Search for Columbus's Lost Ship The Santa Maria: History of the Search Part 1

About the search for Christopher Columbus's ship the Santa Maria which he sailed to America, history and background.

The Continuing Search for . . . the Santa Maria

BACKGROUND: Columbus, in his flagship the Santa Maria, followed by 2 caravels, the Nina and the Pinta, reached the New World--the Bahamas island he named San Salvador--on October 12, 1492, 5 months after setting sail from the Gulf of Cadiz. The Santa Maria was the largest and most cumbersome of the flotilla, 78' in length with a beam of 26' and a draft of 7'. In addition to its complement of 2 boys and 30 seamen, it could carry around 106 tuns (barrels of wine) or 147 cubic meters of cargo.

The purpose of Columbus' voyage, simply put, was gold, and he and his men immediately set about trading with the primitive and gentle Indians found roaming naked in the mild air, as he wrote in his journal. In exchange for the little bells attached to hunting falcons, metal tips for laces used in clothing and on shoes, and wine, the Indians gave marbles, masks, and nose plugs, all of gold. Columbus cruised through the Bahamas, explored the north coast of Cuba, going deeper and deeper into the area wherever the Indians pointed their fingers indicating more gold. During the night of November 22, "without the permission or desire of the admiral" (Columbus' orders from the King and Queen of Spain read that he would be promoted in rank as soon as land was sighted), the captain of the Pinta set out on his own, leaving Columbus with only 2 ships.

Columbus reached what we now know as Haiti, and which he named La Ysla Espanola, and was pleased with the beauty--"like springtime in Andalusia"--and the friendliness of the Taino Indians. As Christmas approached, the 2 remaining ships entertained hundreds of natives night and day, exchanging wine for fresh water ... and more gold trinkets. Messengers from an Indian chief "some 7 leagues east" invited Columbus to visit, and Columbus--thinking he was heading for Japan--accepted. The sailing was immensely difficult, beating against the trade winds, and the ships had to make long, long tacks which turned the 7 leagues into dozens and dozens of miles. The men were exhausted both from their revels with the Indians and the tiresome sailing. On Christmas Eve, everyone fell asleep and the tragedy of the Santa Maria occurred.

Ferdinand, Columbus' son and biographer, gives Columbus' own words describing the event--an event, incidentally, he failed to report to the King and Queen on his return to Spain.

It pleased Our Lord that at midnight, while I lay in bed, with the ship in a dead calm and the sea as peaceful as the water in a cup, all went to sleep, leaving the tiller in charge of a boy. So it happened that the swells drove the ship very gently onto one of those reefs, on which the waves broke with such a noise they could be heard a long league away. Then the boy, feeling the rudder ground and hearing the noise, gave tongue. ...

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