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galleon

October 8, International Galleon Day

Try to imagine a heavily-sailed wooden ship, four decks high, carrying 100 cannons, and weighing 250 tons when fully loaded. That describes the “floating castles” that carried one-third of the silver produced in America to Manila, in the Philippine Islands, where it was exchanged for rich goods coming from as far away as India. These goods included silks and spices, gems, porcelain, inlaid chests and furniture, ivory items and painted screens.

The galleon trade route constituted the longest voyage ever made without landfall, the longest commercial route in history, and the commercial route used for the longest time. A galleon on this route was often referred to as the “Nao de China,” owing to the origin of many of the products it carried. These exotic items could be re-sold for 3 times their value.

The profits were great, but so was the danger. Particularly dangerous was the return route to America. The northern Pacific was so far uncharted, and five failed attempts to sail back to America had already been made. King Phillip II was interested both in evangelizing the Philippines and establishing a trade route which would avoid conflict with the Portuguese, who had already achieved a highly remunerative spice trade by their presence in the Moluccas
Islands.

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