A link has been posted to your Facebook feed.
- 1 of 21
- 2 of 21
- 3 of 21
- 4 of 21
- 5 of 21
- 6 of 21
- 7 of 21
- 8 of 21
- 9 of 21
- 10 of 21
- 11 of 21
- 12 of 21
- 13 of 21
- 14 of 21
- 15 of 21
- 16 of 21
- 17 of 21
- 18 of 21
- 19 of 21
- 20 of 21
- 21 of 21
GRAND RIVERS, Ky., ON BOARD THE NIÑA – Sunrise, and from the blinding glare of the cloudless eastern sky a guy paddling a yellow kayak approaches from portside.
From his perspective, the black ships must be an imposing sight: mighty and mysterious relics lifted from the history books and plopped into a modern-day marina better suited for harboring houseboats, pontoons and runabouts than a pair of Old World caravels. The kayaker keeps a respectable distance. After a few clicks from a cellphone camera he backs away.
The Niña and her sister ship Pinta are, indeed, imposing and impressive rigs. They are also the showpieces of The Columbus Foundation — replicas of two of the three ships that carried Christopher Columbus and his crew across the Atlantic more than 500 years ago.
Never mind that the admiral thought he’d landed off the coast of Asia, having missed his intended destination by more than 10,000 miles. The Niña and Pinta are real-life reflections of two of the most famous ships — and one of the most famed voyages — in history. Although no drawings or design plans of the original ships exist, the modern-day Niña is thought to be a near-mirror reflection of the ship Columbus claimed as his favorite.
It was launched in 1991, having been hand built of ironwood from the Brazilian forest using traditional tools and employing 15th-century methods by eighth-generation shipwrights in Valenca, Bahia, Brazil. The Niña was originally built as part of the quincentenary celebration of Columbus’s New World arrival.
“I think if Columbus were walking on the dock and saw her he’d recognize her as the Niña,” says 22-year-old first mate Mallory DeLapp.
The ships are fully functional floating museums. They spend a month or so at a Mobile, Ala., shipyard for dry dock inspection, maintenance and any needed repairs. But they otherwise tour continually: on the Gulf, along the Eastern seaboard, on the Great Lakes and up and down great American rivers. This day they were headed up the Tennessee River/Kentucky Lake to the next tour port, in Clifton, Tenn., with a layover in New Johnsonville, Tenn. I was granted passage for a day trip.
Standing on the deck of the Niña — which is about the size of an efficiency apartment — it’s little wonder that Columbus’ men grew anxious to the point of near-mutiny after plowing thousands of miles through uncharted seas and into the unknown in the early fall of 1492.
Living in close quarters
The Niña’s modern-day crew, all volunteers, live below decks in what can only generously be described as close quarters. Each is afforded a bunk and little else in terms of personal space. No one seems to mind.
“Everything we need is down here,” said deckhand Gunner Duncan, who, along with the rest of his shipmates (sans the captain, who has private, though tightly cramped, quarters) emerged from the hold to prepare the Niña for departure, a procedure that basically involved freeing the moorings and securing the yardarms.
Actually sailing the Niña is a treat the crew rarely gets to enjoy. Both the Niña and Pinta are fitted with auxiliary power (diesel engines).
The day’s weather — warm, sunny and windless — is nearly ideal for almost anything outdoors except sailing a square-rigged mast ship geared with 500-year-old mechanics.
“On waterways like this we have to concentrate on staying inside of the channel,” says DeLapp. “When we get the chance to, we sail. But it’s not often. We sailed on Kentucky Lake the last time we were here. But it was windy. We will sail on the Gulf, the Atlantic, the Great Lakes. It’s fun.”
I later learn that during a West Coast trip several years ago the Niña had her seaworthiness tested against 20-foot waves and near gale force winds.
Amid the business of preparing to leave the dock a lean, muscular man with a full head of dark, thick hair and dressed in a black T-shirt and black shorts appears, briefly speaks to DeLapp, then vanishes into the shadow of the poop deck — Capt. Stephen Sanger.
The engine quietly growls and, aided by a small tow, the Niña turns to port and begins to move toward the breakwater. The ship is 65 feet long with an 18-foot beam and a 7-foot draft. Her displacement is nearly 80 tons. You’d expect a wooden ship to creak, its timbers to groan. But the Niña moves silently, yielding barely a ripple. Solid. Stately. Every eye in the marina is glued to it.
The ship is guided with a wooden, hand-controlled rudder. The tiller, hip-high to the captain, extends more than 6 feet over the deck. Capt. Sanger takes a baseball umpire stance: hands on the tiller and eyes shifting continually from the line of narrow buoy markers curving toward the river channel to the GPS navigation electronics then back to the water. Even armed with modern navigation electronics, guiding a 15th-century caravel through a channel cut for a pontoon requires fierce concentration.
The Pinta follows us out. The guy in the yellow kayak, drifting near a channel buoy, watches respectfully.
