November 23, 2010 10:24:00 AM
Garthia Elena Burnett -
Christopher Columbus sailed 25,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean on trips to the New World on a 65-foot ship, accompanied by nearly 30 other sailors. With little space, food stored in the gunnels and livestock kept below, sailors slept on deck and got to know each other very well.
At one point, after a violent storm took out one ship, the small Niña held 120 men on a voyage back to Spain. Columbus'' trips aboard the vessel began in 1492. And the last record of the ship is in 1501.
Today, The Niña, a floating museum and "the world''s most authentic reproduction" of the ship, according to its captain, sits at the Columbus Marina, welcoming tourists through Sunday.
"Most people are surprised in the size," said Capt. Kyle Friauf of St. Petersburg, Fla.
"They are a lot smaller than people realize," he said of The Niña and Pinta, which also is at the marina and open for tours.
"I imagined them to be a lot bigger," admitted Shanon Richey, a crew member from Crossville, Ala." In history books, they seem massive."
The two boats have been touring together since 2009, beginning in Honduras. The Niña was built 19 years ago by the Columbus Foundation. Friauf sailed the boat through the Panama Canal to Florida nearly six years ago and has been one of its rotating captains since.
The Niña is the same size as Columbus'' original Niña and utilizes a 450-pound anchor retrieved by divers off the coast of Africa. It was later donated to the Columbus Foundation. The Pinta, at 85 feet long, is about 50-percent bigger than the original Pinta, to offer walk-aboard tours and an air-conditioned main cabin for private parties and charters. It is five years old.
First Mate Stephen Sanger of the British Virgin Islands has been traveling with the Pinta for two years. His father is one of the boat''s rotating captains, and Sanger "grew up on the water."
Most children equate the vessel to a pirate ship, he said, and echoed Friauf in saying many people are surprised by how small the ships are.
Another popular question: Where''s the Santa Maria?
The Santa Maria, Sanger explained, would be 95 feet in length and require 14 feet of water to float. At the Columbus Marina, he said, the boats are probably on about 8 feet of water; they need at least 7.
Replicas of the Santa Maria are in Corpus Christi, Texas, parked at a museum, and on the river in Columbus, Ohio. But, brought in pieces and assembled in Columbus, Ohio, the boat is too large to navigate the waters, Friauf said. The original Santa Maria was too large, heavy and slow "for the business of discovery," Columbus wrote in a journal entry after the ship sank on the first voyage, according to thenina.com.
With help from motors and other modern-day amenities like restrooms and small stoves, the ships docked at the marina are a bit ahead of Columbus'' time. But one thing remains the same. Crew members are in close quarters and have two choices: Become part of the family or get off the boat at the next stop.
"We''re a family here," Friauf said. "We''re living in very tight space with total strangers."
The ships advertise for crew members each time they port. Presently, there is room for one person on each boat.
"It''s just been an amazing adventure," said Richey, who has been aboard the boat for 12 days.
Erin Ptacek, who boarded The Niña in Knoxville, Tenn., the ships'' last stop, is taking a break before resuming college.
"I''ve always wanted to sail," she said. "And I love history."
The Niña sails with up to six crew members; the Pinta has up to eight.
The ships stop in 35 cities over the course of 10 months.
Sanger''s favorite places to sail are Lake Michigan and Vancouver.