Famous ships showcase voyage of century

Published 9:54 am Thursday, October 8, 2009

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — As the Chesapeake school bus made the turn into the parking lot of the Huntington Yacht Club marina on a crisp, bright Wednesday morning, the spindly pitch black masts of the Nina set off by the robin’s egg blue of the Ohio River came into view.

“It is more beautiful than on the Internet,” Meggie Cauley cried out. Soon she and other Chesapeake Middle School talented and gifted (TAG) students tumbled down the ramps of the marina into the world of 15th Century imperialistic Europe as they toured exact replicas of two of the three ships on which Christopher Columbus and his crews endured disease and squalor to discover the New World.

Eighteen years ago wooden boat enthusiasts wanted to do something to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ historic voyage. That was the start of creating an exact replica of the Nina. Built all out of Brazilian hardwood, the boat required the work of 20 men over 32 months to build the vessel by hand. In 2006 that venture was followed by turning out an authentic reproduction of her sister ship, the Pinta.

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Now the sailing duo travel the waterways of the North American continent. The boats will remained docked at the Huntington marina until Oct. 14 for public and school tours from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily.

One of the most prevalent comments by visitors to the replicas concerns their small size, Capt. Kyle Friauf said. Friauf has steered the Nina replica for the past five years.

Close to only twice the size of the tug boats that churned up and down the Ohio that morning, the original Nina and Pinta bore a crew of between 25 to 33 each on their world-changing voyage from Spain in 1492.

“It puts the whole voyage into perspective,” Friauf said. “It is very easy to imagine sailors 500 years ago. Sailors had a hard life. This is a floating museum. It is a good approach to learn a little history.”

Each boat can run powered exclusively by wind, although a diesel engine offers backup and is the sole power when cruising along inland waterways.

While crews on the modern-day vessels find shelter at night in the cargo hole, the sailors in Columbus’ day lived and slept on deck finding little refuge from the elements.

The hole was home for food, both dried, salted meat and that on the hoof as a menagerie of domestic animals were taken on the original voyage.

“How hard it was to live back there,” Megan Cox, Chesapeake TAG student, said.

Before the field trip the TAG students researched the intrepid Italian online, making a discovery of their own: his log books.

“We kind of followed his journey,” Terry Montgomery, Chesapeake TAG teacher, said. “This gives them a lot of history. They can imagine what it was like in 1492 and what the people were like. I can’t imagine sailing out into the world like that. It would be like getting into a rocket ship to go to Mars.”