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Columbus replica ships dock in Grafton

Mother Nature originally brought Columbus ships to dock in Jersey County, but visitors’ enthusiasm caused the Nina and Pinta to return this year.Columbus Foundation Inc.’s Nina and Pinta replicas of Christopher Columbus’ caravels stopped in Grafton two years ago because of shallower-than-usual water at the Alton Marina. The first-time landing attracted approximately 10,000 visitors from all over the region, including Peoria and Springfield, Grafton Mayor Tom Thompson said as the ships came in to shore.So, the ships landed at The Loading Dock in Grafton again this year, despite normal water levels in Alton.”It was Mother Nature and luck of the draw to say, ‘Hello, Grafton,’” said Capt. Kyle Friauf, originally of St. Petersburg, Fla., who has sailed the Nina for the last seven years all over the continental United States.Public tours go through Sunday of both the Nina, built in 1991 as the foundation’s original replica of a 15th century caravel, and the Pinta, built in 2006.”The Nina is the exact size (of the original) with four- to five-feet headroom,” said deckhand Jamie Sanger of the British Virgin Islands, where the Columbus Foundation is based.The Pinta is built to scale but 15 feet longer than the original, because it was used for day sails between 2007 and 2008 in the Caribbean until it started following the Nina. The Nina can handle no more than 30 people on board at once. The Pinta can accommodate 100 people and can be rented for parties with sufficient notice.Holiday Shores resident Clayton Brown visited the ships’ landing because he came with friends reserving the Pinta for a party, which would take place dockside only.”They invited me to come along; I couldn’t believe these tall ships coming in,” Brown, a tall-ship enthusiast, said Thursday at the Loading Dock. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come down and take a look.”Unlike Brown, St. Louisan James Fournier had no idea the Nina and Pinta would land in Grafton.”I just happened to come up for a beer,” he said. “The boats appeared, coming up the river, and it’s hard to believe there are old sailing boats on the river.”The vessels still leave Fournier awestruck, even though he toured the boats a few years ago.”It’s very interesting and worthwhile,” he said.Fournier and Brown both compared the size of Columbus’ tall ships to what people see in still or moving images.”I’m amazed by the rigging and how small it is compared to what you see on TV,” Brown said. “They really jammed massive amounts of supplies in a small area.”Shipbuilders used Brazilian hardwoods to build the Nina and Pinta replicas. They built the new Nina completely by hand, with no power tools; for the Pinta, they used few power tools, Sanger said.Archeology magazine called the Nina the most historically correct Columbus replica ever built. Historians consider the caravel the Space Shuttle of the 15th century.Both ships sail together as a new and enhanced “sailing museum” for the purpose of educating the public and schoolchildren about the caravel, which was the type of Portuguese ship used by Columbus and many early explorers to explore the world.Visitors can take a walk-aboard, self-guided tour for $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $6 for students ages 5 through 16. Children age 4 and younger are admitted free. Tour hours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, and no reservation is needed.Teachers or organizations wishing to schedule a 30-minute guided tour with a crew member should call (787) 672-2152. Groups must have a minimum of 15 members to schedule a tour or event. The cost for a 30-minute tour is $4 a person. Go to thenina.com or email for more information.

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