Christopher Columbus: discoverer and his ships – the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Niña

Who was Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus (October 31, 1451 – May 20, 1506) was an Italian explorer, navigator and colonist who made four voyages across the Atlantic under the patronage of the Catholic Kings of Spain. There is very little reliable information about the origin of Columbus or even the exact date of birth of the future navigator. Columbus’ father, Domenico Colombo, was a shepherd and wool weaver, wine and cheese merchant. His mother, Susanna Fontanarossa, was the daughter of a weaver and a simple housewife. Besides Christoph, there were four other children in the family – three younger brothers and a sister. Classes were held indoors and the children were taught by visiting teachers. Based on the work of historians and biographers, it is believed that in his early childhood, Christopher mastered mathematics effortlessly, could express himself in several languages, and had a talent for speaking.

Columbus led the first European expeditions to the Caribbean and Central and South America, initiating the permanent European colonization of the Americas. Christopher Columbus discovered a sailing route to the Americas, a continent then unknown in the Old World, though at the time he believed he had discovered a route to the Far East.

Christopher Columbus was the discoverer of America, but Christopher Columbus’ ships are also undoubtedly worthy of recognition. At a time when ships were the only fast means of transportation for travel around the world, Christopher Columbus’ ships changed the entire concept of travel by ship. When Christopher Columbus set out on his voyage from Spain in the 15th century, he received the important support of three ships and their crews, known today as the ships of Christopher Columbus. With this support, Christopher Columbus was finally able to discover America and put the existence of a very important nation on the world map.

Vessel financing

In 1485 Columbus presented his plans to the Portuguese King John II. He suggested to the king that he equip three sturdy ships and give Columbus a year to sail across the Atlantic, find a western route to the east, and then return. Columbus also demanded that he be made “Grand Admiral of the Ocean,” governor of all the lands he would discover, and that he receive one-tenth of all the revenues from those lands. The king presented Columbus’ proposal to his experts, who rejected it. They generally believed that Columbus’ estimated distance of 3,860 km was actually too low.

In 1488, Columbus again approached the Portuguese authorities, which led to John II again inviting him to an audience. This meeting also remained unsuccessful, partly because Bartolomeo Dias returned to Portugal soon after with news of the successful circumnavigation of the southern tip of Africa. After the eastern sea route to Asia was opened, King John obviously had no more interest in Columbus’ far-fetched project.

Columbus traveled from Portugal to Genoa and Venice, but received no support. He also sent his brother Bartholomew to Henry VII in England to see if the English crown could finance his expedition, but again without success.

The Spanish Crown

Christopher Columbus sought an audience with the monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who had united several kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula through marriage and joint rule. On May 1, 1486, Columbus presented his plans to Queen Isabella, who in turn forwarded them to a committee. A year later, scientists in Spain, like their counterparts in Portugal, retorted that Columbus had grossly underestimated the distance to Asia and declared the idea impractical.

However, to prevent Columbus from implementing his ideas elsewhere and possibly keeping all his options open, the Catholic kings granted him an annual payment of 12,000 maravedas and in 1489 presented him with a letter requesting all cities under their rule to provide him with free room and board.

After constant lobbying at the Spanish court and two years of negotiations, he finally succeeded in January 1492. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella promised Columbus that if he was successful, he would be promoted to admiral and appointed governor of all new lands to which he could lay claim. He had the right to appoint three men, one of whom was chosen by the sovereigns, for each office in the new lands. He would be entitled to 10% of all income from the new lands for life. In addition, he would be entitled to one-eighth of the profits from each company in the new states.

Court proceedings and other travel

Later, Columbus was arrested and removed from office in 1500. He and his sons Diego and Fernando then pursued a long series of court cases against the Castilian crown, known as “pleitos colombinos,” claiming that the crown had violated its contractual obligations to Columbus and his heirs. The Columbus family had some success with their first lawsuit, as the 1511 ruling confirmed Diego’s position as viceroy but limited his powers. Diego resumed the litigation in 1512, which lasted until 1536, and further disputes followed until 1790.

