“Santa Maria, circa 1492, Spanish Merchant Ship (Nao),” 1925-1950, by August F. Crabtree, The Mariners’ Museum (1956.16).

Santa María


108-239 tons

Galicia, Spain

Christopher Columbus leased the Santa María from Juan de la Cosa, who used her as a merchant vessel. She became Columbus’ flagship and Juan de la Cosa stayed aboard as the pilot. The Santa María had three masts, the mizzen had a lateen sail fore and aft, and the main mast had two square sails and a topsail. The foremast had a square sail and the bowsprit was fitted with a square spritsail. She had one deck, where all the provisions were stored. The Santa María could also be rowed with oars or pulled by a small boat. Her draft was too deep for coastal navigation.

The fleet set sail from Los Palos on August 3, 1492 with the Nina and the Pinta. When they arrived in the Caribbean October 12, 1492, the Santa María began exploring the surrounding islands. On December 24, 1492, the exhausted crew left only the ship’s boy at the tiller, and she ran aground on a coral reef. Too damaged for repairs, the Santa María had all her goods removed to shore. The crew of 40 was too large to fit on the Nina, so 39 men stayed behind to build a fort, La Navidad. All that stayed behind died before Columbus could return.