Replica ships from the Age of Exploration dock in Cape Girardeau
About 100 people were present Sept. 28 to see two 15th century Portuguese caravels make their way up the Mississippi River; a cannon was fired as they docked against a barge in front of Cape Girardeau’s riverfront park.
Columbus’ voyages of discovery across the Atlantic began in 1492. His ships, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria sailed more than 25,000 miles under the explorer.
In 1986 the Columbus Foundation was formed with a mission: to build history’s most accurate reproduction of the ships.
After 32 months and using only traditional methods and hand tools, the foundation teamed with boat builders in Valencia, Brazil, who still practice 15th-century methods to produce a near exact replica of the Nina. It has since sailed more than 300,000 miles according to a video on their website.
The Pinta was completed in 2005 and together the two ships roam the Western Hemisphere, visiting ports as floating museums.
Kat Wilson, first mate of the Nina, said the ships have traveled 8,000 miles so far this year, throughout the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Great Lakes and all of the midwestern rivers.
“Everyday is a new adventure,” Wilson said.
The arrival of the two ships is part of the city’s historic weekend celebration and heritage day, said Stacy Dohogne Lane, public relations director for the Visit Cape organization.
“The public can take a self-guided tour, the crew will be present to answer questions,” Lane said. “They really bring history to life.”
Lane said due to public demand, the ships will remain docked in Cape Girardeau through Oct. 8.
Mayor Harry Rediger, along with various members of city council and Chamber of Commerce, presented the ships’ captain with a proclamation to signify their arrival and show gratitude for the Columbus Foundation's efforts in preserving history for future generations.
Jeff Hicks, the ships’ carpenter and crew member for more than 20 years, said the revenue from tours fund their voyages in full. The crew members work as volunteers.
“The ships’ hulls, being composed almost entirely of wood, are constantly shrinking and expanding,” Hicks said. “There’s always work to be done to keep them in sailing shape.”
Hicks said the crew lives below deck even when docked, but their travels do allow the crew to get out and experience many of the places they visit. He also said the crew is looking for a new cook.
Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $6 for ages 5 to 16. Admission is free for children 4 and younger.
To learn more about the Nina and Pinta’s time in Cape Girardeau, go to visitcape.com.
For more on the Columbus Foundation, visit ninapinta.org.