ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- It was a beautiful morning for El Galeon to leave St. Augustine on Monday, but the ship will return.
El Galeon will be back according to a newly signed contract between the City of St. Augustine and the owner of the ship.
Around 8 a.m. Monday morning people started to gather around the St. Augustine bayfront. They lined the Bridge of Lions, gathered on the seawall, and stood on the dock at the Municipal Marina.
They were all there to say goodbye to El Galeon from Spain. The ship is a 16th century replica of a galleon, the kind of ship St. Augustine founder Pedro Menendez would have used.
The ship set sail for New York to promote St. Augustine and Florida history during the 500th year since Juan Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain.
Locals and tourists gathered to say farewell.
Luke Burge watched at the base of the Bridge of Lions. He laughed and said, "I'm supposed to be at work right now. I have to call my boss!"
The crew from Spain waved farewell and yelled, "Viva Espana! Viva St. Augustine! Viva Spain." The crowd responded in kind.
"We're sad to see it leave even for a short period of time but they'll be back," St. Augustine Mayor Joe Boles said. "This is their North American homeport."
Boles said Monday that the city and the ships owner's - the Fundacion Nao Victoria in Spain - have just signed a contract stating that St. Augustine will be the North American homeport for El Galeon. The mayor says both parties have signed off on it.
"The destination awareness this develops is amazing," Boles noted. "The economic impact is in the millions."
The regal ship ultimately is an economic engine for the city.
El Galeon's owner extended the initial two week visit in St. Augustine to two months because of its popularity in the old city.
"There were 12,000 - 13,000 paid visitors we could track," Boles explained, "and we didn't try to track the free ones and school groups, things like that."
Around 9 a.m., the ship made its way through the Bridge of Lions' drawbridge Monday.
The new contract will come into play with the ship's next visit.
According to the contract, when El Galeon -- or any of the owner's other historic replica vessels -- is docked in St. Augustine, the city will get 10 percent of tickets sales, 15 percent of facility fees for private events on the ship, and 50 percent of merchandise sales.
According to a city official, the ship will be back either at the end of this year or in the early part or Spring of next year.
As for Burge, the man who was late for work on Monday, he knows the ship is great for the local economy. However, Monday, he wasn't thinking about the numbers.
He just wanted that one last look at El Galeon as she left his town for a few months.
"It's just a beautiful boat," Burge said. "I live right across the bridge and to see that [ship] there every day is just pretty neat."
With on lookers nearby the ship then made its way quietly through the St. Augustine inlet and into the Atlantic Ocean.
First Coast News