Section: Features

Seafaring sophomore helps the San Salvador sail once again

Seafaring sophomore helps the San Salvador sail once again

Courtesy of Jack Mullen

Sir Francis Drake and Jack Mullen ’19 have something in common: They’ve both sailed a galleon.

Mullen, who is studying English at Kenyon, has spent his last two summers working on the galleon San Salvador for the San Diego Maritime Museum. Galleons, which are sailing ships of about a 100 feet in length and height, were frequently used by Europeans from the 16th to 18th centuries. They were very popular, seeing use by many famous captains and even forming part of the Spanish Armada.

Mullen was there at the start, when San Salvador was just a bunch of wood in a shipyard, and now helps maintain and sail the boat during his school breaks. The San Salvador — a replica of the ship Juan Cabrillo used when he became the first European to sail to the west coast of what is now the United States — is harbored in San Diego with the 10 other ships that comprise the San Diego Maritime Museum. The museum itself runs out of a converted steam ferryboat, leaving the rest of the ships available to take passengers out on voyages. Trips on the San Salvador range anywhere from three-hour excursions to four-month voyages up the California coast.

Mullen’s path to working on the ship began with a recommendation from his high school sailing coach to look into working at the museum. In the middle of his gap year before starting Kenyon, he followed her advice and started as a living history tour guide for the museum. After volunteering to work maintenance on some of the ships, Mullen landed a job on the San Salvador.

A workday for Mullen can include anything from lifting and moving heavy blocks to climbing into the rigging to make fixes. To do all of this, Mullen had to acquire a vast body of knowledge in a short amount of time.

“Probably the first four months of it I had a notebook to keep track of all the things I was learning day-to-day,” he said. “I’d have to review it because it was just so much information coming all at once.”

San Salvador was designed to be an exact replica of the galleon that Cabrillo used when he arrived in modern-day San Diego in 1542. The only differences are the amenities, like plumbing, and two engines that fulfill a Coast Guard requirement. But from the deck up, the ship is nearly identical to the one that led to the first contact between the Europeans and the indigenous peoples of California.

Mullen works on the ship with a group of about 50 men over the age of 60, making him by far the youngest worker. Through his fellow workers, he’s been able to learn the art of fixing tools and even practice his language skills with an Italian coworker. They also tell him war and travel stories from when they were younger. “It’s sort of like going into a time capsule of the way things used to be just to hear the banter and to experience all these different characters,” he said. “Lunchtime is hilarious.”

At Kenyon, Mullen has found his knowledge from working on the boat to be helpful when building sets in Boltom scene shop. “I guess a boat is one of the harder things to build, so once you’ve built that it makes things a little easier,” he said. But carpentry knowledge isn’t the only thing Mullen has aquired during his time on the boat. There is a large, X-shaped scar on his wrist — the result of a man-overboard drill gone wrong. Mullen was cutting a line used to lift people out of the water when a wave knocked him off balance. Without anything to grab for support, he fell right onto his knife. He had to be lifted onto a Coast Guard boat so he could be taken to the hospital.

In the future, Mullen wants to be a journalist, but right now he is thinking about becoming a crew member on a ship for a few years. When asked if he could describe any strange experiences he had while working on the boat, he said, “It’s hard to just pick one or two strange experiences, because it’s just all been one big, strange experience.”


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