By Abdon M. Balde Jr.
THE ANCIENT ASTILLERO OF BAGATAO
After visiting Gibalong, the town that gave its name to the Bikol epic Ibalong and to the island of Luzon in the time of Roy Lopez de Villalobos in 1543, I visited the ancient port of Bagatao. The astillero (shipyard) at Bagatao was on an island at the mouth of the Sorsogon Bay near the town of Magallanes. It was not only an important shipbuilding site, but also an important anchorage for the galleons that sailed from Acapulco, Mexico to Manila and back. It was one of the astilleros where the galleons are retrofitted before and after sailing the turbulent waters of the Embocadero de San Bernardino between Sorsogon and Samar.
It was here in the astillero of Bagatao where the largest and costliest galleon of the 18th century was built. The galleon named “Santisima Trinidad y Senora del Buen Fin was built between 1750 and 1751 by Governor General Francisco de Ovando. It had a displacement of 2,000 tons and cost P191,000 to build. In 1854, during one of its voyages, its builder Gov Gen Ovando—who finished his duty in the Philippines, was one of its distinguished passengers on the way to Acapulco. Unfortunately, during the voyage, Gov Ovando got sick and died at sea. The Santisima sailed back and forth from Manila to Acapulco and back for 7 years, until it was captured in the Embocadero by the British Frigate “Panther” in October 1862 under the command of Admiral Cornish during the Seven Years War between Spain and England. It ended as a ship for sale in Plymouth, under Spain’s enemy territory. The irony of it is that it’s name meant “Our Lady of Good Ending.”
Today, it is sad that even the natives of Bagatao have totally forgotten the times when their ancestors became artisans and builders of galleons and sailed the high seas. Not one of those I have interviewed know about the astillero and the large ships built in their island. Thus, there is a dire need for writers to keep writing about the past so that the glorious past of our ancestors remain in the collective memory of the people. It becomes a source of pride when they know and are aware of their past.
Bagatao Island is just across the pier at Magallanes, Sorsogon, a few blocks from the municipal hall. From the marketplace in Magallanes, we followed the flow of the Ginangra River for almost 7 kilometers until we reached the historical shrine of Gibalong.