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story by James Ewinger


LORAIN, Ohio — Christopher Columbus couldn’t make it this weekend, but two of his ships are here, docked in Lorain on the Black River.

Actually, they are authentic replicas of the Niña and Pinta. But if the famous Italian admiral had them instead of the originals, he might have had a better chance of getting here.

Both are constructed using 15th-century methods and hand tools, said their master, Captain Morgan Sanger. But both are made of tough, rot-resistant tropical hardwoods. The 65-foot Niña also has a 130 hp Mercedes diesel and 24-inch propeller in case the winds don’t kick up. The 85-foot Pinta has two similar engines and props.

Modern machinery was unnecessary Thursday as both vessels headed from Lake Erie to the river under full sail, Sanger said.

The smaller Niña outran the Pinta Thursday, said Niña’s captain, Kyle Friauf.

Dave Whalen of Grafton is a seasoned sailor who marveled at the vessels Friday morning.

“I can’t fathom how they did this,” he said, referring to the complex rigging, and also to their diminutive size.

The Niña, for example, is shorter than the Great Lakes Towing Co. tugs that tend to stick to the Lake Erie shoreline and Cuyahoga River. This version of the Pinta is 50 percent larger than the original, Sanger said, to accommodate charters. But it’s still dwarfed by most ocean-going vessels and work boats that ply the Great Lakes.

“Think of those guys leaving Spain,” Whalen said, wondering how the crews must have felt to be on the cramped decks in the Atlantic with no idea when they’d see land again. Friday he hoped to impart the gravity of that experience to his grandsons, Ben and Josh Higgins of Spencer, aged 8 and 5 respectively.

Both of the modern vessels are steered by large tiller arms that come in through the sterns and extend at least nine feet onto the main decks. The anchors and some of the running rigging are maneuvered using a classic unpowered windlass that is advanced by removable lever, and prevented from uncoiling by ratchet-like catches called pawls.

If you go, notice the smooth sides of the hulls. This method of shipbuilding is called carvel planking. Each plank is butted up against the next instead of overlapping as they did on Viking long ships.

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Story Compliments Of The Plain Dealer