Recently Philadelphia residents and those visiting for the long Memorial Day Weekend got a first hand look at what it was like to cross oceans in the 1400s. In a time where it is common to see cruise ships over 1,000 feet in length and carrying several thousand passengers, it is hard to fathom (no pun intended) how Columbus was able to cross oceans in sailing vessels that were about 15 meters, approximately 50 feet in length.
The Niña – Most Historically Accurate Columbus Replica Ship Ever Built
The Niña is a replica of the ship on which Columbus sailed across the Atlantic on his three voyages of discovery to the new world beginning in 1492. Columbus sailed the tiny ship over 25,000 miles. That ship was last heard of in 1501, but the new Niña has a different mission. It is a floating museum and visits ports all over the Western Hemisphere.
Pinta – The Second Columbus Replica Ship
Pinta was recently built in Brazil to accompany the Niña on all of her travels. She is a larger version of the archetypal caravel and offers larger deck space for walk-aboard tours and has a 40 ft air conditioned main cabin down below with seating. Pinta is available for private parties and charters.
Life on board the Niña in 1492 was not for the light hearted. When the Niña left on any of her three voyages to the New World, her cargo hold was full of provisions, water, armaments. There were live animals ranging from horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. The four-legged animals were suspended in slings as the rolling motion of the vessel would have easily broken their legs.
Needless to say, there was little room below decks for the 27 or so crew to sleep or cook. Cooking was done in a fire box located on decks in the bow of the ship. Sleeping was on the deck and was always uncomfortable as the ship was so loaded with cargo, her decks were always awash. A lucky few could sleep on the poop deck or find a coil of rope to sleep on to keep them off the deck a foot or so.
THE ORIGINAL NIÑA
The original Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria used by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage across the Atlantic were common trading vessels. The Santa Maria which Columbus never liked, ran aground and sank on Christmas Eve 1492 in Hispaniola (now Cap Haitien). She was a Nao, a type of cargo vessel. The Niña and Pinta were Caravels which were used by explorers during the Age of Discovery. The Pinta returned home and disappeared from History without a trace, but the Niña, now there’s a woman with a past.
The Niña was Columbus’ favorite and for good reason. She was named Santa Clara after the patron saint of Moguer. A Spanish vessel in those days had an official religious name but was generally known by nickname, which might be a feminine form of her masters patronmyic, or of her home port. Santa Clara was always Niña, after her master-owner Juan Nino of Moguer.
Vincente Yanez was her Captain on Columbus’ First Voyage, and he later discovered the Amazon on an independent voyage. Built in the Ribera de Moguer, an estuary, now silted up, of the Rio Tinto, Niña made the entire First Voyage, bringing Columbus safely home. She accompanied the grand fleet of the Second Voyage to Hispaniola and Columbus selected her out of seventeen ships for his flagship on an exploratory voyage to Cuba, and purchased a half share in her.
She was the only vessel in West Indian waters to survive the hurricane of 1495, and then brought back the Admiral and 120 passengers to Spain in 1496. She was then chartered for an unauthorized voyage to Rome, and was captured by a corsair when leaving the port of Cagliari, and brought to an anchor at Cape Pula, Sardinia where she was stripped of her arms and crew. The Captain, Alonso Medel, escaped with a few men, stole a boat, rowed back to Niña, cut her cables and made sail.
She returned to Cadiz in time to sail for Hispaniola early in 1498, as advance guard of Columbus’ Third Voyage. She was lying in Santo Domingo in 1500, and we last heard of her making a trading voyage to the Pearl Coast in 1501. The Niña logged at least 25,000 miles under Columbus’ command.