Across the United States today is Columbus Day. It is also Canadian Thanksgiving but that is another column for another day, eh?
I am sure most of us recall from the story taught in school about how Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and “discovered” the new world.
Of course, there were already people living in the new world when Columbus arrived so by all accounts it has already been discovered, and was not new. Additionally, scholars often debate the timing of the arrival of the Vikings in terms of who really arrived from Europe first, but for our purposes here let us just say that it was Christopher Columbus.
Now, in addition to learning about the year of the arrival of Columbus students are also taught from an early age the names of his three ships that accomplished the journey.
These ships were of course the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.
Growing up my parents had models of the three ships that Columbus sailed.
From the scale of the models as a kid it was hard to determine how large the ships were in reality. Still, even my younger me mind envisioned the ships to be much larger than they were.
A few years back I had the opportunity to visit a replica of the Niña when it was berthed in the Houston Ship Channel. What struck me the most about the ship was how small it was.
While I was picturing something more along the lines of some of the tall ships I had seen in ports along the Atlantic Coast, the Niña and her ship sisters were more along the lines of being large yachts by today’s standards.
The Niña replica serves as a floating history museum to help teach people about maritime travel in the 15th Century. During a recent stop in Pensacola, FL the Niña replica had a bout with Hurricane Sally while docked in Pensacola Bay. Although the ship broke free of the dock and drifted towards Blue Wahoos Stadium, were it not for the courage of the fearless crew the Niña would be lost. To say again, the Niña would be lost. Wow, that is kind of a catchy tune.
Considering the size of the ships that make cross Atlantic journeys today it is hard to imagine courage that it took to travel into unknown waters in such a tiny ship as the ones used during the Columbus voyages.
Still, despite the smallness of the ships they were able to get the job done and helped introduce Europeans to the new world.
Of course, whether that was a good thing or a bad thing is certainly something that tends to get debated as well. But let us assume that many of us would not reside in North America were it not for the age of exploration.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his crew set sail from Spain in the three ships and made landfall on October 12 on one of the Bahamian islands.
Columbus sailed from island to island in what we now know as the Caribbean, looking for the “pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and other objects and merchandise whatsoever” that he had promised to his Spanish patrons, but he did not find much.
In March 1493 Columbus left 40 men behind in a makeshift settlement on Hispaniola before returning to Spain.
While the first trip in 1492 gets the most acclaim what is often forgotten is the fact that Columbus made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain.
In addition to the aforementioned 1492 journey, trips were made in 1493, 1498 and 1502. Columbus was determined to find a direct water route west from Europe to Asia, but he never did.
Although the trade route was never found, his journeys marked the beginning of centuries of trans-Atlantic conquest and colonization which ultimately led to the founding of America.
While the future of Columbus Day is murky due to changing beliefs on the wisdom of celebrating the arrival of colonization to the “new world,” one should not just gloss over the uncomfortable parts of history. Instead, a full account of the history from all viewpoints is needed. Or as the public radio show says, history should have, “all things considered.”
During this season of COVID-19 and global pandemics where the world seems smaller based on the ability for a virus to be easily transmitted from country to country, it is important to remember that travel in 1492 was a lot more treacherous and involved long periods of isolation. We can argue whether the trip should have been made, or if the people of European heritage should have stayed on the other side of the pond, but that does not minimize the risk involved in such journeys.
Speaking of journeys of discovery, I would be remiss if I did not note that the Tampa Bay Rays are a mere two wins away from knocking off the Houston Astros and going to the World Series to end the strange journey that the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season has been.
With the Houston Astros making appearances in two out of the last three World Series it certainly would be nice to discover a new team from the America League building a dynasty.
In 1492 Columbus did indeed sail the ocean blue. Here’s hoping that in 2020, the Tampa Bay Rays score runs aplenty.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to go pay a Columbus Day visit to those three models of Columbus’ ships from my youth.
Copyright 2020 R. Anderson