For the past year and a half the Spanish replica ship El Galeon has been sailing around the world with an extra piece of cargo: a heavy brass bell from the doomed ship La Verdad, which sank off Bermuda in 1899. Someone, perhaps a survivor of the shallow-water wreck, salvaged the ship's bell which ultimately was brought to America and purchased in 1979 in an antique shop by Thomas Cox then of Peaks Island, Maine.
Tom Cox is an ocean sailor, attorney expert in consumer and banking laws and still lives here in Maine. Inspired by the bell, he did some research on the history of La Verdad and decided to return it to where it belongs, the Canary Islands port of La Palma where La Verdad was launched in 1875. He contacted a tour guide in La Palma, part of the Canary Islands and the dry dock port for La Verdad and for a year and a half they emailed back and forth. The tour guide, Sheila Crosby, told him the Naval Museum in La Palma was interested in the bell. Fittingly, the process of returning the artifact to its homeland is happening at 19th century trade-route pace: Tom wrote to Sheila:
"The ship's bell from La Verdad may eventually reach Santa Cruz de La Palma aboard the Spanish vessel GALEON ANDALUSIA. That vessel is in Portland, Maine now (at the time Tom wrote, the ship was in Portland as part of the 2016 Tall Ships® Weekend) but we hope that it will eventually reach your city and that the crew will deliver the bell to the Naval Museum. It may take a year or two." That was in summer of 2016.
Fast forward to winter 2018. The delivery goes on. As of December 5th, El Galeon and her special cargo were touring Spain. But you can’t just set sail for an island chain hundreds of miles away – there are schedules to keep and sailing can be really slow. So now, given the amazing news that El Galeon has given birth to a sister ship, Nao Santa Maria, it may be the sistership that ultimately returns the bell to La Palma. Noa Santa Maria is still under construction in Spain. Under the latest plan, the bell will be transferred from El Galeon to Nao Santa Maria prior to the latter’s January 15th, 2018 launch and will be enroute to America via La Palma this spring. All this, it should be noted, is being watched carefully by Tom Cox, the crews of two ships and the residents of the Canary Islands.
This journey of the bell from Tom Cox’s house, where he had considered using it for a doorbell, to Spain and finally, in a few months time, La Palma, resonates with me. It’s almost a reenactment of the 15th century Spanish trade routes, when the original El Galeon and Santa Maria were the most advanced commercial vessels of all time. To gift someone a bell was an intractable, unpredictable process involving good will and luck and long waiting periods that are a relief in the modern world. Imagine Amazon delivering a package “in a year or two.”
The bell is an interesting story, and the transportation of the bell by replica sailing ships is equally moving. Congratulations to everyone involved, La Verdad’s bell is almost home.