings” – probably 19 – over the years.
I asked Jeff and Bob if they could estimate how much the cannon weighed. Their guess was about 700 pounds.
To shoot it off they took approximately 7 ounces of gun powder and rolled it into a ball using aluminum foil. Then they tamped it down into the cannon. Jeff used a “linstock” – a large pole with a lit match attached to light the gunpowder. He used a piece of rope approximately 6-8 inches long that, when lit, slowly moves to the end inserted into the linstock. This was similar to lighting a cigarette and having the fire slowly drift down to the edge.
The slow movement gives the person firing the cannon a chance to get out of the way before the cannon fires.
The cannon was shot off two times – there was a filming crew there from the “Discovery Channel” and they wanted to make sure they got good footage during the firing. And although my camera was trained on the cannon when it was shot off, it happened so suddenly that I did not get a picture of the smoke coming from it. Suffice it to say that I had trouble hearing for two hours!
The entire time was one of excitement and interest. I want to thank the volunteer coordinator, Eric Gerhardt, for letting me know what was taking place so that I could be a part of the activity.
I can’t stress enough the fantastic experience you will have if you go visit the ship. And take your children with you. They will love it too.
Part One in this series: Vince Sardina’s Labor of Love on the San Salvador