Replica Columbus ships stop in Demopolis

Published 4:12 pm Monday, December 21, 2009

On Dec. 15, some of the locals at the Yacht Basin may have checked their vision to make sure they were seeing what they were seeing. As it turns out, they actually did see replicas of two of Columbus’s famed ships used to discover the Caribbean.

Docking in Demopolis for the night were the Niña and the Pinta, being driven from Maysville, Ky., to Mobile. The ships docked in Demopolis at 7:30 that night and departed before sunrise the next day.

“This is an educational tour sponsored by The Columbus Foundation,” said Jay Cutwright of Chillicothe, Ohio. “These are exact replicas. The living quarters are 5 feet – you couldn’t stand up in them. They were built in Brazil. The Niña was in a movie that’s out right now, ‘1492.’ They sailed her 14,000 miles from Brazil to America.”

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The trip aboard ship is not a speedy one from Maysville, Ky., down the Ohio River to Grand Rivers, Ky., then into the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway and down to Mobile.

“Our top speed is 8 to 10 knots (9.2 to 11.5 miles per hour),” Cutwright said. “We’ve got men spotlighting the bank, using sonar and radar, and these rivers have been killing us. The time just drags. Consider that we’re going 1,400 miles at that speed. But I wouldn’t miss it for anything. There is so much to it and so much to learn.”

While the ships have been rigged with 21st-Century machinery, everything else is as it was in the 15th Century. The ships both run with a total crew of 13 to 16 people.

“There are two guys always on deck: one guy at watch and one guy steering,” Cutwright said. “You tie the tiller off with rigging, and you stand on the deck and steer it like a car, left to right. When you unhook the tiller, it’s like a motorboat: you move the tiller to go in a certain direction.”

Cutwright said that anyone could learn to operate the ships, but hard work is involved.

“We’ll take somebody on at 4:00, for example, and at 7, they’re steering the ship,” he said.

The captain of the ships, Joe Hopkins, is a resident of Fort Myers, Fla., and a native of Ohio. He has been sailing for 10 years, and even has a movie credit to his name, as he appears in Scene 10 of “Pirates of the Caribbean 2.”

Christopher Columbus may have discovered Hispaniola in 1492, but it took the Niña and Pinta 517 more years to discover Demopolis.