As everyone knows, Christopher
Columbus had three ships on his first voyage, the NiŠa, the
Pinta, and the Santa Maria. The flagship Santa Maria had the
nickname La Gallega. It was a nao, which simply means "ship" in
old Spanish; today, we might call such a ship a carrack. She was
fat and slow, designed for hauling cargo, not for exploration.
Some sources say that the Santa Maria was about 100 tons,
meaning that it could carry 100 toneladas, which were large
casks of wine. There has been much speculation about just how
large such a ship would be; the best current thinking, by Carla
Rahn Philips, puts the length of Santa Maria at 18 meters, keel
length at 12 meters, beam 6 meters, and a depth of 3 meters from
keel to deck.
The Santa Maria had three masts (fore, main, and mizzen), each
of which carried one large sail. The foresail and mainsail were
square; the sail on the mizzen, or rear, mast was a triangular
sail known as a lateen. In addition, the ship carried a small
square sail on the bowsprit, and small topsail on the mainmast
above the mainsail.
The Pinta was captained by Mart›n Alonso Pinz„n, a leading
mariner from the town of Moguer in Andalucia. Pinta was a
caravel, a smaller, lighter, and faster ship than the tubby
Santa Maria. We don't know much about Pinta, but it probably was
about 70 tons. Philips puts the length of Pinta at 17 meters,
keel length 13 meters, beam 5 meters, and depth 2 meters. She
probably had three masts, and most likely carried sails like
those of Santa Maria, except for the topsail, and perhaps the
Smallest of the fleet was the NiŠa, captained by Vicente AŠes
Pinz„n, brother of Mart›n. The NiŠa was another caravel of
probably 50 or 60 tons, and started from Spain with lateen sails
on all masts; but she was refitted in the Canary Islands with
square sails on the fore and main masts. Unlike most ships of
the period, NiŠa may have carried four masts, including a small
counter-mizzen at the stern with another lateen sail. This would
have made NiŠa the best of the three ships at sailing upwind.
Philips puts her length at 15 meters, keel length 12 meters,
beam 5 meters, and depth 2 meters.