Replicas of Columbus' ships, the Nina and the Pinta, were in town recently. Shannon and I went aboard this floating museum that is currently traveling up the Atlantic coast. It really puts things in perspective to stand on a true to size version of a Spanish caravel. The question you keep asking yourself is “How did they stand it!!?” It's shockingly small, and when you factor in the amount of souls on board, their sleeping arrangements (on the deck because the livestock were in the hold), their lack of bathroom facilities, their exposure to the elements and the length of the voyage, it's hard to believe they made it at all.
Columbus' voyage is covered on the displays, but how the Nina was constructed in Brazil is heavily emphasized with plenty of pictures. In fact, this replica of the Nina was built completely by hand (no power tools!). Archaeology magazine called it “the most historically correct Columbus replica ever built.” This was the actual boat used in the film 1492: Conquest of Paradise starring Gerard Depardieu. If you have an opportunity to go aboard the Nina as it travels around the country, I recommend you do so.
Being on the Nina brought to mind a couple of great books we happen to have. One is titled Ship, by David Macaulay. In fact, when I looked at the acknowledgements in this book when I got home it mentions this same boat Shannon is pictured on and how the author was grateful for the chance to see it under construction. The book is organized in a really unique way. It starts with the search and discovery of a sunken caravel in the Bahamas. You really get a sense that you are looking over the shoulders of this team of underwater archaeologists. Then, midway through the book, a letter arrives from a fellow researcher in Spain who has uncovered a journal belonging to someone who commissioned a caravel in the sixteenth century. In a clever way the pages turn old-diary yellow and you follow the notes regarding the building of one of these ships. Amazing details! By books end you have gained a glimpse of the life cycle of a Spanish caravel from how they were built to how it's sunken remains were recovered. Well done and really interesting.
Ages 9 to 12
The other title is for the younger set. It is called In 1492 by Jean Marzollo. A really cute, quick rhyme through Columbus' first voyage to America. Marzallo does a masterful job of introducing just a taste of the facts. It is illustrated with a light, whimsical hand compliments of Steve Bjorkman. I like it!!
While I'm on the subject of explorers searching for gold and caravels crashing into reefs I'll share a stunt I pulled while on vacation in the Bahamas. I smuggled onto our boat a small treasure chest I had purchased at a tourist shop and stocked with junk jewelry, Bahamian coins and colored stones. When my son was the only one snorkeling I snuck in with the treasure chest and dropped it in about ten feet of water. I called out to Ryan while pointing at the chest, which I must say, seeing it sitting on the bottom among the corals made my heart pound a little. He dove for it and headed for the boat. This is where it gets interesting. I thought he would be exclaiming wildly to his sister and Dad about his discovery. To my surprise he quietly got on the boat and found a private corner where he could open the chest ALONE. Only after claiming what he most valued for himself did he share the news. Maybe this summer when you are on vacation at the beach or the lake you could try this with your children. It was fun.