She was Columbus’ wickedly thrilling gal.


I stand on the sloping deck of the Niña, the truest replica ever built. It was Columbus’ favorite ship, the one he very nearly died on in 1493.

She’s here ~ in the head-turning Stuart Harbor at the North Fork of the  St. Lucie River.rockers web

The ship was named Santa Clara after the patron saint of Moguer. But in those days, a Spanish vessel also had a nickname, usually the feminine form of her master’s home port. Santa Clara was always known as Niña, after her master-owner Juan Niño of Moguer.

In the late eighties, American engineer and maritime historian John Patrick Sarsfield found a group of master shipbuilders in Bahia, Brazil who were still using design and construction techniques dating back to the 15th Century. Using only adzes, axes, hand saws, and chisels, they built NiñaNary a pile-driving power tool in sight.

When I stand on the spic-and-span deck, music expands and swells in my memory. ( Star Clipper ships always set sail to the soundtrack for “Conquest of Paradise, 1492”. It’s magical.)


In 1991, The Niña left Brazil and sailed to Costa Rica on a 4,000 mile unescorted maiden voyage to take part in the filming.


Since then, the ship has visited over 300 ports in the U.S. She is the only ‘sailing museum’ that is continually ‘discovering’ new ports.

Columbus, that enigmatic and flawed human being, for good or ill, altered the course of history.

Hey Sailor, this story isn’t over. The Pinta and Niña are always looking for new crew members. One crew member I met was from Pennsylvania and had been aboard the Pinta for about 9 months and another had only been on for a few weeks. For a complete history and tour schedule or, if you want to change the course of your life, apply as a crew member at


Toni 3/3/14

5 thoughts on “A WOMAN WITH A PAST

  1. I think we are going to have to have a “galleon” smackdown. We presently have the
    Spanish galleon, El Galleon, an exact replica of Pedro Menendez ship sitting at the
    wharf in St. Augustine. We will now be its permanent American port of call. In Jan
    and February we also had a replica of Ponce de Leon’s ship which I have forgotten
    the name of. In the period of less than a hundred years, it seemed the size of the
    ship doubled. Put up your dukes, girley!


  2. Toni,

    Mayhap you’ll sign on as a crew member? (Or not. These little ships don’t match the Viking River Cruise in comfort level.)

    When I was little, the Arabella was moored next to Pioneer Village in Salem, Massachusetts. Supposedly the first settlers to Salem in 1630, led by my ancestor Roger Conant (My brother Jimmy carries him in his middle name of Conant to this day, and Roger himself sits outside the Witch Dungeon Wax Museum.) After walking through the approachable and very authentic replica of the first settlement, I would go outside the palisades and proceed to be terrified by the ship that disgorged them. It seemed so small, dirty, and broken, which it was–talk about triples, or were we? That’s a later blog from you, I think?

    I’ve got to figure this out: of course it HAD to be a replica. It couldn’t be the original these 300 years hence? 1630-1950 which is when I was first traumatized by the horror-ship. Sister Ruthie? You worked at Pioneer Village (all my siblings worked at historic Salem houses or life-guarded at historic Salem beaches which tourists flocked to after being edified at the old places). Sister? Was it the replica? Has it been replaced?

    At any rate, it fell apart and so far, pending an update from Ruthie, I think that no one has seen fit to replicate this small, dirty, and broken vessel. Unlike your beautiful Nina/Pintas and Sayra’s El Galleon. Maybe it’s all for the best.


  3. Patty, I love replicas of anything, if they’re authentic, even horror-ships. Your ancestor Roger, does your family have anything of his, maybe a journal? My ancestors came over about three decks lower than yours. No, I’m not signing on anytime soon unless it’s on a Star Clipper or an Amadeus river boat, both small but not dirty or broken.


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