By John Wilkens
It's one of the most famous ships in history, whose name is memorized by generations of schoolchildren learning about Christopher Columbus, the ocean blue and 1492.
The Niña. In the mind's eye, it's a majestic vessel, larger than life, not so much slicing through the water as conquering it.
But those who visit a full-size replica of the ship when it docks in San Diego this week for a 13-day stay will learn the truth: The Niña was a runt.
“People are usually surprised by how small she is,” crewman Vic Bickel said. “The first time I saw the ship, I thought it must be a three-quarter-scale model. But it's not.”
The replica, built by hand with Old World tools and techniques in the late 1980s, is not quite 94 feet long – about one-third the length of San Diego's resident maritime marvel, the Star of India.
Like the Star, the Niña is a floating museum, but it rarely stays in one place for long. It has visited hundreds of coastal and inland river ports in the Western Hemisphere in the past 17 years – sometimes drawing protests from people who link Columbus to oppression and genocide. This is the third time it has been to San Diego.