Christopher Columbus did not like the Santa Maria.
While history records that vessel as the flagship of the famous fleet that discovered The New World, it was slow and bulky, more a plodding transport than glamorous headliner. Columbus much preferred the speedy and agile Nina, a ship of caravel design and use he eventually sailed over a then-staggering 25,000 miles.
Large – and slightly larger – versions of the Nina as well as the Pinta are in Fort Myers at the Edison Marina at Pincher’s Crab Shack at 2360 West 1st Street through Tuesday, April 26, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Nina replica, launched in 1991, is exact-size; the Pinta followed in 2005 and is 15-feet larger than its namesake, to better accommodate the crowds attracted to the ships. They belong to The Columbus Foundation, do not receive any government money and rely entirely on admission fees. Groups and schools can schedule tours in advance; all others take the self-guided adventure or can engage the friendly and knowledgeable crew.
On a recent visit to the ships in Naples, visitors overwhelmed the Pinto, its volunteers all engaged with others. This allowed the floating museum to tell its own story, combining detailed and descriptive signage with its impressive construction and seaworthy ambiance. It took 8th generation shipbuilders from Valenca, Brazil, three years to build the caravel replica, using traditional tools like axes, hand saws, and chisels as well as naturally-shaped timbers necessary for a large wooden ship. It was the original Pinta’s crew of 26 who, after 70 days, first spied the Bahamas, forever changing the world. They lived and slept, crammed together, on the tiny deck because the hold was for livestock and supplies. Even though slightly larger than the original, imagining 26 men in such open yet confined conditions for 2-1/2 months, in all weather and seas, with the smells and other atrocities that accompany such a journey, is to marvel at their resiliency. While the Nina made three trips with Columbus, the Pinta’s only one was The Voyage of Discovery.
Volunteers highlighted the Nina, their stories somehow overshadowing the magnificent craft. One of the local sponsors that brought the ships to Southwest Florida is the Freedom Waters Foundation that assists children with life-threatening illnesses, children and adults with disabilities, at-risk youth, veterans and others with special needs. Sandy Mintz is a Freedom Waters Foundation member who donates his time to educate and entertain tourists and groups.
“It is the kids and teenagers I enjoy most,” says the affable Sandy. “You can’t tell them any of that old Columbus legendary stuff because they are too sophisticated; they have the Internet in the palm of their hand. They want the absolute truth, warts and all, about this era and these adventurers and their voyages, and that is fantastic. I did this in 2013 the last time the Nina and Pinta came to our area, and couldn’t wait for their return. This is an amazing experience!”
While common to encounter local guides who help at such attractions, what sets the Nina and Pinta apart is that almost all of the 16-person combined crews are volunteers as well! Jeff Hicks is the cook, preparing meals each morning and evening, as well as taking a watch and being a tour guide for school groups and the general public.
“What amazes most people is that these ships are so small, yet covered so many miles back then and now today. If you can put yourself of the mind to imagine back to 1492 and what it was to sail off into the unknown, you cannot admire those seamen enough,” he relates. “What courage! We currently sail over 11,000 miles on our ten-month tour, and that is a lot. The Nina and Pinta are making their way through Florida now, the upper Mississippi River by the summer, then the Tennessee River in the fall.”
As master woodworker by trade, Jeff had no previous naval experience when he volunteered, nor was any necessary. “You learn as you go,” he laughs. “The First Mates have a lot of knowledge, are great teachers, and show you how to do things right.” Jeff wanted to live on a ship the size commonly used during the Age of Discovery, “so when we are at sea, going from one port to the next, you have the time to place yourself there and imagine that. This is a unique opportunity and one I savor. No one can match my pay: a bunk to sleep in, three meals a day, and adventures to talk about for a lifetime!”
He enjoys interacting with locals, often asking as many questions as they do. “It would be a waste not to learn something about or experiencing what makes each community unique,” Jeff reasons. “Down here the advice is near unanimous and not surprising – the beaches! Antiquing is fantastic, too. You can tell a lot about the history and values of an area through its antiques.”
Tour both ships through Tuesday, April 26th for the same admission: adults $8, seniors $7, students age 5 to 16 $6, and 4 & under free. Crew member-led 30-minute tours for 15 or more are $5-per-person by reservation only at 787-672-2152 or at www.ninapinta.org. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Freedom Waters Foundation see www.freedomwatersfoundation.org.
Discover your own New World on the Nina and Pinta, before they once again sail into history.
1: Nina and Pinta at sail. Photo courtesy of The Columbus Foundation.
- Close up look at the Nina replica ship. Photo courtesy of The Columbus Foundation.
- Visitors tour the bow of the Pinta recently in Naples. Photo by Gary Mooney.