Replicas of Columbus’ ships land in Charleston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

This rhyme has been taught to students across the country to help them remember Christopher Columbus and the Italian-born explorer’s first expedition to the Americas. While he failed to find a direct route between Europe and Asia as intended, Columbus’ journey to the New World did lead to European colonization and settlement.

More than 500 years since his landing in the Caribbean, replicas of two of Columbus’ ships sail the waterways of the United States to educate people about the voyage. The ships docked at Charleston’s Haddad Riverfront Park on Thursday, and will be open for tours through Wednesday.

“It’s very important to bring these ships to places where they don’t get the opportunity to step on board ships,” said Stephen Sanger, captain of the new Nina.

The Columbus Foundation operates both ships, called caravels. The crews left Marietta, Ohio, on Oct. 24, and plan to next travel to Gallipolis, Ohio, and Ashland, Kentucky, before sailing to the Gulf of Mexico.

The replica Nina first left shore in December 1991 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first expedition to the Americas. Fundraising, research and construction took five years.

As for the Pinta, it first hit the waters in 2005.

A replica of the third ship of Columbus’ first voyage, the Santa Maria, doesn’t exist. Sanger said the original ship was unable to handle depths of less than 12 feet, making it difficult for an accurate enough modern version.

“It pretty much eliminates about 75 percent of the ports we’d want to visit in the United States. She simply wouldn’t be able to fit,” he said. “She wouldn’t be able to travel the rivers.”

While the two caravels are close to the originals in terms of outward appearances, there are a few noteworthy differences; each ship is equipped with radars as well as diesel engines.

“Columbus spent 95 percent of his time in the ocean, so he didn’t have to deal with traveling up rivers and going through locks and barge traffic and whatnot,” Sanger said. “We’re able to navigate the waterways safely and keep communication with the barges.”

The Pinta is also twice as large as the original ship in order to, as Sanger explained, accommodate more people for day trips.

While Columbus is recognized with numerous places — such as Columbus, Ohio — and a federal holiday, some governments have decided to honor the original inhabitants of North America over Columbus every October. While Columbus did open the door for further European exploration, his voyages also included the poor treatment and enslavement of natives.

Sanger, who has served as the captain of Nina for six years, recognized Columbus’ past, but noted the time was one of “survival of the fittest.”

“Obviously, you can’t change history. Columbus was sent to do his things by the King and Queen of Spain,” Sanger said. “You’re talking about a period more than 400 years ago.”

Tours of the ships will be held between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Teachers are also invited to schedule 30-minute tours of the vessels.

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