Moving Forward: Cabrillo’s Historic San Salvador Returns to Morro Bay

Written by Judy Salamacha

May 8, 2023

Announcement! Announcement! You are invited to come aboard the San Salvador, and you don’t have to travel farther than Morro Bay! Maritime Museum San Diego returns with their replica galleon to offer 10 days of public tours. Experience life at sea in 1542 when Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his crew sailed north to discover the Pacific coastline.

“Stepping aboard her creaky decks is like boarding a 16th-century time machine,” said Larry Newland, founding member of the Central Coast Maritime Museum Association. “Visitors will be immersed in the year 1542 as they wander on deck as though the crew left a few minutes earlier.”

Morro Bay Maritime Museum is hosting MMSD’s second 10-day visit to Morro Bay during the Pacific Heritage Tour 2023, August 11-20.  In 2016 a partnership between MMSD and MBMM was cemented during the San Salvador’s maiden voyage. Over 10,000 wannabe seafarers, landlubbers and students of all ages toured the tall ship’s decks and underbelly. 

The San Salvador is due to arrive August 10 and will be eye-candy along Morro Bay’s Harbor Walk while docked at the Embarcadero’s south T Pier. Public tours on the vessel will be daily from 10a-5p, August 11-20. Tickets are on sale now at  

Many of you have generously said you enjoy the stories I write for EBN. I’ve written numerous MBMM feature stories, but I have never shared my personal story with the organization. My hope and request is our community step-up again as you all did in 2015 when the San Salvador visited before. We need volunteer docents onboard to share the ship’s story. Your time will be twice blessed because MMSD is again sharing tour revenue 50-50 with our local museum. Our goal is to have funds banked to begin our expansion projects recently approved by the City of Morro Bay. 

Back in 2015 I was interviewing Jack Smith, Morro Bay’s world-renowned skateboard aficionado and Chamber of Commerce Living Treasure award recipient. He asked and answered, “Do you know the three most photographed areas in Morro Bay? Morro Rock, of course, then that big submarine parked across from GAFCO, and then my skateboard museum.” He encouraged me to interview his Morro Bay High School buddy, Larry Newland. 

MBMM Maritime friend with Bonnie Jones, board president and Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year

For years each weekend Newland and volunteers set up to collect donations as they told the DSRV Avalon story. It is one of two rescue submarines built by the US Navy after the loss of USS Thresher’s crew. Newland revealed what the Central Coast Maritime Museum Association’s history. During the early 1990s a few dreamers inspired by the late Brent Roberts began their mission to site a maritime museum on the Central Coast. Read their full history and MBMM’s historic fleet exhibit history at 

They hosted several tall ship visits and worked multiple Morro Bay Harbor festivals, ultimately receiving a significant grant from proceeds from the final event. But it wasn’t until Newland secured the DSRV-Avalon, on loan from the Navy, and positioned it on the Embarcadero for public viewing that locals realized the economic potential of a maritime museum in Morro Bay. 

My husband Bob and I had recently vacationed at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. We witnessed firsthand how a maritime museum offered tourism revenue potential for Morro Bay. We willingly drank CCMMA’s Kool-Aid. Their dream became our dream to preserve our maritime history and fishing village culture. We asked to join CCMMA’s board of directors to help make it happen. 

Timing is everything they say! The first meeting in February was our reality check! Newland announced the San Salvador was coming to Morro Bay in October. I must admit I freaked at all we needed to do to maximize the benefits from the ship’s visit. Bob and I traveled to San Diego to see the ship and met our partner’s leadership, CEO Ray Ashley and VP Susan Sirota. We confirmed MMSD’s commitment to financially support a future museum in Morro Bay. They agreed to support a community investment campaign while the San Salvador visited. 

Frankly, after 15 years living and covering news and events in Morro Bay, it was the first time I literally heard total local positivity about efforts to build our own maritime museum. Our community stepped up to support and make the museum project happen. Generous local community partnerships were created — school children, businesses, professionals, seniors and nonprofits giving their time, voice, discounts and dollars to build the museum’s first building. And by moving the DSRV-Avalon and historic tugboat Alma, donated by the Kelsey Winery family to our newly leased land, another partnership forged with the City of Morro Bay.  

As a thank you to our community the board announced at the grand opening in 2016 to open free to the public for as many days as we could muster volunteers to staff it. It is still free and open Wednesdays through Mondays. 

A shout-out to original board members Jane and Walter Heath. Jane donated her attorney skills to negotiate the terms on MBMM’s initial lease. Walter did the heavy lifting to rally the mega number of volunteers needed to conduct 10 days of public tours, Judy Anne and Terry Cross managed merchandise sales. Bob McCay made sure we stayed within budget. And all board members (except one) contributed to the 1542 Navigators Circle, MBMM’s financial founders, by either donating or providing someone to contribute to the campaign. Dana McClish was the general contractor and, newly recognized Citizen of the Year, Bonnie Jones, furthered the campaign by designing and operating the ongoing memorial brick and bench programs. 

It took a community to build the dream! Too many to mention offered their time, dollars, and influence to convert the dream to reality and continue to guide and support MBMM. 

During and since 2020 newly elected MBMM board president, Bonnie Jones, and past-president Scott Mather along with their board of trustees added more exhibits inside and out. Individuals with maritime treasures to preserve entrusted the museum to someday display their artifacts. And it was officially announced April 21 at the Chamber’s Gala that MBMM has been granted a longer lease and approval for a major waterfront expansion program thanks to mega-support from the Chamber’s most recent Living Treasure, Cathy Novak. 

As I say often, if you haven’t been to the Morro Bay Maritime Museum since it opened in 2016, you haven’t seen MBMM. And with the San Salvador visit and revenue sharing in August, timing is perfect to help fund our community’s next waterfront enhancement project. 

Won’t you partner with us? Let me know how you can help. Contact me at  

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