Pasaia (Basque Country)

UNESCO's patronage

The San Juan whaling ship, under UNESCO’s patronage

A very significant shipwreck

Gradually, as the underwater archaeologists of Canada Parks started clearing the mud and sand that covered the old shipwreck they had just found off the coast of Labrador in 1978, they realized that it was the best-preserved sixteenth-century shipwreck found to date. It was a hugely important finding because, as sixteenth-century ships were built without the use of plans, knowledge of shipbuilding of the time was very limited.

Exemplary research

Once the researchers of the Underwater Archaeology Division of Canada Parks, under the direction of Robert Grenier, realized the significance of the find, they carried out the most detailed archaeological research to date. Almost 30 years were invested, the first eight were spent diving in those near-frozen waters, comping out truly exemplary research. Thanks to this, a Basque whaleship, the humble San Juan, would shake up the history of shipbuilding.

Construction of the replica

Putting into practice five-hundred-year-old shipbuilding techniques, forgotten in more recent times, is quite a technical challenge.  The fastenings, the assembly procedures, and the behavior and dimensions of the raw materials are not at all usual in modern-day wooden shipbuilding. The implimentation of these technologies involves dealing with the difficulties and finding the solutions that the shipwrights of the time used to experience.

UNESCO’s patronage

In 2015 the quality of the construction of the replica received a very special reward: the support of the UNESCO for the San Juan. This recognition puts the replica of the Basque whaleship in the highest quality ranking in the field of maritime heritage.  Now Albaola can show the official logo of UNESCO’s patronage in all activities related to the San Juan:


In the year 2001 UNESCO created the Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. The member states of the Convention gather every year to analyze the situation of underwater cultural heritage and to make relevent decisions.  Albaola has been there to show the members the San Juan project and also to apply for the patronage of UNESCO. Later on, a letter from Ms. Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, let us know the good news: our application had been accepted.

More pictures of building process here