Still an adventure
Moving upstream on the Tennessee River the Niña was clipping along at about 8 miles per hour. In Columbus’ day the ship’s speed would have been gauged by dropping something from the bow and measuring how long it took to reach the stern. The Niña’s speed is tracked by satellite.
In 1492, everything would have happened on deck: eating, sleeping and cooking, along with the never-ending chores of sailing the ship. Belowdecks were reserved for livestock and supplies.
I clambered down not to find cattle, horses and hogs (which would have been suspended by slings to prevent broken legs when the ship rocked and rolled) but former Navy man and ship cook Mike Doss. At 74, Doss is the senior crew member. He had planned on spending a month on the Niña but had now decided to stay six weeks.
Doss was busy readying breakfast, where the barely 5-foot-high galley didn’t quite fit his lanky 6-foot frame. “You have to duck. But I don’t mind,” he said.
Doss delivered a plate to the captain. The rest of the crew was summoned to the galley.
“Only the captain eats on deck,” DeLapp explained.
Aside from Doss, the rest of the crew — DeLapp, Duncan, Kat Wilson and Ryan Nelson — are college-age. Duncan recently turned 20. Wilson is 22 and Nelson is 18. Wilson, who is from St. Marks, Fla., had some sailing experience but not much. For DeLapp, Duncan and Nelson it’s been on-the-job training.
All agreed that every day on the water is different. During the trip up the Tennessee to New Johnsonville, the crew rotated through two-hour shifts at the helm and worked on an area of the deck that needed re-painting before the next tour stop opened to the public.
“There’s always something to do,” DeLapp said while chipping away flecks of loose paint.
A block and tackle rig allows the ship to be steered with a rope from the poop deck (the wheel wasn’t added until a couple hundred years after Columbus). Wilson took an early stand at helm.
Like her crewmates, Kat Wilson, a senior deckhand who has been a crew member just over a year, had her own reasons for volunteering to serve the Niña. It’s a duty that includes endless travel, practically zero privacy while on board — which is practically all the time — and a near-equal share of back-breaking work, tedious chores and boredom. She pulled the half inch-thick rope less than an inch to the left and the ship turned slightly to port. Caravels were considered light, fast and nimble in their day.
“’Niña’ means ‘little girl,’” she said. “Smallest of the fleet. Smallest of the family. There were much larger ships during the time of Columbus. But this type of ship was popular for more than 150 years for coastal trading.”
A bass boat pulled even with the Niña. The passenger waved and snapped some photos. The Niña might be the most photographed ship afloat.
“It’s nice and calm out today,” Wilson said. “But on a bad day we tend to bob around like cork in a bathtub.”
Duncan, who is from Dixon, Ky., has been on the Niña about five months and is beginning to map out his future. “Basically, you work to travel,” he said. “It’s fun. We’re going to the Great Lakes next year. After that I’m going into the Navy.”
Nelson’s future isn’t quite so clear cut. Like many young men at sea, he takes things a day at a time. He is finishing his second month on the Niña.
“I really didn’t have anything else to do,” said the Wisconsin native. “The ships came to Hudson (Wis.) and I talked to one of the crew members. I had some plans but they didn’t work out. So I figured this would be a great place to figure out what I wanted to do. I love it.”
When DeLapp offered a turn at the helm I accepted with reservations. Kentucky Lake is being lowered to winter pool. Wide swathes of the 160,000-acre lowland impoundment wouldn’t clear the Niña’s 7-foot keel. Fortunately, the buoy markers are fairly easy to read and the Niña was surprisingly responsive.
“Pull the rope the direction you want the ship to turn,” DeLapp explained. “It doesn’t take much.”
It didn’t. The ship shifted with a slight slide of the rope.
The first mate, casually and comfortably dressed like the rest of the crew, removed her shoes to reveal gold-trimmed, turquoise-painted toenails — a crew adornment not likely seen in Columbus’ day.
Aside from the captain, DeLapp is currently the longest-serving crew member, although her tenure is likely nearing its end. She is an artist and painter and anxious to return to her artwork.
DeLapp said she was enjoying an afternoon with friends near her Lincoln Park, Mich., home when she discovered the Foundation ships.
“I went to go fly a kite one day with friends at the local park,” she said. “There were two big pirate ships there (on the Detroit River) so my friends and I went to check out the pirate ships. But they were the Niña and the Pinta and not pirate ships at all!” A “crew wanted” sign caught her attention. “I talked to a couple of people and looked around. I filled out an application. They gave me a call and said, ‘Can you be ready in four days to go?’ That was it.”
Seeing the ships
The Niña and Pinta typically make 30 to 40 tour stops annually. The tours are popular but the public is not allowed to travel with the ships between ports of call. For more information, including the tour schedule, details on joining the crew, and why there are no plans to include a replica of the Santa Maria, Columbus’ flagship on the 1492 voyage, go to TheNiña.com, call 787-672-2152 or email email@example.com.
Article source: http://rssfeeds.usatoday.com/~/205662082/0/usatodaycomtravel-topstories~Aboard-the-Ni%C3%B1a-Columbus-replica-evokes-glorious-past/