Replica of Columbus ships in Chattanooga reveal courage of explorers

Replica of Columbus ships in Chattanooga reveal courage of explorers

October 11th, 2013 by Jeff LaFave in Local Regional News

The Columbus Foundation prepares to dock replicas of Columbus' ships the Pinta and the Nina at the Chattanooga Pier on Thursday in Chattanooga. The ships will remain in Chattanooga until Oct. 20 and are available for public tours between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Photo by Maura Friedman/Times Free Press.

The 521-year-old ships couldn't have come at a better time.

Life-size replicas of Christopher Columbus' famous Nina and Pinta caravel ships used on his 1492 explorations docked at Ross's Landing just in time for Columbus Day.

Capt. Morgan Sanger and his duo of "floating museums" will remain on the Tennessee River for the next 10 days, making this Monday a local learning experience - not just a day for 30-percent-off sales on televisions, recliners or linens.

"People risked their lives to get out of Spain," Sanger said. "The ships' main purpose is to educate people on what others had to go through in order to find freedom."

Sanger's replica Nina - which happened to be Columbus' favorite ship - has been hailed by critics as "the most historically correct Columbus replica ever built." His crew assembled the spitting image using only 15th century tools and building methods in 1992.

The process was brutal, Sanger says, but completely necessary to articulate a silent aspect of Columbus Day: the sheer skill and architecture necessary for global exploration.

"Explorers like [Columbus] and Magellan definitely had a 'sixth sense' to go out in the middle of nowhere and return with very crude navigational devices," Sanger said.

However, that's not to say Christopher Columbus and his five centuries of history aren't without critics. Classroom lessons ingrained in the American school system - such as Columbus "discovering America" and his fear of a "flat" earth - are entirely myths. The Spanish explorer thought he was in Asia the whole time, and his landing opened the door for the spread of diseases to native peoples.

Murray Grant, a deckhand who worked as an archaeologist before joining the ships in August, said this discrepancy of celebration is more common in history than we'd like to admit.

"The problem is that people tend to impose their current morals and values upon a time where they didn't exist," Grant said. "They may have actually been more progressive for their time. We just have the benefit of hindsight."

Regardless of whether Chattanoogans hail "Cristóbal Colón" as a hero or as an overrated postage stamp figure, the crew of the two ships await visitors to explain the sheer amount of fortitude it takes to sail 25,000 miles in a wooden ship.

"If people think life is bad today, maybe they should look back 500 years ago to see how miserable it really was," Sanger said. "These people were really special."

Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at jlafave@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.