San Esteban, Texas (1554)

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Revision as of 19:31, 2 December 2010

History of the wreck

We do not know where it was built, but it known that it left Spain in 1552 to San Juan de Ulua, where it arrived in 1553. Left again to Spain in 1554 and wrecked off Padre Island on April 29, 1554, together with another two ships, the Espiritu Santo and the Santa Maria de Yciar all caught by a storm. In that same year a salvage operation recovered half of the cargo of the three ships. Its remains were found and salvaged by treasure hunters in the late 1960s, and localized again and excavated in 1972 and 1973, and briefly in 1975 by the Texas Antiquities Committee. The hull remains were raised and the conservation of the timbers was completed in 1982.

Description of the site

The site was a large area with scattered artifacts and ballast stones embedded in dense Pleistocene clay, under a layer of fine sand 1.5 m thick. The wooden remains are composed of 5 m of keel, and sternpost, stern knee and several hull planks.

Keel and posts

The preserved section was 5.1 m long, 31 cm sided and 27 cm molded (estimated value). Towards its aft end its molded dimension increases to a maximum of 73 cm, where it is notched to receive the sternpost. The rabbets, 5 cm deep, slant progressively outward. The sternpost rakes 65 ΒΊ abaft and is 31 cm sided and 27 cm molded (estimated value). There is no skeg.

Keel and stempost were bolted to a stern knee that measured, as preserved, 2.7 m long, 20.5 cm sided and 18.5 cm molded.


No frames were preserved but a series of notches (5 cm sided) on the sides of the stern knee indicate that the frames may have been 21-25 cm sided and the room and space may have been 42-44 cm. It seems that all floors were spiked to the keel and every 4th floor was run through by a keel/keelson bolt.


Garboard carved. The preserved planks were 10 cm thick and 19 cm wide in average, narrowing in the forward direction.

Ceiling, thick stuff and wales

None of these timbers was preserved.


The garboard was nailed to the keel with iron nails. There is evidence of both iron nails (sq. 1.2.-1.5 cm) and treenails (oak, no section given) on the stern knee, from the fastening of the planking. The keel and sternpost were bolted (forelock bolts,  2.7-2.9 cm) to the stern knee.


Oakum and hair have been used as caulking materials. The seams were covered with a resin soaked cloth and protected with lead strips tacked along the seam. There was a layer of pitch on the mating faces of the keel, sternpost and stern knee.


Although the site plan was lost, the ballast seems to have been scattered along an area 15.5 m long .

Size and scantlings

Three different estimates for the size of this ship have been advanced: 20.12 m long and 5.49 m in beam , 27.1 m long and 8.88 m in beam , and 20-21 m long and 5.5-6.5 m in length . I find the scantlings too strong for a ship as small as 20-21 m overall length but I do not have any means to advance other numbers.

Construction Feature Sided cm) Molded (cm)
Keel 31 27
Floors 21-25 unknown
Futtocks unknown unknown
Room-and-space 42-44
Planking 19 10
Ceiling unknown unknown


Keel, sternpost, stern knee, planking and treenails were all of oak (Quercus sp.). Bibliography Arnold III, J. Barto & Weddle, Robert. The Nautical Archaeology of Padre Island. The Spanish Shipwreks of 1554, Academic Press, NY 1978. Rosloff, Jay & Arnold III, Barto "The keel of the San Esteban (1554): continued analysis", IJNA (1984) 13.4: 287-296.

Only a 5m-long section of the lower stern survived. This hull was probably a nao of less than 200 tons. Seams caulked with oakum and hair were parceled by means of resin-soaked cloth overlaid with strips of lead that were fastened with tacks. 1


1. Richard Steffy, INA Shipdata Project, Texas A&M University.

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