Tall ship travels up the East Coast

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. – Five hundred years ago, huge sailing ships plied the oceans. Called galleons, they fought wars, trans­ported cargo between Europe­an ports and protected smaller ships from pirates.

Longer, lower and narrower than earlier kinds of vessels, they were designed to be faster and more maneuverable.

One notable galleon was the Golden Hind, the English ship in which Sir Francis Drake circum­navigated the globe. Another was used by Britain to fight the Span­ish Armada.

This year, people from all over the world have a chance to see and explore a full-scale replica of these remarkable vessels. A nonprofit called the Nao Victoria Foundation built El Ga­leon in 2009, and it has been sailing the world, covering more than 35,000 nautical miles under the Spanish flag.

El Galeon has sailed across the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, as well as the Mediterra­nean, Red, South China and Aegean seas, the Bos­phorus Strait and the Ca­ribbean. So far, visitors have been able to step on its decks in almost 50 ports all over the world.

A couple days before Memorial Day weekend, El Galeon sailed into the Merrimack River and was anchored behind the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, towering over the board­walk, its tall masts and rigging visible from many parts of the city.

From there, it was scheduled to sail to down­town Portland. Maine, un­til June 13, and then on to the Great Lakes.

In Newburyport, thou­sands of people, including 1,700 schoolchildren, were able to climb onboard, inspect the ship and ask questions of the dozen or more crew members. They could see the difference between a quarterdeck, main deck and poop deck, and learn how crews pin­pointed their location and measured their speed without the help of elec­tronic gadgets. They could see where the crew and captain ate and slept.