Christopher Columbus Ships -Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria

Christopher Columbus Ships

Christopher Columbus had three ships on his first voyage, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. Columbus sailed from Palos de la Frontera on 3 August, 1492. His flagship, the Santa Maria had 52 men aboard while his other two ships, the Nina and Pinta were each crewed by 18 men.

The Santa Maria was a nao, was a bit of a tub, and was not able to go near the coastline. But was able to carry a lot of cargo, and it was able to stand up well in bad weather. The Niña, the Pinta were caravels, with a shallower draft than a nao, did not have much cargo space, but were able to explore shallow bays and the mouths of rivers. A carvel was square-rigged on its foremasts and mainmasts, but used a lateen sail on the mizzen to help in tacking. A caravel had about twenty crew members, who slept on the deck and would go below only if the weather was bad.

The crew were gathered by Martín Alonso Pinzón (captain of the Pinta). They were experienced sea-men, and four of them had taken an offer from the Spanish throne for amnesty from prison if they took the voyage. Many of these sailors were from the nearby towns of Lepe and Moguer.

Over several days, ships of Columbus's day would average a little less than 4 knots. Top speed for the vessels was about 8 knots, and minimum speed was zero. These speeds were quite typical for vessels of the period. So overall, 90 or 100 miles in a day would be typical, and 200 phenomenal. Of the three ships on the first voyage, the Santa Maria was the slowest, and the Pinta was the fastest. The differences were not great over a long voyage.

Santa Maria No one knows exactly what Columbus's Santa Maria was like. We can examine similar ships of the era. It was a nao, which simply means "ship" in old Spanish. She was fat and slow, designed for carrying cargo. It was a merchant ship, between 200-600 tons.The length of Santa Maria was about 18 meters, keel length 12 meters, beam 6 meters, and a draft about 2 meters.

The Santa Maria was a rented vessel owned by Juan de la Cosa, who sailed with Columbus as the first officer. Formerly, known as the La Gallega since its owner was from Galicia, Columbus renamed the vessel Santa Maria.

The Santa Maria had three masts (fore, main, and mizzen), each of which carried one large sail. The foresail and mainsail were square; the sail on the mizzen, or rear, mast was a triangular sail known as a lateen. In addition, the ship carried a small square sail on the bowsprit, and small topsail on the mainmast above the mainsail. Most of the driving force of the craft was from the largest mainsail with the remaining sails used for trimming.

The Santa Maria also had a crow’s nest on the mainmast. It had a raised stern. There was a forecastle in the bow of the ship.

The ship ran aground off Hispaniola and had to be abandoned.

The Pinta was captained by Martín Alonso Pinzón, an experienced mariner from the town of Moguer in Andalucia. Pinta was a caravel. We don't know much about Pinta, but it probably was about 70 tons, with a length of 17 meters, keel length 13 meters, beam 5 meters, and depth 2 meters. She probably had three masts, and most likely carried sails like those of Santa Maria, except for the topsail, and perhaps the spritsail.

Niña. Smallest of the fleet, captained by Vicente Añes Pinzón, brother of Martín. The Niña was another caravel of probably 50 or 60 tons. When she left Spain she had lateen sails on all masts; but she was refitted in the Canary Islands with square sails on the fore and main masts. Unlike most ships of the period, Niña may have had four masts, including a small counter-mizzen at the stern with another lateen sail. This would have made Niña the best of the three ships at sailing upwind. Length about 15 meters, keel length 12 meters, beam 5 meters, and depth 2 meters.

Santa Maria Replica

Santa Maria - Wikipedia


Christopher Columbus