Between now and Monday, fans of Christopher Columbus can get a taste of what life was like during his 1492 voyage of discovery to the New World. Replicas of two of his vessels, the "Nina" and the "Pinta" are docked along the Tennessee/Tombigbee River in Demopolis. I spoke with Captain Morgan Sanger who was aboard the Pinta.
Morgan Sanger—“Well, it’s an educational exhibit we’ve been doing for twenty years now, and we go to school groups, and families—showing them what life was like five hundred years ago, and how good they have it now.”
Pat Duggins—“Well, I went aboard the U.S.S. Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) when I was up in Boston once, and conditions and discipline aboard that wooden sailing vessel were brutal. What kind of hair raising stories do you tell about the days of Columbus?”
Sanger—“Well, that was a few hundred years earlier, so things were even worse, scurvy, running out of food and water. It was not a good experience. But, better than being in Spain and the Old World where all this oppression was going on.”
Pat—“So, we have the Nina and Pinta, right?”
Pat—“Any sticklers out there saying ‘where’s the Santa Maria?’”
Sanger—“We have a model of the Santa Maria on aboard that’s very accurate. But, Columbus hated the Santa Maria, so we never built one.”
Pat—“Holy smoke, why didn’t he like it?”
Sanger—“He compared it to sailing a barrel at sea. It was slow, it was dreadful ship, it couldn’t maintain a good course. And the Nina and Pinta, being “caravels” which was different kind of ship from the Santa Maria, were much faster, and more handy for getting in and out of ports.”
Pat—“Since we’re on radio, and nobody can see the ships…paint a picture, what they do they look like?
Sanger—“Well, we’re aboard the Pinta right now...tied up to barges along the Tennessee-Tombigbee (rivers). The ships are beautiful. They’re all hand built, very sleek looking, very fast. Very comfortable at sea. We’re been up the rivers all year, so we won’t be in the Gulf until Christmas when we head to Biloxi. And, then we go up East coast. So, they’re beautiful and the rigging is fantastic."
Pat—“So, for people who are used to seeing “America’s Cup” schooners. How do these earlier vessels compare?"
Sanger—“Well, they’re not as sleek and fast as those types of vessels. But, they did the job the explorers wanted to do. All the famous explorers used them, Ferdinand Magellan, Columbus, Vasco De Gama. They were great ships that could take a beating at sea, and get the crew home safe.”
Pat—“So, when people come aboard what kind of experience do they get? What do they see?”
Sanger—“Well, we have a lot of things on board to view. We have crew members to talk to. We have a film on the construction on the ships. We have artifacts on board. We have historical data to read. And there’s no time limit. Folks can stay on as long as they like and dream of being at sea.”
Pat—“I don’t want to see to be casting aspersions—but, I’ve heard the observation that ships like these are a little on the small side.”
Sanger --“Well, back then they were considered large vessels. But, nowadays you look at the Titanic, it was big, but it didn’t make it either. But compared to modern vessels they look small.”
Pat—“Bow to stern, how many feet?”
Sanger—“Overall, the length of the Pinta is one hundred and five feet, and the Nina is eighty five feet.”
Pat—“So, the stories about conditions and discipline on the boat, how much do you go into that?”
Sanger—“Our facilities and comfort level is much higher. They had to sleep on the decks in all weather. Columbus went through two hurricanes and survived it. Down below was just cargo, live animal, and fresh water that was usually rancid.”
Pat—“So, what’re your next destination after Demopolis?”
Sanger—“We head to Biloxi for Christmas and New Year’s. Then up the Mississippi to the Great Lakes next year.”