Columbus’ flag ship was named the Santa Maria. The name means Saint Mary. The Santa Maria was a small merchant ship, only about 58 feet long. It was old, leaky, small, and not at all intended for exploration. It was a carrack, a sailing vessel developed by the Portuguese during their explorations of the coast of Africa. A carrack had three or four masts and square sails. Carracks had wide beams and were stable in heavy seas. they also had enough cargo space for provisions for a long voyage. But the Santa Maria was only intended as a merchant vessel, never sailing far out of sight of shore. It was on the small side for a carrack.
Columbus other ships were even smaller and less suited. The Nina (child) and the Pinta (painted) were caravels. They had two masts and triangular lateen sails. They were faster and more maneuverable than the Santa Maria, but less roomy for both supplies and men.
Columbus had to take what he could get in terms of ships, men, and supplies and he was lucky to get any ship at all. Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain were willing to risk a little capital on the off chance that Columbus might be right about his path to the orient, but they weren’t willing to risk much.
The Santa Maria did well on Columbus’ first Atlantic crossing but on the way to Cuba, during the explorations of the islands, the ship struck a reef and was sunk. It was not salvageable so Columbus used the timbers to build a fort, la Navidad. Today the anchor of the Santa Maria is in a museum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Tell your kids all about Columbus’ flag ship while they paint or color this picture of the Santa Maria.
- Other explorers who used carracks include Magellan when he circumnavigated the globe, Vasco de Gama when he sailed around the tip of Africa, and Jacques Cartier who sailed up the St. Lawrence River for the first time.
- Even though people have made replicas and drawn pictures of the Santa Maria no one knows exactly what she looked like because no pictures were drawn when she was still afloat and no detailed description was ever made. What we do know about her has been gleaned from off hand comments made in journals by the crew and comparisons to other similar vessels of the day.