The Nina, a replica of Columbus' favorite ship is scheduled to arrive in Peoria, just a week before Columbus Day. It opens to the public Friday and reportedly thousands of school children are already scheduled to see the replica ship. It will be here until Oct. 15 and is also open to the public.
Dan Fowler was driving over the Murray Baker Bridge Thursday afternoon when he saw what looked like a quaint pirate ship sailing into the Peoria riverfront.
"I quickly came over to take pictures of it," the Morton resident said.
When told that the caravel — what Portuguese and Spanish explorers called their trading ships — is actually a touring reproduction of the Niña, on which Christopher Columbus sailed to the West Indies, Fowler marvelled at its size.
"I can’t believe someone would sail around the world on that little ship," he said.
Indeed, few people would have noticed it right away if not for the boom of the cannon that was fired as it came ashore.
"That’s just something we do when we come to a new city," Capt. Kyle Friauf said.
On seeing the Niña, Friauf said he hears the same comment from adults and children: "Is that a pirate ship, Arrrgh!!"
The Niña arrived in Peoria later than originally scheduled because the response for tours from schools in Iowa and Illinois was so overwhelming. It will be open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily today through Oct. 14.
"We’re pretty much booked chock-a-block," Friauf said. "But come on down and see how much history you can get in half an hour. Stay longer if you like."
The Niña replica was built in Bahia, Brazil, by the Columbus Foundation. Since 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s entry into the New World, it has been on tour as a sailing museum to educate the public.
Built of various Brazilian hardwoods, the ship was declared the most historically accurate rendition of a Columbus ship by Archeology magazine. Ships like these produced during the 13th to 16th centuries were considered some of the best open water sailing vessels of the time.
Despite its romantic sails and rigging, the Niña is a spare vessel with few modern amenities. It has, however, been modified to adhere to maritime regulations as well as crew comfort. It uses wind power whenever practical, but it also has a diesel engine to help it get upriver.
Its size didn’t inspire envy among the onlookers. Thomas Mahoney of Peoria, who is on leave from Army training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, said, "I have no idea what it is. How far can you go in it?"
While Jim Call of Frankfort, Ky., thought the Niña was "fantastic," his wife, Sara, shook her head and said, "I’m glad I don’t have to travel around the world in that."
Joyce Young of Elijah, Ga., who is visiting her daughter, Jan Augsburger of Benson said, "As a former teacher I say it would make for a perfect field trip."
Amongst the fairly youthful crew of the Niña is Miss Ellie, 80, who cooks and helps out in the gift shop. She voiced their common sentiment for working as volunteers aboard the ship: "I just love it."
Catharine Schaidle can be reached at (309) 686-3290 or firstname.lastname@example.org.