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Jon's Jottings: The Nina and Pinta, a time of wooden ships and iron men

The Nina and Pinta, two replicas of ships that sailed with Christopher Columbus when he crossed the ocean blue in 1492 and ultimately found the Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola and the West Indies, moored on the dike road docks in Hudson last week.

They were available for public viewing from Aug. 6 through Aug. 15, then set out for the next stop early Monday.

The Nina made a trip to Hudson in 2005 and I went aboard to do a story then. She returned with her sister ship, built on a larger scale, and I returned for another tour and story.

The Nina is billed as the most authentic replica of a Columbus ship, built to exact scale with hand tools in a Brazilian shipyard. It struck me, as it did the first time I set foot on her deck, how small the vessel was to sail off into the unknown heading east on the Atlantic Ocean.

There were people who believed the earth was flat at the time and really thought Columbus was going to sail off the end of the planet into oblivion.

Instead, the little ship, just 65 feet long and 18 feet wide, made it over to the West Indies and back to Europe and brought fame and fortune to the Italian sailor who was working for the Queen of Spain in command of a Portuguese caravel.

On that first voyage, the hold was used exclusively for cargo and the crew slept topside. The current crew has quarters and modern facilities down below. The crew on the initial voyage had to rely totally on favorable wind to traverse the waters. The new Nina has a 130-hp engine in case the sea is calm.

Yet it is still amazing to stand on the deck of the small wooden ship, look out over the bow and try and imagine the feeling among the men who set out into the unknown over 500 years ago for adventure, discovery and to fulfill dreams of finding fortune.

Imagine rolling seas and waves crashing over the bow making the wooden deck slippery and dangerous or climbing high up on the mast to hopefully spy land after many anxious days at sea.

General history from Wikipedia says Christopher Columbus departed on his first voyage from southern Spain on Aug. 3, 1492, with the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

His first stop was the Spanish-owned Canary Islands where he was delayed for repairs and refitting until Sept. 6 but calm seas kept him close until Sept. 8.

Five weeks later, on Oct. 12, a crew member sighted land. It was one of the outer islands in the Bahamas but historians are still in dispute as to which island it was. Columbus called it San Salvador.

The Santa Maria was a heavy, slow cargo vessel and not a favorite of Columbus. She ran aground on Christmas Eve 1492 in Hispaniola and was abandoned.

One day in October 1969, I was on the USS Howard W. Gilmore, courtesy of the U.S. Navy, sailing from Charleston, S.C., to Cuba. It was my first trip into the Caribbean Sea and after bouncing out on the Atlantic without land in sight we came by a little island. It was the first land I'd seen since leaving Charleston Harbor.

An old salt standing at the rail beside me pointed it out and said that it was San Salvador, the first land Columbus saw.

I felt curiously close to the sea and the history of sea-faring men who were the first to strike out and discover these new lands.

Columbus proceeded to Cuba on Oct. 28 and arrived at Hispaniola on Dec. 5. He returned to Spain on March 15, 1493, after a storm delayed him in Portugal.

The ships of the day traveled an estimated speed between 4 and 8 knots when under sail and averaged 90 to 100 miles a day.

As a civilian in 1979, I made a trip to Guadalupe in the French West Indies and on a tour of the island, stopped by a monument that marked where Columbus had come ashore in November of 1493 during his second voyage to the New World.

On his second voyage he sailed by or stopped at most of the Caribbean Island that serve as winter resort destinations today and returned to Cuba.

He came back on two more voyages, in 1498 and 1502, and sailed to Central and South America.

The Pinta returned to Spain after the voyage and never sailed with Columbus again.

The Nina made the first voyage, joined the fleet of the second voyage, became his flag ship on a trip to Cuba in 1495 and sailed in the advance guard on his third voyage in 1498. She was last heard of making a trading voyage from Santo Domingo to the Pearl Coast in 1501.

She was quite a sturdy little vessel with a significant place in history of discovery of the New World by Europeans.

No matter how history and research in hindsight has besmirched the reputation of Columbus and his early discovery of the Americas, the courage of the captain and his crew who set out into the unknown ocean for adventure cannot be denied.

As an old salt once told me, "It was a time of wooden ships and iron men."