San Salvador Visit Abruptly Cancelled

A replica of the San Salvador, Juan Cabrillo’s ship, was supposed to dock at Malibu Pier in October.

Four hundred seventy-five years ago, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo—yes, that Juan Cabrillo—sailed into what was then a sleepy little lagoon that the Chumash here called “Humaliwo.” 

Today, the historic Malibu Adamson House stands on that very ground where the native Chumash lived, fished and hunted. It’s also where the Chumash discovered, to their amazement, a 92-foot-long Spanish galleon sailing into their community.  The ship, named the San Salvador, was captained by Cabrillo and reportedly the Native Americans were so stunned at its size that scores of them jumped into a fleet of 20-foot tomols (plank canoe-like boats used for fishing) and paddled up close through the waves to learn more about the ship.

The Malibu Adamson House Foundation was hoping to share more about the ship by bringing its replica to the Malibu community, but due to safety concerns, the 200-ton San Salvador replica will have to visit Malibu on another anniversary.

Still, to celebrate Cabrillo’s discovery of Malibu, the Adamson House Foundation has gone through a lot of effort for the city’s local school children and other guests on Thursday, Oct. 12, and Friday, the 13th.  

“A lot of our plans are still intact except the 16th century galleon will not be moored at the Adamson House grounds,” explained Nidra Winger, treasurer of the Malibu Adamson House Foundation. “Expect fourth and fifth grade field trips from Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, Our Lady of Malibu, Webster and Point Dume Marine Science School. There will be reenactments of the 475th Juan Cabrillo landing at the Malibu lagoon and Alan Salazar, an elder from the Chumash tribe, will be giving a blessing Thursday, Oct. 12, and extra tours will be available of the property,” Winger said. Some docents will be wearing period costumes. 

The MAHF had been working for months with the San Diego Maritime Museum in an effort to bring a replica of Cabrillo’s San Salvador to Malibu but they were unsuccessful at the eleventh hour to finalize logistics. 

Craig Sap, State Parks Angeles District Supervisor, told The Malibu Times that although his agency was not sponsoring the event, only supporting MAHF’s effort, there may have been miscommunication about how the intricately crafted replica ship would be docked in Malibu. 

“The San Salvador needs a mooring buoy. [The cancellation] wasn’t until they determined they wouldn’t have access to the Coast Guard mooring buoy,” Sap said. “The Coast Guard doesn’t permit private entities and even nonprofits such as the Maritime Museum to moor up against it. It’s there only for the purposes of the Coast Guard and other visiting military-type ships. So, that was out of the question and the other buoy the lifeguards use wasn’t going to be available. So, it was suggested the ship drop anchor, but as I understood, although I was not in direct communications with negotiations between the foundation and the Maritime Museum, was that they had never done that before and so they were not comfortable putting the anchor down.” 

Winger explained more details about what made Malibu different—and in the end, impossible—to visit for the San Salvador.

“It usually docks in areas with a dock that people can step on to tour this beautiful new ship, and sometimes it does sail. We had a couple of meetings on the Malibu Pier about it. Malibu is a deep-water port where we don’t have any docks or a marina, so it’s a little bit different for this ship to come in,” Winger said. “We’ve spent quite a few months trying to negotiate all of the logistics. In the end, the captain had a phone conversation with Jefferson Wagner and three sailing captains last Monday talking about anchor chains and navigational logistics and tides and the San Salvador captain said he would talk to the vice president of the Maritime Museum.  I called Wednesday to ask if they were coming and the answer was, ‘No,’ they were not coming. 

“Everyone had really good intentions,” she continued. “It’s a first-time endeavor and we plan on working with the San Salvador group again in the future.”

The Captain of the San Salvador/Maritime Group of San Diego, Ray Ashley, agreed.

“This result is regrettable and disappointing, especially given the effort we all have invested,” he said in a written statement provided to The Malibu Times “However, please know we are most grateful for your interest—the warm hospitality afforded us in every interaction as we have pursued the project. Disappointing outcomes are always temporary but intensions are not, so the future may hold opportunity to solve the technical challenges which stymied us this time.”

Winger said that while the Adamson House Foundation was disappointed, it understood.

“We’re just two nonprofit groups trying to get this together,” Winger said. “A lot of loving effort went into this between two nonprofit organizations.  It didn’t work out this time.”