LORAIN — The wind wouldn’t cooperate, so replicas of the Nina and the Pinta docked under diesel power at Black River Landing on Thursday.
The ships dropped sail briefly as they passed the Lorain Lighthouse before the wind died.
“It’s just so predictable when we try to sail into a harbor,” Pinta captain Morgan Sanger said.
The entrance included a simulated cannon blast from the Nina.
“Fire in the hole!” a Nina crew member shouted after the ship passed under the raised Bascule Bridge.
The lack of sail power didn’t detract from the entrance for Michelle Garcia, one of about 100 onlookers who turned out for the arrival of the ships inspired by Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage from Spain to the West Indies.
Garcia said she wanted to see the ships in motion rather than just anchored.
“They’re beautiful and amazing,” said Garcia, who came with her 15-year-old son, Ryan Garcia, and her mother, Anita Garcia. “To even pick our harbor to sail into is a compliment to the city.”
Authenticity was sought in constructing the ships. The replica of the 65-foot-long, 18-foot-wide Nina was built by about 20 men by hand without electricity or modern tools, according to Nina captain Stephen Sanger, Morgan Sanger’s son.
Both work for the Columbus Foundation Inc., a British Virgin Islands-based, for-profit corporation that owns the ships. Nina construction took 2½ years and was completed in 1991.
Replicating the 85-foot-long, 24-foot-wide Pinta took about three years and was completed in 2005. Stephen Sanger said some electrical tools were used. The replica Pinta was built bigger than the original to accommodate up to 100 passengers for day trips.
Both ships use modern equipment including 215-horsepower engines. The ships travel up to 8.5 miles per hour.
The company chose not to build a replica of the Santa Maria due to its size, Stephen Sanger said. The ship was used as a cargo ship in 1492.
Stephen Sanger said a Santa Maria replica would have needed water at least 14 feet deep to dock. The Nina and Pinta need about seven feet.
The Nina has visited more than 1,000 ports, including 10 trips through the Panama Canal.
The Pinta has visited about 250 ports. The ships, which last visited Lorain in 2010, departed from Rochester, N.Y., on Sunday.
Lorain is one of at least 12 ports they’ll visit this year. The ships have logged more 300,000 miles, sometimes in bad weather.
“When the weather’s rough, you bob like a cork, but they’re very sturdy ships,” Stephen Sanger said. “Columbus did make four voyages totaling 12 years on ships like these.”
Except for the Sangers, the seven-person crews are all volunteers. Some spend a few days or weeks aboard, others a few years.
Morgan Sanger said many crew members are inexperienced. The hours are long — crew members have to keep watch overnight every three hours while sailing — and the work is hard. The elder Sanger said many crew members are college age or retirees and can afford to volunteer.
“We ask if you have bills onshore,” he said. “If you do, don’t come.”
Volunteers include Nina crew member Tom Sonnenberg, a 72-year-old Merchant Marine sea captain from Kissimmee, Fla., who said he has been sailing since he was 16.
“Finally I became an iron man. Wooden ships, iron men,” he said. “It took me 72 years to get to it.”
Below deck in the Nina is a tight squeeze. Sonnenberg said Columbus was 5 feet, 9 inches, but most crew members were only about 5 feet tall. The original ships had crews of 25 to 30 men per ship, and they slept on deck.
At 6 feet, 2 inches tall and 250 pounds, Sonnenberg has little room below deck. The crew sleeps in cramped bunks and they often bump their heads on the 5-foot-high ceiling. “They are snug beyond belief,” Sonnenberg said of the bunks.
The ships have galleys, and Sonnenberg’s duties include cooking for both crews. He said meals are usually basic.
“I’m a guy who cooks,” he said. “I’m not a cook.”
Morgan Sanger, 63, has been sailing since the tours began in 1992. He said initial crowds weren’t as big because of Columbus’ enslavement of the Arawak Indians who had welcomed his crew to Hispaniola.
“With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want,” Columbus wrote in his diary after the initial landing, according to “Christopher Columbus, Mariner,” author Samuel Eliot Morison’s multi-volume biography.
Morison wrote that Columbus’s “cruel policy” resulted in “complete genocide” of the Indians, but praised Columbus’ “indomitable will” and expert seamanship. Morgan Sanger said public interest has increased in recent years and is more related to Columbus’s voyage than his conquest.
“It’s a lesson in history,” he said. “How things change, whether good or bad.”
If You Go
- Tours of replicas of the Nina and Pinta are at Black River Landing, 421 Black River Lane, Lorain. They are today through Sunday. Tours are between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. For tour and ticket information, go to thenina.com.