Corpus Christi
Museum of Science and History

Corpus Christi, Texas

article by Joel Fleischer

"In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue..."

Don't ask me how the rest of the poem goes, but that little
piece of poetry has run through my head since first grade.
Don't bother trying to tell me that Columbus didn't
discover America or that Leif Ericson came first. So what?
Leif and his Viking buddies hopscotched across the Atlantic
via Iceland and Greenland. Columbus took three small ships
and sailed straight across the Atlantic, from the Canary
Islands to the Bahamas without a break. Sure, he didn't
know where he was (he thouhgt he was in Asia) but it took
guts to undertake such a voyage.

(click the images below for larger versions)

The Pinta

The Santa Maria

One's appreciation for this daring exploit is increased when one sees the "ships" that Columbus boarded with 150 men. Such insight is easy to come by at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and Natural History. Since 1993 the Pinta and the Santa Maria have been on display. Visitors can board the ships and tour the cargo hold and Captain's cabin.

The ships were built in the space of five years by Spain to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' voyages to the New World at a cost of $6.5 million, using many of the same materials used by 15th century shipbuilders. The pine and oak are from the same forests of Galicia and the Pyrenees, the nails are forged by hand, the caulking is hemp, and the sails are made of linen, the closest natural fiber to the hemp canvas used in the 1400s.

When the ships were completed, they toured the Mediterranean and Atlantic ports of Europe in 1990 and 1991, followed by a 1992 tour of 18 United States ports, before arriving in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1993. The Pinta and Santa Maria were damaged in an accident in the Corpus Christi harbor, and were drydocked for repairs at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History. The Nina, moored at the Corpus Christi Marina, is not open to the public, but may be viewed on your way to dinner at Joe's Crab Shack on the T-heads.

The Old World meets the New World

Alex and Leah in the hold of the Pinta.

The Captain's Cabin on the Santa Maria.

The Captain's Cabin is surprisingly plush, especially when you consider that the rest of the crew had to take turns sleeping in the shelter of the poop deck.

Looking aft on the Santa Maria.
The Captain's Cabin is on the top

The Windlass

The poop deck also sheltered the windlass, a large winch that performed a variety of tasks on the ship, including winching cargo out of the hold as well as raising the sails and the anchor.

The wee-lass and her mother
examine the rigging on the Santa Maria

The tiller

The enormous rudder was directed by means of a very long tiller. The crew would move the tiller with a block and tackle.

The Rudder on the Santa Maria

Looking out the rudder hole.
Standing headroom
(if you're only four feet tall)

After you've toured the ships, the ramp leads visitors to an interactive display. Visitors can experiment with block and tackle systems, navigation tools and other Fifteenth Century sailing equipment.

A replica of the Columbus launch

The Columbus ships alone made the $10 entry fee worth every penny. Make sure you stop at the tourism building outside the Museum and ask them for coupons to the harbor attractions. They'll give you coupons for money off for the entry fees for the Science Museum, the Aquarium, and the Lexington aircraft carrier.

Joel "No Bucks" Fleischer
Marquette, Michigan