It’s not every day you see a museum that has a poop deck. But, then, it’s also not every day that instead of going to visit a museum, the museum comes to visit you.
The Niña and the Pinta, though, are not your average museums.
The ships are replicas of their famous namesakes – two of the three vessels used by Christopher Columbus to make his first voyage to the new world in 1492. (Columbus would use the Niña on a total of three voyages of discovery to the Americas, putting a total of more than 25,000 miles on its boat-odometer.)
The boats tour the western hemisphere, and will be at Ditto Landing on the Tennessee River in Huntsville from Sept. 29 until Oct. 9. (If you can’t make it then, they’ll be making two more nearby stops in Alabama, in Guntersville from Oct. 11-16 and in Florence from Dec. 1-4, both close enough for an afternoon jaunt from the Rocket City.)
The two boats were built completely by hand without power tools, and their mission is to educate the public about caravels, the type of Portuguese ships used by Columbus and other early explorers who ventured across the ocean.
The ships do that in part with a series of informative signs, but their greatest lesson is just the experience of walking their decks, getting even some small feel for what it would have been like to sail the ocean blue 500 years ago. Stand at the bow of the ship with a bit of a breeze blowing, and its nigh impossible not to feel the call of the open sea.
Of course, the biggest thing the replicas will teach you about caravels is that they’re much more fun to be on if you don’t have to – the ships are surprisingly small when you think about crews of men living on them for months at a time. A luxury cruise this most definitely was not.
Tickets are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for children 5-16, and four and under are free. The boats are open to be toured from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. while docked at Ditto Landing. For more information, visit the Columbus Foundation’s website.
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David Hitt is a native of Huntsville who enjoys telling the stories of his hometown. He works in strategic communications for NASA’s Space Launch System, the rocket that will send astronauts to Mars and prove once again that nobody builds ‘em like the Rocket City. David tells Huntsville history stories at the Huntsville Ghost Walk, Constitution Village’s downtown trolley tour, and the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll. He’s the author of two books on space history, “Homesteading Space” and “Bold They Rise” and is the director of the Comic Science Improv comedy troupe.