Spectators scrambled down rocks at Bayside Park to watch the San Salvador touch the water. Photo by Chris Jennewein

The San Salvador entered San Diego Bay for the second time in 473 years Wednesday as a handcrafted replica was carefully launched by the Maritime Museum.

The 200-ton, 100-foot-long galleon was gently lowered into the bay on a giant sling at Marine Group Boat Works to cheers and cannon fire from the tall ship Californian.

A crowd of nearly a thousand watched from Bayside Park in Chula Vista and from pleasure boats offshore.

The Californian, the official tall ship of California, fires a cannon salute. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Volunteers and donors provided $11.2 million in cash and donated time and materials over four and a half years to construct the full-size replica. The ship was built at Spanish Landing near the airport, then transported on a barge to Chula Vista last week.

San Salvador was christened by museum donor Vi McKinney following brief remarks by County Supervisor Greg Cox and Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas.

“We have been supported by many in our ambitious goal of constructing a replica of the San Salvador,” said Dr. Ray Ashley, CEO of the museum. “The christening ceremony has been years in the making, and we would not have reached this milestone without our many volunteers and donors, and the support of San Diego’s elected officials and the community.”

Dan Malcolm, chairman of the Port of San Diego, said the ship represents “the maritime DNA and history of San Diego” and predicted it would become a major attraction.

The ship will remain docked for about a month for fitting out, then lead the parade of tall ships into San Diego Bay during the annual Festival of Sail.

San Salvador was the flagship of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo on the first voyage by Europeans along what is now the California coast. Cabrillo and his fleet entered San Diego harbor in 1542.

As the ship was launched, spectators were asked to toast her with the words, “To San Salvador, may fortune follow her wherever she sails.”

Museum CEO Ray Ashley (right) with actors in period dress. Photo by Chris Jennewein
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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.