JOLIET – Replicas of the “Pinta” and the “Niña,” two of the ships Christopher Columbus and his crew sailed to the New World in, made a pit stop near Bicentennial Park in Joliet on Tuesday on their way to Peoria.
The two ships tour together as a “sailing museum,” according to the Columbus Foundation, which runs the ships. The purpose is to educate the public and schoolchildren about the ships used by Columbus. About 50 people came out to see the ships dock.
“Before him,” a news release from the Foundation stated, “the Old World and the New remained separate and distinct continents, and ever since, their fates have been bound together for better or for worse.”
“Most people say ‘What are these?’ ” said Stephen Sanger, the captain of the crew. “People are astonished by how small these ships are.”
Sanger said they consider these ships the space shuttles of the 15th century. The ships travel on average 10 months out of the year to 30 to 40 locations around the country.
The foundation’s Niña is an exact replica, and the Pinta was built 15 feet longer and 8 feet wider than the original, so it could accommodate more people. The ships were made in Brazil by eighth-generation ship builders nearly a decade ago.
“The techniques of how to build these ships are passed down through generations,” Sanger said.
The Niña was built first by hand and took 20 men 32 months to build. Sanger said it is considered the most historically accurate replica ever constructed.
Both the Pinta and the Niña were caravels, used frequently by explorers during the “Age of Discovery.” Columbus never liked the other ship, the Santa Maria, which was a different type known as a “Nao” and was considerably larger than the caravels. The Niña was Columbus’ favorite ship, according to the foundation. Columbus nearly died on it, and logged more than 25,000 miles with it.
Sanger’s crew of 16 volunteers come from all over the country and spend a month or more traveling with the ships. On this year’s trek, they started in the Gulf of Mexico, went up the East Coast, through the Great Lakes region and now are traveling the Midwestern river system.
“We’ve traveled a long, long way on these ships,” Sanger said. “It shows you how sturdy they are.”
The crew also stays on the ship, sleeping down below in the cargo hold section of the ship where they have a kitchen and sleeping quarters. The ships were in Joliet just for the night as they docked around 7 p.m. and planned to leave around sunrise on Wednesday.
The ships will be on full display in Peoria starting Friday in Peoria for 10 days.
If you’re interested in volunteering to be on the crew, or just want more information on the ships, you can visit ninapinta.org.