“IN Fourteen-hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” With three ships, the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, and about 90 men, Columbus sailed westward from Palos harbor, Southern Spain on August 3, 1492.
All these ships were second-hand and were not intended for exploration. They were modest-sized merchant vessels comparable in size to a modern cruising yacht. The exact measurements of length and width of the three ships have not survived. The Santa Maria, the largest among the three, was Columbus’s flagship on his first expedition and carried the flag of Columbus as Admiral. The Santa Maria had a single deck and three masts and was about 100 tons and about 80 feet in length. She was the slowest, but performed well in the Atlantic crossing.
The Santa Maria never sailed back to Spain. They discovered unknown lands in October of 1492 and began exploring. On the night of December 24, after engaging in festivities and drinking, Columbus ordered that the crew continue sailing to Cuba late into the night. One by one the crew kept falling asleep until
only a cabin boy was steering the ship which caused the ship to run aground on Christmas morning, December 25, 1492, and had to be abandoned off the presentday site of Haiti.
Columbus ordered his men to strip the timber from the ship. He had to leave 39 men behind. Using timbers from the vessel, the men built a fort which he called La Natividad (Christmas), the first European settlement in the New World. Her sister ships, the Niña and the Pinta, less than half size of the Santa Maria, returned safely to Spain despite near catastrophe in storms.