PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Morgan and Stephen Sanger are on a mission to bring history to life by visiting one port at time. The father and son are captains of the Pinta and Nina, replicas of the ships on which Christopher Columbus sailed on his 1492 voyage.
The Sangers are traveling to ports throughout the United States as part of an educational tour. The ships pulled into Pensacola on Wednesday with dozens onlookers gathered to welcome them.
"You realize how tiny they are compared to today's ships. To realize that people came across that huge ocean in such tiny ships and helped to build our country, it is just an amazing thing," said Jim Taylor, a Pensacola man who was among those watching as the vessels made their approach in Pensacola Bay.
"These ships aren't much bigger than shrimping boats we use today," Taylor said.
The Nina is an exact scale replica, at 65 feet long by 18 feet wide. The Pinta is slightly larger than its famous namesake.
The Sangers are from the British Virgin Islands and Morgan Sanger decided to reproduce the Columbus ships while working at a shipyard there in the late 1980s. The original plan was to finish the three replicas in time for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' journey.
"It was a wooden boat shipyard where we repaired very expensive yachts. We got this idea for the quincentennial to build the ships, all three ships from 1492. That didn't work out so well because of funding," Morgan Sanger said.
Only the Nina was finished before 1992. The replica was featured in the movie "1492: Conquest of Paradise" directed by Ridley Scott and starring Gerard Depardieu. The Pinta was finished in 2005 at a shipyard in Brazil. The ships were built with hand tools and using many of the same techniques pioneered by Portuguese shipbuilders more than 500 years ago.
Although the ships were state of the art for their day, they aren't very comfortable for modern sailors, Stephen Sanger said.
"Out in the open ocean, they bob like a cork. They are very round-bottomed and they only have a seven-foot draft. It is kind of like a bathtub out in the ocean," he said.
Captaining the replica Nina has given him a deep appreciation for the skills of Columbus and his men.
"We have charts, we have GPS, we know where we are going. They had no idea where they were going especially on a little ship like this. They were sailing off into the unknown, a lot of them thinking they were going to fall off the edge of the Earth. They called it the sea of darkness but Columbus and some of the more intelligent people knew the world was round and they knew they weren't going to fall off the Earth," he said.
When Columbus sailed, the Nina had a crew of 20 to 30 who were an average of 16, Stephen Sanger said.
They also carried 20 calves, 200 chickens and two horses, he said.
Although the ship seems small to modern eyes, he said it was "the space shuttle of her day" because it was built using the most-advanced ship building technology of the time."
The purpose of the tour is to pay tribute to the scientific accomplishments of Columbus and his men, Morgan Sanger said.
"We aren't political and we aren't making any sort of statement about Columbus' beliefs or the way he treated people," Morgan Sanger said.
Sanger said research shows that Columbus was hard on his crew and in his dealings with native people.
"I don't defend Columbus," Sanger said.
"What we get into is the navigational skills and how they used the crudest of instruments to find their way back to the same port."
Sanger has no plans to recreate the third ship in Columbus' fleet, The Santa Maria.
Overseeing two ships and their crews is a full-time job. Adding a third ship would be too much of an undertaking, he said.
The Nina and the Pinta have spent the last year traveling the Gulf Coast, East Coast and Midwest River system. The ships will resume their circuit next year after a winter break.
The ships will remain in Pensacola through Jan. 2.