Between 1492 and 1503. Columbus made four voyages between Spain and America, each financed by the Castilian crown. On his first voyage he discovered the American continent and magnetic declination. The voyages marked the beginning of European exploration and colonization of the Americas and are therefore of great importance to the history of the West. On October 12, 1492, Columbus landed in Guanhani, which Columbus had named San Salvador when he discovered America.

The ships of Christopher Columbus: Santa Maria, Pinta and Niña

The Santa Maria, the Niña and the Pinta were the three ships of Christopher Columbus that gained immense popularity and recognition in modern times, not only because they helped Christopher Columbus discover an unknown land, but also because they gave a new meaning and modernization to water transportation.

The Santa Maria

Of Christopher Columbus’ three ships, the Santa Maria was the flagship. The cargo ship weighed about 200 tons and was about 18 meters long, 12 meters long at the keel, 6 meters wide and 2 meters deep. The Santa Maria had a crew of about 40 people. The name of the ship was originally La Gallega, in reference to the place where it was built, but Christopher Columbus changed it to Santa Maria.

The Santa Maria had three main masts with sails. These masts were then called the main, fore and mizzen masts. Despite these positive features, the main drawback of this ship was that due to its design, the Santa Maria could not sail in shallow waters and near coral reefs, which was an obstacle for the ship. However, the other two ships, the Niña and the Pinta, were able to compensate for this disadvantage of Christopher Columbus’ flagship and helped the adventurer to successfully complete his voyage.

The other historical ships of the Columbus expedition were the smaller caravels of the type Santa Clara, La Niña (“The Girl”) and La Pinta (“The Boy”). All of these ships were used and not intended for exploration. La Niña, La Pinta and La Santa María were merchant ships of modest size, comparable to modern cruising sailing yachts.

The captains of the ships

The ships built in Europe in the fifteenth century were designed to sail along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. Columbus’ smaller ships were considered risky on the open ocean. This made it difficult to recruit crew members, so a small number of prisoners were offered a lighter sentence if they went with Columbus.

Columbus took command of the Santa Maria, Martin Alonso Pinzon of La Pinta, and his brothers Francis Martin and Vicente Yanez of La Niña. The total crew of the three ships was 90 men (Santa Maria 40, La Niña 24, La Pinta 26), although some historians speak of 120 men. On October 12, 1492, Rodrigo de Trián, watchman of the Pinta, was the first to see the New World and shout “Land!”.

The Niña and the Pinta were caravels. The caravel ships were designed only to overcome the disadvantage of shallow waters and coral reefs faced by ships like the Santa Maria, and they were light and easy to maneuver. Of all three of Christopher Columbus’ ships, the Pinta was the fastest, reaching a top speed of about 8 knots per day, equivalent to about 200 miles, while the Santa Maria was the slowest ship due to its size.

The Nińa weighed about 50-60 tons and had a length of about 15 meters, a keel of 12 meters, a width of 4.85 meters and a draft of 2.07 meters. The Pinta weighed about 60-70 tons and was about 17 meters long, had a 13 meter keel, was 5.36 meters wide and had a draft of 2.31 meters.

Gold coins 100 pesos from Cuba – souvenir of the 3 ships of Christopher Columbus

Especially in Cuba, Christopher Columbus is considered a celebrated explorer.

In 1981, the mint Empresa Cubana de Acuñaciones in Havana, Cuba, minted 3 each 100 pesos Cuba gold coins with corresponding images of the ships of Christopher Columbus:

Nińa – 100 pesos gold coin Columbus ship

Pinta – 100 pesos gold coin Columbus ship

Santa Maria – 100 pesos gold coin Columbus ship

On the front you can see Cuban coat of arms, above – country name, weight and fineness on the sides and below – nominal value. The image of the ships Pinta, Nińa and Santa Maria can be seen accordingly on the reverse side. Just like the date and mint mark at the top right, the name of the ship at the bottom. Only 2000 copies of each were minted. This small edition make the gold coins very interesting not only for investors, but especially for collectors. Therefore, these coins are also traded at high premiums.

Want to learn more about these beautiful coins? Feel free to send us a message via our contact form.