By Danielle Wick - La Crosse Tribune
Columbus used the stars. They use GPS. Columbus’ crew slept on deck. They sleep below. Columbus and his men were on the sea for 50 days at time. They dock in a new port every few days.
The Columbus Foundation’s crew on the Pinta and Nina may not suffer as their predecessors did, but their ships are the closest replicas currently sailing the ocean blue — or, for a few weeks this summer, the Mississippi River.
The Pinta and Nina set sail in March from Gulf Shores, Ala., and made 15 stops on their way to dock Thursday afternoon in Winona.
The scale-size Nina has a 65-foot-long deck and is the most accurate copy of Columbus’ beloved ship ever built, according to Archaeology Magazine. Its traveling companion, the Pinta, is a little bit bigger than scale, with an 85-foot-long deck.
“People always ask about pirates,” Pinta senior deckhand Bradley Johnson said. “The ships were covered in tar; so since they’re black, people think they’re sinister.”
Not a single one of the seven crew members is a pirate, but the members do gain their sea legs over time. Volunteer Dave Balog, a retired electrician from Indiana, is on a three-week trip with the ships.
“It wasn’t on my bucket list,” Balog said. “But I didn’t know you could put something like this on the bucket list. When my wife saw (that people could volunteer), she said ‘This is you !’”