The original Nina measured at less than eighty feet in length, but with its square sails set to catch the winds, it was the fastest of the three ships leaving Palos de la Frontera on August 3, 1492. Though there are no drawings or ships logs detailing the exact specifications of the original ships, replicas of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria have been painstakingly built based on detailed information of other ships constructed at the time of Christopher Columbus and from shipwrecks of that time period. Only the original Bill of Sale has been recovered, which shows where the ships were purchased. The replicas, built in the small village of Valenca, Brazil, on the coast of Bahia, were built using the same type of tools and wood that would have been used in Spain five hundred years before. Today, as the Nina travels to different ports, both on sea and inland waterways, people have an opportunity to see what life might have been like for the sailors who braved the unknown to sail in search of new trade routes. Provisions of food stuffs, salted meat, water, and a few bottles of wine for the captain would have been the mainstay of those early sailors. The Nina replica has freezers to carry food stuffs and a cooking stove below deck, but still no running water other than for the cooking area. Sailors on the Nina would have taken saltwater showers when they did bathe. Sailing crews of today still do the same, or they take advantage of shower facilities in nearby park areas where they dock or a dip in the local river. Sanitary facilities are available now, though none would have been for the early sailors. The oppressive heat below deck would have made sleeping on the ship’s deck much more appealing, though still uncomfortable. While air-conditioning is available on the ship, sleeping above deck is still preferred. The Nina would have had from eighteen to twenty-four sailors to handle the on-deck duties. They would have eaten, slept, and worked on the top deck. Today, six sailors, both men and women, handle the duties. The replica also has a diesel engine that can be used when sails aren’t appropriate.
At the time of debarking in 1492, the Spanish Inquisition was taking place, and some might have felt safer on a ship sailing to adventure than staying behind. A few of the sailors were actually prisoners who were given clemency in exchange for their willingness to go.
Today the Nina is equipped with sophisticated navigational systems, while Christopher Columbus relied on celestial navigation. After leaving the Canary Islands, he had allowed thirty days for discovery of a new trade route. As the time limit grew closer, the sailors began to clamor for a return home and the safety of what they knew. Columbus bargained for four additional days, with the promise to turn back if land wasn’t sighted. On the thirty-third day, their long trip was rewarded with the sighting of land. They had arrived in a new world they didn’t know existed. And as the saying goes, the rest is history.