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Snowfall surprises Columbus ship crews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - When Betsy Byrd woke up to check the lines on the replica ships docked at Haddad Riverfront Park, she saw something she never had seen before - snow.

She and first mate Victor Vickel were up early Tuesday, knowing Hurricane Sandy was predicted to be a wind-rain event here.

"We put in extra lines, adjusted the sails," said Vickel. "There are several things we go through for something like this."

But the snowfall expected only in the mountains of West Virginia occurred in the lowlands, including Charleston. And the walloping storm that took the state by surprise also hit the Columbus ships Pinta and Nina with 4 inches of snow on the decks.

"Rain and wind is not too unusual for us, really," Vickel said. "But it's unusual for us to see snow."

It was the first time Byrd, a native of Panama City, Fla., had ever seen snow.

"It was quite a surprise," she said. "I guess we were in the perfect place for it. We weren't sure it was even going to stay, but it did. We actually got out and played in it for awhile."

The snowfall also canceled schools in Kanawha and several other counties for two days. That meant school groups who had booked tours of the boats also couldn't come.

Vickel estimated that several hundred schoolchildren had their field trips canceled because of the storm.

"People weren't able to come out and see the ships," said Byrd. "So we're staying an extra week and rescheduling everybody."

The ships originally were supposed to be docked in Charleston through Sunday. Now they will remain at Haddad Park through Nov. 11 and depart early in the morning Nov. 12.

Vickel said, "We're calling our next stops because this puts us a week late into every stop along the way. But they are accommodating us. Our schedule is written in pencil; it's very flexible."

The replica ships are used as floating museums by the Columbus Foundation of the British Virgin Islands. They arrived Oct. 25 via the Ohio River from their last stop in Wheeling.

Next port for the Nina and Pinta is Huntington, where they will dock for 10 days. Then the ships sail on to Maysville, Ohio, and then down the Mississippi River to southern destinations.

"We'll spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in Pensacola, Fla., then spend three to four weeks in a shipyard in Mobile Bay, Ala.," Vickel said. "That's the longest we spend anywhere, and it's just for maintenance."

West Virginia school groups can call Byrd at 1-787-672-2152 to reschedule their visits, or email

While the ships are in port, the general public is invited to stop by for tours. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $6 for students. Admission is free for children 4 and under. The ships are open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and no reservations are necessary.



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