The story of Christopher Columbus and his historic voyage across the ocean is taught in most schools. The story has evolved to portray the journey in a more realistic and practical light. People used to believe that Columbus thought the world was flat. But there is one aspect of the story that not enough people focus on: the ships themselves. But did you know his two smaller ships had different names?
The smaller two ships of Christopher Columbus were not properly named the Nia and the Pinta. The Santa Clara was the actual name of the Nia, but it was nicknamed after its owner, Juan Nio of Moguer. The Pinta’s original name has been lost, and it is only known by its nickname (the painted one).
The Story of Christopher Columbus’ Ships
Columbus first set sail in August 1492. He commandeered three ships and a crew of 86 sailors. Even though the crown funded the voyage, it must have seemed daunting to a crew that had never heard of anyone doing what they were about to do.
Columbus set sail in three ships. They were named Santa Clara (Nia), Pinta, and Santa Gallega (Santa Maria). These were not the mighty seagoing vessels that some might have expected. Both the Nina and the Pinta were relatively small. The deck length of the Pinta was only 56 feet. That’s comparable to a modern yacht. The Nina had a deck length of about 50 feet. The deck of the Santa Maria was approximately 58 feet long and was the largest of the three cargo ships. These were by no means large. They were only about 70 feet long from bow to stern.
The flagship Santa Maria was a carrack that displaced about 100 tons. It had a single deck and three masts. The Nina and the Pinta were known as caravel vessels. Each ship carried supplies for its crew, food, animals, water, and so on. Sleeping quarters were not included; the crew would have slept on the deck.
None of the three ships was ever explicitly intended for exploration. Each was likely a second-hand merchant ship, the best that could be obtained to be fast enough and reliable enough to do the job.
Both caravels were light and sailed high in the water. Of course, part of the reason was that they were so short on crew. The Nina had 20 men, and the Pinta had 26. (Source: Boat Safe)
The Names of Columbus’ Ships
Before Columbus’ voyage, Santa Maria was known as the Santa Gallega or La Gallega. Columbus never wrote down the name of the Santa Maria, only the names of the other two vessels. Some believe he obtained the Gallega and changed his name himself. Some believe the Gallega, which means Galician, indicates that the ship was built in the Spanish province of Galicia.
Santa Clara, on the other hand, was Nina’s true name. Saint Clare of Assisi, also known as Santa Clara, was the patron saint of, among other things, good weather. The Nina was a nickname for this system, which was common among Spanish ships. One formal name, specifically that of a saint, and a more common name in keeping with the crew’s vernacular. (Source: Boat Safe)
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