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20120322_Columbus_Ships_02Take a step back in time over 500 years and board two replicas of the ships Columbus sailed to America in search of a new route to India. The vessels are docked at the Southpoint Marina in Port Isabel, 500 South Point Drive, now through April 1.

Replicas of the two smaller ships used by Christopher Columbus, they are owned by the Columbus Foundation of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and will be open for viewing from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission is $8 for adults and $7 for seniors, age 60 and over. Children are $6.

Construction of the Niña was begun in 1988 by John Patrick Sarsfield, an expert on Portuguese caravels, who learned a technique called Mediterranean whole moulding, which is thought to be the method used by master ship builders in the 1500s. He found the technique in use in Valenca, Brazil and that was the site chosen for construction of the ship as the shipwrights there were using traditional tools such as axes, adzes, handsaws and chisels, used 500 years ago in shipbuilding. The town was also located near a forest and was a good source of the naturally shaped timbers needed to build the ship.

Ships would not have been built from a set of plans but rather from a design in the mind of the shipbuilder. Unfortunately after the hull was completed but before the ship could be rigged Sarsfield died in an accident and Jonathan Nance, a British maritime historian was asked to finish the ship. He created a sail plan with the Niña as a four master ship with the blocks, spars and other fittings needed to make the sails work.

When completed, the Niña was 65 feet in length, had an 18-foot beam, seven-foot draft, weighs 75 tons, and boasts 1919 square feet of sails. Since its creation it has sailed over 25,000 miles providing a sailing museum for adults and children around the world.

The Pinta, another caravel, was launched on Feb. 25, 2005 in Valenca, Brazil. It has an 85-foot deck, 23-foot beam, 7.5 foot draft, and is 101 tons, 3800 square feet of sails.

Caravels, invented by the Portuguese, were the favored ship from the 1400s through 1530. They carried cargo, served as warships, patrol ships and corsairs (pirate ships). The ships were known for their maneuverability, speed and shallow draught.

Prior to Columbus’s voyage they were used up and down the coast of Africa and in the Mediterranean. Later, they were in Magellan’s voyage around the world in 1519.

Guided tours are available for groups of 15 or more or visitors may take self-guided tours and stay on the ship as long as desired to get the feel of what life was like on the ocean-going, tiny vessels.

For more information, call 787-672-2152.

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