Basque whaling ships are focus of talk



Shipwrights at work on Nao San Juan, a reconstruction of a 16th-century Basque whaling ship currently being built at Albaola in northern Spain. Albaola’s founder, a Maine-trained boat builder, is set to speak at the Abbe Museum Thursday, Aug. 20, from 7-9 p.m. PHOTOS COURTESY ALBAOLA

Shipwrights at work on Nao San Juan, a reconstruction of a 16th-century Basque whaling ship currently being built at Albaola in northern Spain. Albaola’s founder, a Maine-trained boat builder, is set to speak at the Abbe Museum Thursday, Aug. 20, from 7-9 p.m. PHOTOS COURTESY ALBAOLA

BAR HARBOR — A presentation and discussion of 16th century Basque whaling ships in North America and a replica of the whale ship San Juan currently being built in Spain is set for Thursday, Aug. 20, from 7-9 p.m. at the Abbe Museum.

“We are really just beginning to get a better understanding of how important the interactions between the Wabanaki and the Basque were and how they shaped the longer history of interaction and colonization,” said Julia Clark, director of collections and interpretation at the Abbe.

“This program is a great opportunity to learn more about the Basque side of the story.”

Shipwright Xabier Agote is set to lead the program. He is a graduate of the apprentice program at the Maine Maritime Museum. He built several gigs for the Atlantic Challenge International Seamanship Program for The ApprenticeShop, Rockland, and has led open boat expeditions along the coasts of Canada, Ireland and Spain.

Agote is also the founder and director of Albaola, a museum and boatbuilding school on the Bay of Biscay in the Basque Autonomous Community of northern Spain. The research and education program there is at work on building a replica of a traditional whaling ship, San Juan.

Built in Pasaia in the Basque region in 1563, San Juan is an example of the first transoceanic ships that set sail from the Basque Country to Newfoundland. It reflected the splendor and worldwide domination of the Basque maritime industry. It sank off the coast of Canada, in Red Bay, in 1565.

More than 400 years later in 1978, an archaeological team from Parcs Canada found the wreck of San Juan and began a thorough investigation of it. It has been studied for 30 years now and is the best known 16th-century ship and has become an icon symbolizing UNESCO Underwater Cultural Heritage.

The Nao San Juan reconstruction began in 2013 in Pasaia within the Donostia/San Sebastián European Capital of Culture 2016 and is backed by the Canadian Government. Just as it joined Europe with North America in the 16th century, Nao San Juan will allow these two countries to sail into the future together working from their joint past.

The program at the Abbe is free and open to the public. Call 288-3519 or visit www.abbemuseum.org.

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