Christopher Columbus had three ships on his first voyage: the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. The flagship Santa Maria had the nickname La Gallega. She was broad and slow, designed for hauling cargo. Some sources say that the Santa Maria was about 100 tons, meaning that it could carry 100 toneladas, which were large casks of wine. There has been much speculation about just how large such a ship would be; the best current thinking, by Carla Rahn Philips, puts the length of Santa Maria at 18 meters, keel length at 12 meters, beam 6 meters, and a depth of 3 meters from keel to deck.


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.



The Santa Maria


The Santa Maria



The Pinta was captained by Martín Alonso Pinzón, a leading mariner from the town of Moguer in Andalucia. Pinta was a caravel, a smaller, lighter, and faster ship than the tubby Santa Maria. We don't know much about Pinta, but it probably was about 70 tons. Philips puts the length of Pinta at 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.


The Niña, smallest of the fleet, was captained by Vicente Añes Pinzón, brother of Martín. The Niña was another caravel of probably 50 or 60 tons, and started from Spain with 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 carried 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. Philips puts her length at 15 meters, keel length 12 meters, beam 5 meters, and depth 2 meters.





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. These speeds were typical for vessels of the period and indeed, typical for the Age of Sail, until the advent of steam and clipper ships. Thus, on average 90 or 100 miles in a day would be typical.


Of the three ships on the first voyage, the Santa Maria was the slowest, and the Pinta was the fastest. The differences were small, however, perhaps about 0.1 knot between them.  For a summary of the actual distances the fleet made every day of the voyage (in leagues), check out the First Voyage Log.


To see pictures, visit: Columbus Foundation page for the Niña replica. There are also replica ships that sail out of Corpus Christi, Texas; the local paper has articles on them.



The Santa Maria and Pinta


Santa Maria and Pinta





Columbus and dead reckoning navigation.

Columbus and celestial navigation.

How long was Columbus's league?

Columbus and longitude.

Columbus's ships.

Columbus's crew.


A Columbus Timeline.

The First Voyage, 1492-1493.

The Second Voyage, 1493-1496.

The Third Voyage, 1498-1500.

The Fourth Voyage, 1502-1504.




Some five hundred years after the landing, it is still unclear just where Columbus first saw the new world. It's a subject of much debate. So far no theory put forward is conclusive but some of the best known theories are given in the links below, if you're interested:-




Map of the Bahamas, showing the suggested landfalls of Columbus



Columbus visited five islands in the Bahamas before reaching Cuba. He named these (in order) San Salvador, Santa Maria de la Concepcion, Fernandina, Isabela, and Las Islas de Arena. The last of these has been identified (almost universally) with the modern Ragged Islands in the Bahamas. The first four are in dispute. To avoid confusion with modern placenames, the first four are referred to in Roman numerals as Island I through Island IV. The native names for these islands were Guanahani for Island I and Samoete (or Saomete or Samoet) for Island IV. The native names for Island II and Island III were not recorded.



The Clues to the Landfall
The Landfall Scorecard

Theories with a few problems:

The Plana Cays theory: Keith A. Pickering (1994); Ramon J. Didiez Burgos (1974)
The Mayaguana theory: Antonio Varnhagen (1825), [amended].
The Samana Cay theory: Joseph Judge (1986); Gustavus Fox (1882)

Theories with a lot of problems:

The Conception Island theory: Steven Mitchell (1991), R. T. Gould (1943)
The Grand Turk theory: Robert Power (1983), Fernandez de Navarrete (1825)
The Watlings Island theory: Samuel E. Morison (1942); James B. Murdock (1886); et al
The Caicos theory: Pieter Verhoog (1947)

Theories Way Out On A Limb:

The Cat Island theory: Alexander S. Mackenzie (1828)
The Egg Island theory: Arne Molander (1981)
The Virgin Islands theory: Dr. Luis M. Coin Cuenca (1989)
The Lignum Vitae Cay theory: John H. Winslow (1989)



SEE the SANTA MARIA: more than 500 years after Christopher Columbus set sail in his flaghip, you can tour what is considered to be the world's most authentic, museum-quality replica. Guided tours dramatize the daring and determination it took for these explorers to set out on their mission. Fascinating displays show the far-ranging impact of the encounter of two worlds that existed in 1492.


VISITOR INFORMATION  Hours, rates & directions -- everything you need to know to plan your adventure

EXPERIENCE HISTORY Tour an authentic, museum-quality, replica of Christopher Columbus' flagship

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