The story is taught all across America. Christopher Columbus, explorer, sets sail in 1492 with three ships and discovered the New World. It's a story told so frequently, its become more fable than fact.
The facts are these: Columbus sailed from Spain searching for a route to the East Indies. Crossing the Atlantic, he ended up landed in the Dominican Republic, an unknown land mass to Europe. Despite 11th Century Vikings landing in North America nearly four hundred years earlier than him, Columbus has since been credited as the discoverer of the Americas.
Columbus' armada for that famous voyage consisted of three ships whose names have become as famous as the Mayflower or Titanic; the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. We know they were tiny, never intended for trans-Atlantic travel. What remains a mystery are what happened to these fabled vessels in the half millennia since the voyage.
Just because she was the tiniest doesn't mean she was the least liked. In fact, Columbus adored the Nina and named it his favorite. No documentation of her exact design exists. Experts believe her to have been a caravel type trade vessel not more than 50 feet long. Basically built for the Mediterranean Sea not the Atlantic Ocean.
The Nina would be one of two ships that would return to Spain in 1492. Columbus would use her again for his second voyage in 1493. and again for his third in 1498. Afterward, she is lost to history. Only two known records of the Nina's whereabouts exist post-Columbus. In 1500, she was laid up in Santo Domingo and in 1501 she made a trading voyage to Venezuela. There is no mention of her again.
Even less is known about the Pinta's final whereabouts. As the middle child of the three ships she was neither liked nor disliked by Columbus. The 60 foot vessel would accompany Columbus on his first voyage as the fastest of the trio. Returning to Spain at the conclusion of the mission, she vanished, slipping between the cracks of history. Not one record has been found of her fate. This problem is further compounded by the fact that Pinta wasn't her official name, rather a nickname. With the real name lost, the ship is lost with it.
The Santa Maria
At least we know what happened to the Santa Maria. Largest of the three vessels, the Santa Maria served as Columbus' flagship during his fabled voyage. The merchant ship hit the waves for the first time in 1475. While exact measurements have not survived time, crew diaries suggest a length of 62 feet and a tonnage of 150. Despite being the slowest of the trio, the vessel performed well during the crossing. The return voyage, however, ended the vessel's life when she ran aground off the shores of Cap-Haitien, Haiti. Columbus ordered the wreck stripped and much of her timbers hauled ashore to build a fort.
Finding the wreck of the Santa Maria is one of those great Holy Grails of shipwreck hunters. In 2014, explorers believed they found it off the coast of Haiti. Further evidence dated the wreck from the 17th century, three hundred years after Columbus. Given the age of the ship and the harsh conditions of salt water, it is unlikely much or any of it will ever be found.
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