April 14 – Columbus’ Ships

The Nina (left) and Santa Clara (aka Pinta).

We all learned about them in elementary school — the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. The ships that carried the Spanish expedition headed to the Far East, but by chance bumped into the Americas. This past weekend, historically-accurate replicas of the 15th century caravels, Nina and Pinta, stopped in Saint Marys as part of a tour that began in Pensacola, FL, and will wind up in Newport, RI. Other stops in Florida included Venice, Fort Myers, Jupiter and Vero Beach. From Saint Marys, the ships head to Beaufort and Charleston in South Carolina, Wilmington, NC, Cape May, NJ, and Bridgeport and Hartford, CT, before arriving in Newport in June. The ships are presented by the Columbus Foundation.

As I mentioned in my post last year on the 17th century El Galeon replica we saw in Beaufort, SC, I’m a fan of old ships. The Nina and Pinta represent the oldest style of ship I’ve actually been aboard. They were much more primitive than El Galeon. The Nina is only 65 feet long, with a beam of 16 feet and a draft of 7 feet, displacing 80 tons. The Pinta is 85 feet long, 24 feet abeam and a draft of 7 feet, displacing 101 tons. According to the Columbus Foundation, Spanish ships were typically named after saints, but also had nicknames. They say that the Pinta was officially named the Santa Clara. We don’t know what the official name of the Nina was. (Wikipedia, however, says that the Nina was the Santa Clara, with┬áno official name given for the Pinta.) Of course, the third Columbus ship was the Santa Maria (nicknamed Capitana by Columbus?). The┬áColumbus Foundation does not have a replica of the Santa Maria. She ran aground on Hispanola on Christmas Day, 1492, and was abandoned, and there are no records of her dimensions or sketches of her style, though she is described as a carrack, which is an upsized version of a caravel. After three months of exploring the Bahamas and Greater Antilles, Columbus returned to Spain in January, 1493, joining the other 24 crew members aboard the Nina. The Pinta and her 26-member crew also returned home, but the 39 crew members of the Santa Maria stayed on Hispanola, founding a settlement.

These are some views of the Nina from the quarterdeck of the Pinta. Not only was the Nina built using authentic materials, she was built using authentic tools. The Pinta was built with authentic materials, too, but modern tools were employed. Maybe that’s why I liked the Nina more than the Pinta. Even though she was a smaller boat, she had a much nicer feel to her.

Some interesting views of the rigging on Nina. There was very little metal on the ship. I only saw the eyes in the deck where the stays for the mast were anchored. Everything else was either wood or rope. The large wooden 8:1 block was for hoisting the mainsail spar. There were no winches aboard, so this giant pulley was the only way of raising the mainsail. There was a similar 6:1 block for hoisting the foresail spar. The fender hanging off the side of the ship is one giant knot of rope.

If you are near one of the ports that these ships will be visiting this spring, I encourage you to take the time to visit them. You will get a great living history lesson.