pedro-medendezDuring the 10-day Beaufort Water Festival, “ Rendezvous by the River,” reminders and re-enforcers of the city’s 450-year old nautical legacy play out. The nautilus of that legacy is sailing and, as a several-month precursor to this July event, a sailing icon rounded Port Royal Sound and docked in late April as the most visual artifact of Santa Elena History Center’s grand opening of its inaugural exhibit.

SANTA-ELENA-Ship-ExteriorThat icon was San Pelayo, a faithful replica of the 16th century vessel captained by Pedro Menendez, founder of nearby Santa Elena, that bears many resemblances to contemporary sailing craft. According to Master Navigator Doug Nelson, who witnessed the arrival of the galleon to 11th Street Dock, “Much of sailing’s physics remain the same although one noticeable change is the shape of the sail.”

Nelson, an Order Mariner, noted the square rigging that characterized San Pelayo. “Menendez and mariners of his time, sailing multi-masted ships; they knew, and followed, wind patterns because they had to have the wind behind them. Now, the triangular – or Marconi rigs – allow a vessel to sail closer to the wind. Aside from that geometry of sails, many of the dynamics of 16th century sailing are still employed today.”

Nelson and his co-presenter Howard Heckrotte, Advanced Pilot, will anchor a presentation at Santa Elena History Center on July 21, 4 – 5 p.m. (1600 nautical time): “Navigation in the Time of Jean Ribault and Pedro Menendez (the mid-1500s.) To make the connection between contemporary sailing and the skilled European mariners who plied the 16th-century sea in hand-hewn vessels, take in this presentation. For more information, visit

Photo, top: “Pedro Menendez” catches up on local happenings during a recent stay at Anchorage 1770. Photo by Sandy Dimke