10.5.17 Dos de Santa Maria

Here’s an opportunity.  You and some REALLY close friends have been given the chance to go sailing on a yacht!

Sound like fun?  Well hang on, you need to know…the boat is kind of…small.  Its full length is 70 feet or so, which gives you about 50 linear feet of usable deck space.  So you can walk only 15-20 paces from the front to the back.  It’s 25 feet wide, so you can walk less than 10 paces from side to side.  And within that space are 3 masts, carrying a total of 5 sails which need to be managed at all times.  There are ropes, ropes and more ropes.

Down below you is a simple hold, one big room where you will keep all your food and water and supplies, and where you will sleep when the weather’s bad.  No, there is no refrigeration. Nope, no bathrooms or plumbing. Yes, it is always wet down there. And, absolutely, it smells really bad.

You’ll be sailing to a dangerous destination, so you have to bring guns.  You’ve got 4 cannons known as “Bombards” with 3-inch wide muzzles. They are too heavy to use on board, so they’ll just stay down in the hold until you reach land, when you’ll drag them out and make carriages for them.  You’ve also got 4 smaller “Culebrinas” which are like small muskets which fire large metal marbles, and which are bolted onto the deck rails. Quite handy if you run into savages during your journey.

But the cannons are not sufficient ballast, the ship would tip over in heavy wind, so you’ve got to add several tons of stones to the hold. After that, you can bring on your supplies, up to a total of 100 tons, which is the weight of about 100 Volkswagen Beetles.

Once it is fully loaded, the boat rides very deep, with a draft of about six feet from waterline to the bottom, so if you go anywhere near a shoal, you are wet toast.

All of which makes this boat extraordinarily slow.  And that’s a bummer because your job is to sail it 4,200 miles across the Atlantic in the heat of summer.  It should take about 9 weeks.  All in all, you will average about 3MPH, essentially a walking pace.  While you are on open water, you won’t know your longitude east to west, and you will therefore have no real knowledge of your progress.

Oh, and one last thing.  Despite the boat’s small size and lumbering pace, you will have a crew of 40 crammed aboard.  You’ll have to carry enough food and water to sustain this crowd, some of whom are ex-cons released to join your crew.  But mostly, you’ll have to pray that these poor souls don’t kill each other – or you – in a fury of heat and dysentery and scurvy and claustrophobia and plain old boredom.

Step on board. You are Christopher Columbus. Welcome to your flagship, the Santa Maria.


Back in 2014 when this post first posted, the remains of a wrecked ship had been found in the waters off the north coast of Haiti. Initial investigations suggested that it might have been the Santa Maria, which was lost in 1492 in that vicinity. However, further on-site research by UNESCO discovered bronze or copper fasteners, which weren’t used in boat building until the 17th and 18th centuries. So, lo siento, it isn’t the long-lost flagship of Columbus.


So anyway, Captain, are you willing to risk this journey? We’ll give you two other boats to take along – but in all honesty they weren’t made for ocean travel…

And, by the way, our calculations are probably wrong, so the crossing might be twice as long as we said, nobody knows for sure…

And you’ll probably die halfway across, either because you run out of fresh water or your crew runs out of patience…

Whaddya say? Chances are you will find some surprises waiting for you…

But if by some miracle you discover something new, then – ¡Santa Maria! – you just might become famous…

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