Jack the Skipper boards La Niña

Jack emailed this after visiting the faithful reproduction of the famous ship while it was tied up on the Willamette.

This was the best boat show I’ve ever been to. As an avid armchair sailor, I had enough reasons already to visit what is called the best reproduction ever of one of the three boats in Columbus’ first fleet. But I am also reading at this very moment the new book by Tony Horwitz about Columbus and all the other early visitors to the Americas.

Anyway, La Niña is moored on the Eastbank Esplanade just north of the Hawthorne Bridge. Several times I almost turned back before arriving because I couldn’t see it and was sure they had got the dates wrong in the paper. You
can’t see it at any distance at all because it is incredibly small – just 66 feet long on deck, with 17 feet at the beam (think a mere 1 1/2 times Aurora). Its color is dark and dull, and I doubt its masts go as high above the water as ours does.

Keeping our beloved Valiant 40 in mind again, “primitive” does not even begin to describe La Niña. Of course no head, propane galley, diesel heat, VHF, GPS, roller furling, winches, cabins, or berths. This very heavy tub (200,000 lbs, almost 10x our displacement) can not even dream of sailing to windward. With its square-rigged sail plan, it can only run with the wind. In fact, lacking a serious keel with any bite to it, La niña can’t even take advantage of winds smack on the beam, because the boat gets pushed faster to leeward than it can move forward. I also noted that the boat, for all its weight, still rocked around a lot on the quiet Willamette mooring. “Oh yes,” said one of the crew members. “She bobs like a cork.”

So, my respect for all the early explorers is only greater seeing what they had to work with. And I also now appreciate that, even setting aside diesel engines, GPS, and the like, modern sail boat design extracts so much more performance out of the wind than was the case in the old days.

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