By KIMEKO MCCOY
St. Augustine is a city with a rich heritage of different cultures all stemming from different parts of the world, but there’s one thing many of them have in common: They came here by boat.
Now all these years later, the St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation aims to preserve that nautical history through its 450th legacy project.
The 501c3 St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation has its mission to “promote an understanding and awareness of the nation’s oldest city and waterways, its maritime heritage and to support greater connectivity and utilization of this magnificent asset.”
The chalupa and shipyard
To promote that understanding, the foundation and its volunteers began building a chalupa and shipyard about five years ago to commemorate the 450th anniversary.
A chalupa is a shallow draft boat that’s used to navigate the canals surrounding the mainland.
It was once used as what would be considered a taxi or barge to get people and supplies back and forth because larger ships sat too low to the shore.
The chalupa that’s currently being built on the property of the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is a replica of St. Augustine’s chalupa that was destroyed by Sir Francis Drake’s men in the Raid of 1586.
Because the foundation is made up of volunteers, it’s easier to get out into the community and get donations that range from funding to in-kind gifts, said Sam Turner, director of archaeology at the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP).
The building of the boat yard and the materials for the chalupa have largely been obtained from local land owners.
“The fact that we’ve been this sort of grass roots organization without a huge funding stream has allowed us to create a very, very authentic project,” Turner said.
Foundation Vice President Roy Jaeger said there have been two groups that have been a huge help to the groups’s efforts.
Both the Fountain of Youth and the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum have provided for the foundation. Those partnerships provided early credibility for the foundation, Jaeger said.
“We have this great support base from both the Fountain of Youth and the Lighthouse that has allowed this grass roots effort to really start to build,” he said.
John Fraser believed in the foundation’s project and provided a premier location at the Fountain of Youth for the 16th century shipyard and Chalupa building site.
“Just think,” Jaeger said, “we’re building where Pedro Menendez set his foot ashore in the name of Spain and began the first settlement on the site.”
Having the site where Pedro Menendez first landed over at the Fountain of Youth is significant in terms of building the chalupa there.
“I get goose bumps when I go over there,” Jaeger said. “It’s just such a great location.”
Kathy Flemming of the Lighthouse also has supported the foundation’s efforts and provided historical support through intellectual property archives.
At this point, the shipyard is finished, the chalupa is still being built and donations are still accepted.
When the boat is completed, the foundation has big plans.
It is hoped that the chalupa will help with history at the Fountain of Youth, community outreach for youth and the big 450th anniversary.
For the Fountain of Youth, the building site and the buildings will be left as a permanent exhibit when the boat is finished and launched.
The foundation hopes to teach children about the importance of maritime heritage.
“The way I look at it, I would say you have the history and history becomes static,” Jaeger said. “It becomes a thing that kids do in school but unless you make it interactive and you bring it up to the present, it’s very hard to keep interest in it.”
And for the anniversary, the foundation is interested in getting Chad Light, who often portrays Menendez, to get in the chalupa and sail through the harbor to kick off the 450th.
Linda Allen, the foundation’s secretary media director, said that earlier in the year the foundation was participating as judges in the St. Johns County Second annual history fair.
The foundation’s aim is to take the legacy project’s history and preserve it, protect it and perpetuate it for future generations through boat building, the festival, family fun day, and other events.
On Oct. 18 and 19, the foundation will host its second annual festival at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park and it’s just one of the ways the foundation is able to keep doing what it does.
“We use the festival as a vehicle to get donations,” Jaeger said.
The chalupa does bring in some donations, but the festival creates a happening that draws more people. There will be several maritime-themed events, like boat building, an amateur maritime dog agility contest, speakers and live music at the festival.
All in all, the foundation operates as a catalyst for maritime ideas with goals including constructing an 16th century boat and shipyard, developing a master plan for maritime activities, supporting educational programs in maritime history and more.
Starting with grassroots
The St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation has its roots in what was known as the 450th core started by St. Augustine’s former mayor George Gardner.
“He organized the core for community members to come together and essentially brainstorm for ideas for the 450th,” Turner said.
Out of that, stemmed a ship committee and its purpose was to figure out what kind of ship to replicate and raise funds to make it happen by the 450th.
The committee was asked to invent and examine ideas that were maritime in nature.
From there, the group grew and acted as an incubator for maritime ideas including maritime education, authentic boat building and harbor usage to reduce street traffic and congestion.
In all, the goal of the foundation’s legacy project is to “Capture maritime history and bring past to present using activities and interactive education projects to engage our audience.”
If you go
The Second Annual St. Augustine Mairtime Heritage Festival is 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Oct. 18-19 at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.