The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Ships Of Columbus In Burlington, Iowa

by Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Publisher/Owner

As a stronger than usual current slapped water up against the rocky riverbanks of the historic Mississippi River, a nice gathering of patriots, young and old, anxiously looked off in the distance, waiting to capture the first glimpse of two historic replicas that eventually were responsible for each of them being on the shores of a free America.

There was laughter of children who were running on the grass, skipping rocks or sticks into the river while parents and others sat in the shade of the huge Big River Bridge recalling their early American history lesson of who discovered America, and the short saying often taught to remember the explorer's name and the date: "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue."

It's 518 years later (July 15, 2010), but the Columbus Foundation has made sure the explorer of long ago is remembered with this traveling museum of Christopher Columbus favorite ship, the "Nina" along with her sister ship the "Pinta."

The ships were open for 3 days of public viewing at Big Muddies private dock just north of Big River Bridge.

Sightseers came more than an hour before the 2:00 scheduled arrival, and were scattered here and there along the riverbanks, many under the five lanes of HWY 34 traffic to capture a slight breeze on a sweltering muggy July day. Some were in hopes of reliving the feeling of the first sight of those fame boats which they had read about in their early American History lessons.

The initial reaction was how very "pitch black" the ships were, and how very small to have traveled from Spain on the open seas of the Atlantic Ocean to the West Indies.

On board, it was found how very immaculate they were, inside and out, and how many perfectly placed items were set on deck to man the sails. It brought to mind the phase: "Everything is in ship shape".

You also noticed how very many ropes it takes to sail this small vessel compared to today's ships.

Several were disappointed to see the ships without their large sails out, but it was due to the upstream journey and strong current they were fighting as they traveled from Keokuk, Iowa that morning (using a diesel motor - a necessary addition for this traveling museum).

The Nina was built by hand and without the use of power tools and is considered to be the most historically correct Columbus Replica ever built.

After the media's private viewing on Thursday, the crew was busy setting up the boat for public viewing. The boats had to pass a Coast Guard inspection before the public was allowed on board the next day.

Captain Kyle of the Nina said most all of his crew are volunteers who most commit for at least 30 days.


The original Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria used by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage across the Atlantic were common trading vessels. The Santa Maria which Columbus never liked, ran aground and sank on Christmas Eve 1492 in Hispaniola (now Cap Haitien). She was a Nao, a type of cargo vessel.

The Nina and Pinta were Caravels which were used by explorers during the Age of Discovery. The Pinta returned home and disappeared from History without a trace, but the Nina, now there's a woman with a past.

The Nina was Columbus' favorite and for good reason. She was named Santa Clara after the patron saint of Moguer. A Spanish vessel in those days had an official religious name but was generally known by nickname, which might be a feminine form of her masters patronmyic, or of her home port. Santa Clara was always Nina, after her master-owner Juan Nino of Moguer.

Vincente Yanez was her Captain on Columbus' First Voyage, and he later discovered the Amazon on an independent voyage.

Built in the Ribera de Moguer, an estuary, now silted up, of the Rio Tinto, Nina made the entire First Voyage, bringing Columbus safely home.

She accompanied the grand fleet of the Second Voyage to Hispaniola and Columbus selected her out of seventeen ships for his flagship on an exploratory voyage to Cuba, and purchased a half share in her.

She was the only vessel in West Indian waters to survive the hurricane of 1495, and then brought back the Admiral and 120 passengers to Spain in 1496.

She was then chartered for an unauthorized voyage to Rome, and was captured by a corsair when leaving the port of Cagliari, and brought to an anchor at Cape Pula, SardiNina where she was stripped of her arms and crew.

The Captain, Alonso Medel, escaped with a few men, stole a boat, rowed back to Nina, cut her cables and made sail. She returned to Cadiz in time to sail for Hispaniola early in 1498, as advance guard of Columbus' Third Voyage.

She was lying in Santo Domingo in 1500, and we last heard of her making a trading voyage to the Pearl Coast in 1501. The Nina logged at least 25,000 miles under Columbus' command.

In 1988, an American engineer and maritime historian, John Patrick Sarsfield, began building what was to become the first truly, historically correct replica of a 15th Century Caravel. John had discovered a group of master shipbuilders in Bahia, Brazil who were still using design and construction techniques dating back to the 15th Century.

It was in Valenca, Brazil, using only adzes, axes, hand saws, and chisels, in additiion to naturally-shaped timbers from the local forest, that the Sarsfield Nina was built.

Jonathan Nance, a British maritime historian and main researcher for the project produced a sail plan for the ship, which represents the Nina as she would have appeared during the eight recorded busy years of her life following her departure from the Canary Islands in September 1492.

In December 1991, the Nina left Brazil and sailed to Costa Rica on a 4000 mile unescorted maiden voyage to take part in the filming of 1492.

Since then, the ship has visited over 300 ports in the U.S. The Nina is the only "sailing museum' which is continually "discovering' new ports, while giving the public an opportunity to visit one of the greatest little ships in the world's history.

Children played along the Mississippi riverbank under the Big River Bridge as replicas of the Pinta and the Nina arrive on time Thursday, at 2:00 p.m.

Volunteers help dock the two ships for the weekend stay in Burlington, Iowa.

Everything is ship shape on these small vessels to insure a safe journey no matter the weather. Volunteers are responsible for "learning the ropes" of these beautiful ships.

Although women were not allowed on ships in the early days of Columbus (they were thought to bring bad luck) women are allowed to be a part of the crew today, such as Sally Polk above.

The crew on the Nina and Pinta get busy as the two boats dock to get everything ship shape for inspection so the public could tour the boats over the weekend.

Above, Sally Polk of Florida, was on the first voyage of the Nina in 1992. She lives in Florida but her dad John Polk is from Burlington, Iowa and his mom, a Flemmings, Sally said.

Sally said the replica was made for the movie "1492" on the 500 year anniversary, and she was asked to be a part of the crew. As the ship was finished in 1992, Sally said they made a long first voyage right off the dock in Brazil and into the sea for 27 days to Venezuela, then through the Panama Canal and up the coast of Costa Rico and they did the movie "1492" as Sally enjoyed the beaches there.

After a fifteen year break they asked her to come back. She had just got laid off a job in Ft. Pierce so the timing was right, she said.

Sally has sailed for a living for a number of years. She was a charter boat captain in the Virgin Islands when they asked her to come aboard.

She would sail people all over the place for years. It's something she loves to do.

"I was a military brat," from all over and picked up the love for sailing when she was in the University getting her Masters. She was sent to do research and saw the sailing vessels and thought it looked like fun.

As for Captain Kyle Johnson, he is from St. Petersburg, Florida but originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa but continues to run his favorite of the two ships, The Nina.

To see more information you can go to the Nina website at