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Columbus Discovers Illinois
October 10, 2011 - 11:00pm


Columbus arrived triumphantly here in the Midwest this past week, dressed in his embroidered robes and that pincushion hat thing he wears. At some point he no doubt strode ashore and had some buffalo wings and a Diet Coke at The Loading Dock, where families and bikers were already enjoying the long weekend. But then he's always gotten to the party a little late--about 18,000 years after those who crossed the Bering land bridge into North America, and 500 years after the Norse. Still there's no denying his physical courage and that of the crews who sailed with him on tiny trading vessels.

The Niña and the Pinta--or, rather, two exact replicas built in the 1980s and '90s--were moored in Grafton, Illinois, just north of St. Louis this Columbus Day weekend. I wanted our boys to see the little square-rigged Caravels, not just for their inherent beauty, but also to get a sense of their tiny size, so they could try to imagine sailing them across the wide Atlantic. The Niña is just 65 feet long and has an 18-foot beam, and the Pinta is 20 feet longer. They bobbed so lightly in the Mississippi River that when a water taxi decorated like a shark sped past, Columbus's boats rocked and rolled, and we all felt slightly seasick.

The story of all three ships, past and present (the Santa Maria reconstruction is currently in Ohio, I'm told), is interesting, and they're worth a visit if they come to a port near you. See the Columbus Foundation's website here for tour and other details.



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