‘History for the ages.’ Replica of Columbus’ Santa Maria to dock in Wilmington for visits

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“Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492,” the ditty goes. This weekend, visitors to the London Wharf in Wilmington will be able to see a model of the ship that got Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic.

The Nao Santa Maria is a 200-ton tall sailing ship and will be docked in downtown Wilmington June 10 to 13. Visitors will be able to take self-guided tours and ask crew members about their experiences.

“It’s a part of history, and the Santa Maria played one of the most important roles in the discovery of America,” said Stephanie Fornes, president of Wilmington Harbor Enhancement Trust Inc., in a phone interview with The News & Observer.

The model of the 15th century ship, named after Columbus’ flagship, was built by the Nao Victoria Foundation. It was constructed in Punta Umbria’s shipyards in Seville, Spain in 2017, and took 14 months to complete. It was launched for the 525th anniversary of Columbus’s Atlantic crossing on March 16, 2018.

Although the original ship sunk off the coast of Haiti on Christmas day of 1492, the replica is reconstructed based on historical sources, including Columbus’ diary, to get a feeling for what sailing across the ocean might have been like more than 500 years ago.

The Nao Santa Maria has four decks and masts, and is 93 feet long. Its rigging stretches more than 1.9 miles. It’s crew has made multiple trips to the Americas, France and Spain, and has voyaged across the Atlantic.

The event is sponsored by the Wilmington Harbor Enhancement Trust, which has brought other historic ships to the Wilmington area in the past, including the Galeon Andalucía in 2015.

“Our goal is to bring awareness and activities along the Cape Fear River,” Fornes said. “We were able to connect with the Nao Santa Maria, and they came in 2019, and reached out this year to come back.”

The event will have some COVID-19 precautions, including hand sanitizing stations and limited occupancy. The crew has also been fully vaccinated.

“Most of the tour is in open air, so it’s not like you’re going to be confined with 100 people below deck,” Fornes said.

As the discussion concerning Columbus’ role and intentions in discovering the Americas has deepened in the past few years, Fornes believes it is important to remind people of that history.

“It’s a part of history that we can’t erase, it did happen, and we’ve moved forward. A lot of what he did, we don’t have anymore,” she said. “It’s really just a history for the ages.”

How to go

What: Tour the Nao Santa Maria Tall Ship in downtown Wilmington

When: June 10 to 13, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Where: At the Riverwalk between Grace and Chestnut streets.

Tickets: $15 Adults (12+), $5 Kids (5-11 yrs.), $35 Family (2 Adults + up to 3 kids). Buy at Eventbrite or at the dock.

Info: facebook.com/WilmingtonHarborEnhancementTrust