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The Ships That Discovered America

written by: Raunekk • edited by: KennethSleight • updated: 5/31/2009

We all know the story of how Columbus discovered America in a voyage that was actually set sailed to procure riches of gold and spices from India. But very few know about the ships that helped Columbus to discover the great nation of America. Let’s know about these ships.

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    A Brief History

    The discovery of America is really an interesting and inspiring story and has been naratted inummerable times but in this article I will focus on the marine aspect of the story by talking about the ships that really discovered the Americas by helping their sailors including Columbus.

    It was August of 1492, when Christopher Columbus set sail with three of his sailing ships, Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria from a Spanish port, on a voyage to discover India. The main objective of the voyage was to find the coveted lands of Asia that were famous for gold and spices and also to seek new trading opportunities.

    The great voyage had to take its first break at Canary Islands due to the lack of winds. It was already September end, when the voyage resumed. After that, consistent winds and calm sea benefited Columbus to cover great distances. The voyage went on for many days without any traces of land, enough to provoke apprehensions amidst the crew that the ship was heading in the wrong direction.

    To appease the apprehensions of its crew, Columbus used to hide the exact figures of the actual distances traveled by generating a fake log with modified figures. But the trick didn’t last long as there was no sight of land for many days that followed. At last Columbus had to surrender to his crew and had to promise them that in case no land is sighted in the next two days they will return back to their homeland. The next day,columbus  the land of America was discovered.

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    The Ships

    The three Spanish sailing ships, Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria were the first ones to get docked on the American Land. Though no real pictures of any of the three ships are available, there are many sketches that have been uncovered from the pages of the history. The speed with which these ships used to travel solely depended on the winds. They would usually experience an average speed of 4-5 knots and sometimes a maximum speed of 8 knots. With these speeds the ships used to cover a distance of 90-100 miles per day.

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    Santa Maria

    It was one of the three small sailing ships and was also the flag ship of the fleet. A 200-300 tons merchant ship with 3 masts, it had the largest crew carrying capacity. The length of 75 feet and a width of 25 feet facilitated for such capacity. The three masts of the vessels were known as main, fore and mizzen mast. The main and fore mast had square shaped sails while mizzen mast had a triangular one. Apart from this the main and fore mast each had a small topsail above them. The main mast also had a crow’s nest at the top. All the sails were attached to strong and long wooden poles.

    The ship used to get its main propulsion force from the main mast. The other two masts were kept for trimming purposes. The only problem with the ship was that it had a deep draft, which didn’t allow her to sail in shallow waters. The chances of grounding were grave also because the ship used to carry maximum crew and cargo and thus used to get bogged down by heavy weight.

    santa maria 

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    Nina and Pinta

    Nina and Pinta were also small merchant sailing ships but with shallow drafts. The ships were of 150-300 tons but didn’t have much cargo or crew carrying capacity. The only benefit of these ships was that due to their shallow drafts they could easily sail in waters with lesser depths. They also had the same types of masts that Santa Maria had, but were lighter and speedier than the former one. The ships were smaller in size with narrow deck width and carried a crew of only 20 members.

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    Image Credits