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History lesson given on replica ships

Nov. 17, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Any time Robin Rogers of Hurricane can get her grandkids out to see something educational, "We're on it," she said.

So Thursday, they boarded replicas of two of Christopher Columbus' ships, which are docked until Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Harris Riverfront Park near Holderby's Landing. A hand-built, true-size replica of the Nina, and a replica of the Pinta that is slightly larger than the original are both open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for both walk-up tours and scheduled group tours.

"I wanted to see it, too," Rogers said. "This is pretty cool. ... I was amazed at the amount of ropes it takes to hoist the sail."

No reservation is necessary to visit these maritime museums. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $6 for students age 5 to 16. Kids age 4 and younger are free. There are still openings Monday for classes and groups of 15 or more who sign up for a 30-minute guided tour with a crew member. To sign up, call 787-672-2152 and leave a message. Cost for these tours is $5 per person.

It's been a busy week so far in Huntington, said Capt. Morgan Sanger, who takes the boats throughout the nation's waterways to give folks a first-hand look at history. It usually takes three years to get to all the stops around the country, and then he starts the tour again.

Most of the group tours have been elementary and middle school students, but some high school kids came as well, he said. There also has been a steady stream of community members stopping by.

Merlin Ball of Huntington and his friend Barbara Gray of Lesage were among those who headed to the river to see the ships.

Gray said she wanted to get an idea of how big the ships actually were, and Ball said he wanted to see if the bunks were as small as the bunks on the U.S.S. Constellation, which he saw docked in Baltimore. He later found out the people aboard Columbus' ships actually slept right on the deck. Below deck was where animals, food and a year's worth of other provisions were kept.

Today on the replicas, the crew sleeps below deck. Usually there are six crew members on each ship, Sanger said, though right now there are only four on each ship as he's looking to hire new crewmates. They usually work either one month or three- to six-month shifts, except for first mates. While docked, they stay at the local hotels.

It's a business Sanger, who hails from the British Virgin Islands, started with the construction of the Nina in 1992. Over the years, the vessels have been used for a variety of purposes, from being featured in movies and documentaries, to a brief stint doing passenger tours in the Cayman Islands.

"We've probably been in 20 documentaries," Sanger said, adding the documentaries were made in several countries. One blockbuster film the Nina has been featured in is "1492: Conquest of Paradise" with Gerard Depardieu. It was released in 1992.

According to a release, the Nina is considered to be the most historically correct Columbus Replica ever built. The Pinta was recently built in Brazil. Historians consider that particular caravel, or sailing vessel, to be the "space shuttle" of the 15th Century, the release said. Sanger said the Santa Maria is not included in the fleet because it was a poorly designed ship that wasn't very sea worthy, wrecking during Columbus' voyage.

Funding for the business comes from admission and movies, he said. And because it travels from place to place and visit cities only once every few years, the level of interest of each community is maintained.

"We don't take grants or do any advertising or have any 'sugar daddy,'" Sanger said. "We have a really good P.R. department that makes sure the schools know we're coming."

To learn more, visit www.thenina.com or email columfnd@surfbvi.com.

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