Forgotten, Lost, or Destroyed? Exploring the Final Fate of the Famous Three Ships Led by Columbus
The story of Christopher Columbus would not have been complete without three ships: Santa Maria, La Pinta, and La Niña. Their names are still famous, but the ships themselves seem to have disappeared from the pages of history.
Columbus took three ships on his long and dangerous travels. They were not the strongest, the most comfortable, or the most modern ships. However, around 88 men (or a few more) accompanied the explorer on these three ships and sailed them from Palos de la Fontera on August 3, 1492. This expedition changed the world forever.
The crews, especially the captains, were experienced on the sea. All of the ships could travel with an average speed of a little less than 4 knots a day. Their maximum speed was about 8 knots. The ships’ measurements are only known from research and documents that were prepared much later than 1492.
The One Which Housed Columbus
The main ship of the fleet was Santa Maria, called in Spanish ‘La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción.’ For many months it was Christopher Columbus’ home. It was the place where he spent hours with his maps and diary and sought the right path for his ships.
- Two New Theories on the Hotly Debated Origins of Christopher Columbus
- End of the Enigmatic Christopher Columbus: A Man at Last Emerges to Eradicate the Myth
- The Columbus Myth
Santa Maria was built in Spanish Galicia, and it's first name was Gallega (Galician). It was a medium sized carrack with a deck that measured about 17.7 m (58 ft.) long. It had a single deck and three masts. The ship was not chosen by coincidence, it is related to the true story of Columbus, whose real name may have been Pedro Madruga.
‘Christopher Columbus on Santa Maria in 1492’ (1855) by Emanuel Leutze . ( Public Domain )
In 2014, a team of researchers believed that they discovered the wreck of Santa Maria off the coast of Haiti. The discovery became a hot topic for the media, but some researchers quickly retorted that it's impossible to find this ship in such a location. According to Manuel Rosa:
“In his logbook, Columbus recorded the ship lost on coral banks, located one and a half leagues (6 miles) offshore from the beach where the Santa Maria was shot on January 2. On January 2, the ship was safe and sound on today’s Caracol Beach. Columbus wrote, 'porque ella quedó sana como cuando partió' (because she was as sound as when she had left (Spain)). However, Columbus shot it with a cannonball. How could a ship that Columbus says sank six miles offshore, lying on its side and taking on water, as he cleverly described it in the logbook, succeed in reaching a sandy beach six miles away in order to be shot by a cannon? This feat would require a large crane and diesel powered tugboats available only some 400 years later. By locating the banks on Google maps and following details from the Ship Log, anyone can today clearly see Columbus’s deception.”
‘Columbus and the Pinzón brothers arrive in America.’ (1862) by Dióscoro Puebla ( Public Domain )
This means that Santa Maria could only get to the Caracol Beach and the reports that said the ship sunk on the banks off the coasts of Haiti were incorrect. Santa Maria’s ship bell was discovered in 1994 off the coast of Portugal, near the ship San Salvador, which sank in 1555. Does this mean that Santa Maria returned to Europe? Not necessarily, it is possible that Columbus recovered the bell and it was stored in Santo Domingo until it was shipped to Spain in 1555.
- Why NOT to celebrate Columbus Day
- Ancient Bronze Artifacts in Alaska Reveals Trade with Asia Before Columbus Arrival
- First colonists led by Christopher Columbus hit by severe scurvy
The Herald of the Fleet
It was February 1493 when the crew of La Pinta saw the land of Spanish Galicia. They were traveling through the unpleasant ocean to bring good news – that New Spain had been discovered. La Pinta was square rigged and 17 meters (56 ft.) long and 5.36 meters (17.6 ft.) wide. The crew of 26 men was under Captain Martín Alonso Pinzón’s authority. The name of the ship means “The Pinta” – referring to a pint (a liquid measure).
Statue of Martín Alonso Pinzón, in Palos de la Frontera. ( Miguel Ángel "fotógrafo"/CC BY SA 2.5 )
Pinzón was a sea wolf from Moguer in Andalucia. He was brave enough to take this ship back home, not caring about the dangers of winter on the Atlantic Ocean. He has been remembered as an adventurous man who loved to spend his life on the sea. His crew apparently adored him, and he was ready for any crazy idea he could imagine. It is unknown what really happened to La Pinta. Some believe that it was destroyed and abandoned, while others suggest it sunk in America.
There are two major replicas of La Pinta, one of them is a huge attraction of a port in Bayona in Galicia, the same place where Pinzón and his crew arrived with the news for the king of Spain. The second one was built in Palos de la Frontera.
Replica of Pinta, in Palos de la Frontera . ( Miguel Ángel "fotógrafo" /CC BY SA 2.5 )
The Disappearance of the Brave Girl
La Niña is the most mysterious of all three ships. It was a small trade ship built to sail the Mediterranean Sea. This ship was around 15 m (50 ft.) long on deck, suggesting that it was a medium-sized caravel. It was captained by Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, Martín’s brother. It appears that La Niña never returned from the New World.
It is very surprising how little information has survived about this ship. After Columbus, the ship’s name was changed and it became a transport ship somewhere in South America. Information about the ship’s crew is also unclear.
A depiction of Niña with a caravel on the left. (1892) By Gustav Adolf Cloß. ( Public Domain )
The Lost Fleet
Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas remains one of the most famous, sometimes infamous, topics in world history. His ships also became legends of the Atlantic Ocean. Forgotten, lost, or destroyed, the vessels are remembered as the transport which brought people to the New World – or at least New Spain.
Top Image: Painting depicting La Niña, La Pinta, and the Santa Maria . San Diego Maritime Museum. Source: CC BY NC ND 3.0
Christopher Columbus Ships - Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria , available at:
Historian Claims Shipwreck is Not Columbus's (statement of Manuel Rosa), available at:
Manuel Rosa, Colombo Português - Novas Revelações , 2009.
Modesto Manuel Doval, Cristóbal Colón señor feudal gallego , 2013.
Rodrigo Cota González, Colón, 2009