Editor’s note: Due to the space being taken up by the Nina and Pinta ships, restaurant parking will not be available at Regatta Pointe Marina.
The Vikings and Christopher Columbus had a lot in common if you take the time this weekend to visit the replica Nina and Pinta ships that accompanied the Santa Maria on the maiden voyage to the Americas by Christopher Columbus.
Vikings are known to have made the trip some five centuries before Columbus stumbled into the West Indies in search of a shorter trading route to Asia, eventually exploring and mapping much of the Caribbean.
The Vikings were notorious raiders and their notion of conquest was violent victory, pillage and a return home. They rarely settled outside of their Scandinavian strongholds, which is why Viking treks to the Americas took a long time to discover and made no long-term significant historical impact to the Western Hemisphere.
While controversy surrounds Columbus’ “discovery” of America, his two favorite ships, the Nina and Pinta — Portuguese caravels — have similar design features to that of the notorious Viking longships. They are sturdy and versatile and among the perfect sailing ships of the day to navigate both open water and shallower river waterways.
Nina Capt. Stephen Sanger said the two ships spend about 10 months of the year on the water touring the east coast and into the Great Lakes with a devoted crew living on board the entire time. The exception being the two months out of the year when the ships undergo maintenance.
They are, however, equipped with modern day navigation systems and diesel engines, but Sanger said when on open ocean, they use the sails as much as possible.
“When you are on open ocean you definitely get a feel for what it was like for 20 or 30 men out on the open deck,” Sanger said. “When in rough weather, it’s kind of like bobbing like a cork, always rocking and rolling.”
The biggest surprise to visitors may be the smaller-than-expected size of the vessels. They can only hold up to 30 sailors and they lived most of their lives while on water on the decks, with the cargo hold being used for supplies and provisions, including livestock.
The Nina was built all by hand with no power tools and took 20 men 32 months to construct. It is the more historically accurate of the two.
“It was built in time to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his crossing in 1992,” Sanger said. “For the last 26 years it’s been traveling around the United States as a floating museum. The Pinta was built oversized and can accommodate about twice as many people and for the last 11 years the two ships have been traveling around as a more enhanced museum promoting the age of exploration.”
The crews refer to the Nina and Pinta as the space shuttles of the 15th Century.
There’s a reason there is currently no Santa Maria to join the fleet, sponsored by the Columbus Foundation. Sanger said the Santa Maria was more of a cargo ship, less versatile and was unable to navigate shallower waters. It only takes about 7.5 feet of water for the Nina and Pinta to sail while the Santa Maria needs more than 12.
Given that the floating museums spend a lot of time navigating rivers to get to their destinations, a replica Santa Maria wouldn’t work.
“It’s why Columbus continued using the Nina and Pinta for their versatility in exploring,” Sanger said. “The Santa Maria has the least history with Columbus and he disliked the Santa Maria the most. She sunk on the first voyage off of Haiti and it’s been talked about that it could have been on purpose.”
Columbus loved the Nina so much he bought 50-percent ownership and sailed her for eight years, logging 25,000 miles.
“People forget this is over 525 years ago, so these ships are pretty good sized for back in the day,” Sanger said.
As for the controversy about whether this country should still be celebrating a Columbus Day given what history knows now, Sanger said, “It was Columbus and his relentless ambition to find a quicker trading route to Asia that opened up European civilization to come to the Americas. Yes, the Vikings did it 500 years earlier but they didn’t settle the area. For the courage of the voyage alone, Columbus deserves that level of recognition.”
The ships will be open to the public beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Admission for adults is $8.50, $7.50 for seniors and $6.50 for children between the ages of 5-16. Children under the age of 4 are free.