On the Water

Ship Model, Santa Maria

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed a small fleet of three small ships west from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean, hoping to find a shorter route to the riches of Asia. Before his voyages, Chinese and Indian luxuries for European markets were transported over the long and hazardous overland route through Arabia.

The three-masted vessel Santa Maria was the largest of Columbus’s expeditionary vessels and his flagship. Measuring around 70 feet in length, it carried a crew of 40 men. The Santa Maria and Columbus’s other fleet members the Niña and the Pinta were older ships used for coastal trading rather than vessels designed for ocean crossings. Nine weeks after the little fleet left Spain, land was sighted in the Caribbean on 12 October 1492, but exactly which island Columbus’s crew first spotted remains disputed.

The fleet went on to explore the north coasts of the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola (now Haiti). On Christmas Day 1492, the Santa Maria ran aground on a reef off Hispaniola and was declared a total loss. The ship’s timbers were salvaged and used to build a small fort on shore. Fortunately for Columbus, he was able to return to Spain on the Niña.

Instead of Asia, Columbus had landed in the Caribbean islands on his first voyage. Although they were already inhabited, he claimed them for Spain. Columbus made three more voyages to the western hemisphere between 1493 and 1504.

Waves of conquerors and colonists—both free and enslaved—followed. What was a triumph for Spain became a catastrophe for native peoples. New livestock, plants, diseases, and beliefs unsettled centuries-old communities and ecosystems, changing and destroying the lives of millions.

This model was built at the Museo Maritimo de Barcelona, Spain, under the supervision of museum director Jose Maria Martinez-Hidalgo y Teran, who published a book on the Santa Maria in 1964.

ID Number:
TR*325800
Material:
wood, fabric
Date:
1965
Dimensions:
30 1/2 x 29 x 16 1/2 in.; 77.47 x 73.66 x 41.91 cm
Source:
Gift of Lawrence H. M. Vineburgh

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