The Nina and Pinta are sitting in the Guntersville Harbor waiting to be explored.
The captain aboard the Nina is Stephen Sanger. He said on Friday the tourists have been fairly steady and a lot more people are expected to start coming by the middle of the week. There had been about 100 people who had seen the ships as of last Friday afternoon.
There were about 500 to 1,000 people that come through on the weekend, but the school groups are their largest crowd. He said Alberville, Boaz, Arab and home school groups are planning on coming to see the ships this week.
The Nina is the exact size of the ship that Christopher Columbus traveled on but the Pinta is bigger. The reason for this is because the Nina was Columbus's favorite ship this replica was built by hand tools similar to those that existed back when the original ship was first made. It was built to the exact same dimensions.
The Pinta was built to accommodate day sails. Since 2009, the two ships have been sailing together. It is the only dock side tour of its kind in the United States. The ships travels all over the United States, but tend to stay on the eastern side of the Mississippi. Some of their biggest attractions are the Gulf of Mexico and cities near New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Daytona, Savannah, Charleston, Rochester, Cleveland, and Chicago. They used to travel to the West Coast, but it has been about 10 year since they have traveled over there.
It is a lot more expensive to make the trip to the West Coast and they do not have major plans on going back, because they have a good system going on in the East Coast.
The crew travels 10 months out of the year with 30 port visits. They stay a few days to several weeks at each port and then travel to the next. The crew travels on the boats and they are always looking for crew members. If you are interested in signing up, Sanger said the best thing you can do is come down to the ships. You do not have to sign up for the entire 10 months.
You can do it for as long or as short as you would like. You can apply on www.ninapinta.org. Right now, they have 10 crew members but they would like to have 15.
One of his best experiences is when they are in the Gulf of Mexico. He enjoys when they pull up a blackfin tuna or a wahoo. He said when the water is calm, it is peaceful. When no one is getting sick, that is a good day. He said a bad day is when the storms come through and the crew is sick and/or holding onto their bunks trying to sleep. He said that everything could be fine one minute and the next it could be bad.
His favorite part is traveling with the crew. He enjoys meeting people and stopping along the way.
He does not have a favorite ship like Columbus, but he has been aboard the Nina for the last five years. He was on the Pinta for four years.
He said that most people ask why the Santa Maria is not traveling with the other two ships. He said the reason for that is because it is a much larger, different style ship. He said it sits about 12 to 14-feet in the water and the ships here can traverse about 7-feet of water. In the Guntersville Harbor, the water is about 8-feet deep which means that the Santa Maria would not be able to dock there plus the bridges would make it hard for navigation. She would not be able to go under a lot of the bridges. The Santa Maria is much slower as well, plus Columbus did not like the ship as much as the others.
The reason the ships are black is because they are covered in pine tar. The pine tar method was first used by the Scandinavians on their Viking ships. The tar was used to preserve the wood. It stopped the worms and water from tearing the ship apart. It would typically last about 10 to 15 years.
The sailing lines would also be coated in pine tar as well to prevent the lines from stretching. With the constant moving, that helped the lines from breaking and becoming weak.
The ship travels about 7 knots on the water.
On board the ship, the crew answers questions that visitors may ask and show some interesting materials that were used by Columbus and his crew. For example, one crew member was showing how to tie a rope in a bowline knot. This knot is the king of knots, the crew member said. It was the knot that was holding the ship in place to the dock.
He said that no matter how tight it gets, it can be undone by moving another part of the knot into the first part. He demonstrate this. He said there is a special kind of bowline knot called the "dragon" bowline which he then tied and threw it on the ground. He then pulled the rope towards him stating it was a "drag-on" bowline. He also threw it in the air and called it a flying bowline.
Roger Fisher explained he enjoys working on the ships.
"It is a pretty neat gig," he said. "It is like working on a floating museum."
He said the ships are looking for crew and crew members do not have to know much about sailing because they will teach them.
"Teaching them the ropes comes from sailing," he said.
He was in the army for a long period of time and did not do much sailing, but he came to the crew and was taught about the ship. He said that if you do not know the answer, someone will help you.
He believes that this would be a great experience for college students during summer breaks so they do not have to go back home to their parents. They can come there and immerse themselves in history.
Crew members have to be 18-years or older. There is more than just the people that are into Columbus who come to visit the ships. He stated that a lot of people who are in a building trade like to come and see the structure of the ships.
The Nina was built using no power tools using period building techniques. It says something for 600 year technology, Fisher said.
A new member of the team came on board in Huntsville less than a week ago. Jarret Shephard is from Huntsville and he wanted to travel with the Nina and the Pinta because it allowed him to see other places. He said the boat stays on the East Coast and he has never been in the northern region of America. He has been to 40 of the 50 states, but not many up north.
He said he has learned a lot about the ships and the items on the ships. One item he knows a lot about is one of the first maps which had the whole world on it, but it is not detailed. It shows the curve of the earth, but it is nothing like we have today.
Shephard hopes to be a part of thecrew as long as he can. He has truly enjoyed his first four days aboard the ship.
This map was found in a bunker in Poland after World War II. It was suspected that the Nazis had the map along with a lot of other relics. Before that, the Dutch had the map for about 300 years and they became the biggest traders because of the map.
Zack Scott, a crew member, said there is no known time of when the map was actually created, but it is believed to have been created around the 15th century. At this point, they would have had two successful voyages across the Atlantic, but most of this is guess work.
The map was created from a bunch of different maps together. The map does not have longitude lines. There was no reason for it because it was the first map that showed a curve to the world. All of the other maps were flat.
There is a specific sailing book that showed what the sky would look like at certain times of the year and you would have to find what the star pattern would look like for that specific date. From there you would follow the line and then you would come to an intersections. He said it was a complicated procedure in Columbus' day and borderline impossible today.
Most of the navigation was done in quadrants. The sailors would find the North Star. They would take quadrant board and the traverse board to figure out where they were. They would have to check their location every 30 minutes.
With the traverse board, they tracked their compass heading, speed and time.
The compass heading shows where you are traveling. It is pretty much drawing a dotted line across the Atlantic. This is one of the key points of Columbus' voyage.
His voyage took 33 days with the Santa Maria. She was a very slow ship. He was known to call her pig and said that she had all of the sailing characteristics of a wet sow.
His fasting crossing was his third crossing which took approximately 21 days. He had documented this so well that someone with the ability to read and write could pick up the map and cross the Atlantic. Three weeks is better than some vessels today.
Scott said he saw the ships, had been traveling some beforehand and his father suggested he might like to travel with the crew. He had a habit of traveling to one location and going somewhere else.
"There is a running joke," he said, "you have to be over 18 and you have to be able to get on and off the ship by yourself."
The Nina and the Pinta replica ships will be in port until Sept. 2. The cost is $8.50 for adults, seniors 65 and older will pay $7.50, and student 5-16 will pay $6.50. Children under the age of 4 are free. The fee includes both ships.