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Columbus’ Tall Sailing Ships

Home School Field Trip: We went to Pensacola on Friday to visit The Niña. We’ve also visited the Santa Maria in St. Augustine during her tour a year or so ago.

Tall sailing ships are among my very favorite things. I’m not sure when that fascination began, but it’s profound. I’ve devoured books and documentaries on them - and everything related to them - for decades. Years ago, one my “curiosity binges” focused on Columbus for a time, and his story is one of the most interesting in world history, though it’s the ships themselves that I’d rather focus on here.

It‘s almost unimaginable the degree of adventure represented by what were at the time technological marvels. Most captains were chosen primarily for their navigation skills, because finding your way in those days required great astronomical and cartographic knowledge, a boldness that could only be replicated today by going to Mars without a reliable map, and a healthy dash of luck (if you believe in such).

Built for the 500th Anniversary: None of the original three ships from Columbus‘ first voyage have survived and none have been found. These three were painstakingly rebuilt to the original specifications, however, using the original methods and tools, and are ocean-going, fully functioning vessels. They were commissioned for the 500th anniversary of the 1492 trip.

You can buy a copy of Columbus’ actual logbook in any bookstore, and I do have it. Guess how much the cover price is?

The Santa Maria ran aground off the coast of Haiti on the first voyage. The Crew made a fort from the timber and nothing is thought to have survived of her. The Niña and the Pinta simply vanished from all record. Nothing is known of their fates. Columbus made four voyages to The New World. Interestingly, he only set foot on the mainland, in Honduras, on his last voyage. All other trips ended on various islands, have fascinating stories, and Columbus believed until the day he died that he had landed in The Far East, as he had intended. Thus the incorrect term “Indian” used to collectively describe the native peoples he encountered.

Flat-Earthers: Of course, it was already largely known by educated people of his time that the world was round. The significance and intended purpose of his voyage was not in proving this, but to find a westerly, ocean-going passage to The Far East. No one had done that before, and finding such a route would have eliminated the need for the dangerous overland “Silk Road” route being used for the spice trade and other purposes.

A Whole New World: The reason no one had sailed this far westerly before was largely due to the fact that no one thought a voyage to The Far East could be adequately provisioned ... thus the key reason for three ships. As an interesting side note, one of the things that gave Columbus the confidence that he could accomplish the feat is that he used an incorrect mileage calculation. In truth, he was very fortunate to have simply run into a continent - and cultures - that no one in The Known World knew existed.

How You Can Visit Her Too: She will be in Pensacola until the 21st. For more information, go to