Unlike the legendary Flying Dutchman who spends an eternity grudgingly roaming the sea in compliance of a well placed curse, Christopher Columbus’ Niña, or rather, her most historically accurate replica, is sailing the modern ocean on the wind of good will and aspiring spirit of rediscovery.
Most of us would be familiar with the story of the original Niña, of course. Niña is actually the nickname of the formally Santa Clara (after the patron saint of Moguer, Spain). She, along with the Pinta and the Santa Maria, carried Christopher Columbus to the New World from in 1492. The Santa Maria ran aground on Hispaniola then, and never got anywhere else. The Pinta got back home and disappeared into oblivion. Only the Niña made the second trip to America with Columbus (as his flag ship)… and was the only ship to survive the trip, bringing Columbus and 120 other survivors back to Spain in 1496. The hardy ship logged at least 25,000 miles under Columbus, and disappeared from record in 1501 while making a trading voyage to the Pearl Coast.
There are a few replicas of Christopher Columbus’ original trio about. Three are reportedly languishing in disrepair in Corpus Christi, Texas after two were accidentally rammed by another ship during a storm. The Santa Maria replica in Columbus, Ohio seems to be doing well, though. This Niña replica was designed by John Patrick Sarsfield and Jonathan Morton Nance, on the behave of the Columbus Foundation. She was built entirely by hand in Valenca, Brazil, using well researched traditional method aided by recent discoveries of sunken 15th and 16th Century Spanish ships in the Caribbean Sea and Eugene Lyon’s recovery of the Libro de Armadas, a historical document with information on the rigging, gears, and equipment inventory aboard the Niña’s 1498 trip.
Like her original inspiration, this ship is a caravel, a type of trading vessel common in the 15th Century. Rigged as a caravela redonda, the Niña replica has square main sails, foremast for downwind sailing, and lateen sailed mizzen masts. She is 93.6 ft long with 17.3 ft beam; sporting a 66 ft deck with 1,919 sq. ft of sail area, and has total displacement of 100 tons.
The Niña replica first put to sea in December 1991 in a record making voyage to Costa Rica; the first successful unescorted open ocean passage by a discovery caravel replica. She was featured in Ridley Scott’s film ‘1492: Conquest of Paradise’, which starred the French actor Gerard Depardieu as the Genovese admiral Columbus. The ship is now serving as a touring floating museum visiting ports all over the world for a few weeks at a time. The main deck is open to the public with fascinating photo plates of her construction and a good natured crew with lots of interesting sea stories to tell. If Columbus were around today he would have much to be proud of this revisitation of his favorite ship. She has sailed not only through many seas and oceans, but many Great Lakes and rivers of North America as well.
The Niña is, at the moment, visiting San Diego, California docking at Shelter Island on February 2nd for a two week stay (she is leaving for Panama on February 15th). You can find more information on the ship and her sailing schedule at www.thenina.com