Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

Three modest ships on an epic voyage

Three modest ships on an epic voyage
The ‘discovery’ of America may seem like an epic event, but for Christopher Columbus the hardest part of the challenge wasn’t finding it, but mustering a fleet to get him there. It took a lot of long hard negotiation with royalty to secure the funding, crew and vessels that would take him on his most famous adventure. And even when he had all three, his problems were far from over.

The three ships he commanded were modest, but just about up to the task. Leading the way was the Santa Maria. With a crew of 52, the ship was a nao-style vessel. Her deep hull made her sturdy and able to weather storms, while carrying a large cargo. However, this made her bad in shallow water and not much use for exploring bays and inlets of newfound lands. That’s where the Niña and the Pinta came into play. The smaller caravel-style boats had shallow hulls, and while they were more fragile in bad weather, they were perfect for navigating waterways and approaching the shore. Each had a crew of 18, who spent most of their time on deck – four of whom only joined the crew to avoid a prison sentence.

Progress was slow, and the ships only managed about 100 miles in a day, with the Santa Maria holding the two faster ships back. But eventually they reached the Americas and secured their place in the history books – not to mention the hearts and minds of Italians the world over.