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Replica ships cruise into Charleston

They came across the Atlantic in that?

That's the question most often posed to Morgan Sanger, senior captain of the Nina and Pinta replica ships that docked at Charleston's Haddad Riverfront Park Tuesday night.

The ships, which are owned by the Columbus Foundation of the British Virgin Islands, will be on display at the park until Nov. 4.

"People can't believe the ships were this small," said Stephen Sanger, first mate for the ships and captain of the Nina. He is Morgan Sanger's son.  

The ships, considered floating museums, are taken around the Western Hemisphere.

The Nina, which is the more accurate representation of the 15th-century ship that sailed from Europe to the New World, is 65 feet long and 18 feet wide, Stephen said.

It is the exact size of the original, which sailed the Atlantic in 1492.

The Pinta is larger than the original ship, he said. It is about 85 feet long, 24 feet wide and about 50 percent bigger than the original vessel.

The Nina replica was built with hand tools that would have been used to construct the original ship, Stephen said. It was completed in 1991.

The Pinta, like the Nina, was built in Brazil, but it was completed in 2006. The Pinta, although very similar to the original vessel, has an air-conditioned cabin and is available to rent for day cruises around the Caribbean.

Although they are capable of sailing, the ships came down the Ohio River and up the Kanawha using engine power, Morgan said. The U.S. Coast Guard requires all ships longer than 26 feet to have engines, he said.

Stephen said it would have been very difficult and maybe impossible to sail the two ships up the Kanawha River without the engines.

People also often ask why the ships are painted black.

"They're painted with pine tar," he said. "That helps preserve the wood from the elements and bugs."

The ships are somewhat cramped, and crew members in the 15th century would have been forced to sleep on the deck wherever they found space, Stephen said.

A senior crew member and a pilot would have been lucky to sleep under the roof of the aft castle, a structure at the back of the ship that covers the space where the pilot would steer.

The captain would have been the only one with a room in the bowels of the ship. The captain's quarters would be sparse, and in a ship the size of the Nina, only about 4 feet high, Stephen said.

Modern day crew members have it much easier.

They get to sleep in quarters where the cargo would have been placed in the 15th Century ship.

A tiller, not a wheel, is used to steer the ship, Stephen said. Wheels were not used on ships for about 100 years after the original Nina and Pinta were constructed, he said.

A tiller is a lever that is moved side to side to operate the rudder, which actually steers the ship. It is a little harder to steer a ship in high winds and rough seas with a tiller instead of a wheel, Stephen said.

Although the crew members are not subjected to the same rigors as the original sailors who set out with Columbus, riding on the replicas does have its challenges.

"It gets cold on the ships," Morgan said with a laugh.   

The ships will be open for tours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. starting today. The price is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors 60 and older and $6 for children 5 to 16. Children under 4 will be admitted for free.

Contact writer Paul Fallon at or 304-348-4817. Follow him at ;  


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