Americana transits the Arkansas River

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeff Walston
  • 913th Airlift Group

Two iconic pieces of American history are docked on the Arkansas River in Little Rock’s River Market District. Replicas of Columbus’ ships the Niña and Pinta will be berthed there from October 27 through November 7, 2017. They will be open daily for tours from 9am to 6pm.


The Niña is a replica of the ship Columbus sailed on his three voyages across the Atlantic. Columbus sailed the ship more than 25,000 miles. 


The vessels are floating museums. The Niña has visited more than 1,000 ports throughout the Western Hemisphere, according to the Columbus Foundation. Visitor’s fees fund the ships travel expenses.  


In 1986, the Columbus Foundation was formed in the British Virgin Islands to raise money to build the three ships that Christopher Columbus used in his encounter with the New World.


In 1988, John Patrick Sarsfield, an American engineer, maritime historian and expert on Portuguese caravels, was hired by the Columbus Foundation to design and construct a replica of the Niña. At 65 foot long the Niña first set sail in December of 1991, from the banks of the Rio Uno in Valenca, Brazil, with a crew of eleven.


The Pinta, which was launched Feb. 25, 2005, was built to accompany the Nina on her voyages. She is a larger version of the archetypal caravel. Both ships were built by eighth generation Portuguese shipwrights. It took 20 men 32 months to build the Niña, and 36 months for the Pinta.


The ships, due to Coast Guard regulations, are also outfitted with diesel engines. The Niña has a 215 horsepower engine while the Pinta sports twin 130s.


Both The Niña and Pinta tour together, “for the purpose of educating the public and school children on the ‘caravel’, a Portuguese ship used by Columbus and many early explorers to discover the world.”


The crew members consist of volunteers from the United States and the Caribbean, who sign on for a minimum of three weeks.


“The larger Pinta is 85 feet long, with three to four miles of rigging and almost 4,000 square feet of sail, and it’s my job as a boatswain mate to complete maintenance on all of it and make sure every line is operational, said Tom Vaeth, a volunteer sailor on the Pinta.


In the 15th Century, the Niña had a crew of 24 compared to a crew of 7 today. The Pinta had 26 and 9 respectively. 


Jeff Hicks, a deckhand and carpenter, from Orlando, Florida has been a crew member for more than two and a half years.


“I saw the two ships from a job site in Savanah, Georgia,” said Hicks. “I went over on my lunch break, and here I am. Every four months, I go home for a couple of weeks, and then I’m back.”


The next stop for the two ships is Fort Smith, Arkansas. They will depart Little Rock on the morning of October 8, and arrive in Fort Smith for tours from November 10-19.


The Niña, accompanied by the Pinta, continues to sail to new ports. The ship, listed as the only touring maritime museum of its kind, was originally used for discovery and its continuing to do so as one of the most unique vessels on the seas.


Walk aboard tours are $8 for adults, $7 seniors, $6 children aged 5-16, and children under 4 are free.