Christopher Columbus was born in the Italian city of Genoa in the year 1451.  His father was a wool weaver and merchant who sold cloth.  Genoa was famous for its map-makers, traders and explorers and many of its men became sailors. Christopher went to sea at the age of 14.  In 1476, the ship on which he was aboard was attacked off the coast of Portugal.  He managed to swim the six miles to Lisbon.  He settled there and married the daughter of a Portuguese nobleman.

In Portugal, Columbus taught himself astronomy, arithmetic, history and geography.  He made many journeys down the coast of Africa. In 1484 he unsuccessfully asked the King of Portugal to finance his expedition to the far east.  He had more luck in 1492 with the King and Queen of Spain.  Isabela and Fernando agreed to help and ordered the town of Palos in southern Spain to supply and equip ships for his voyage.

Columbus's fleet on this world -changing voyage consisted of  three small ships.   The Nina and Pinta were fast caravels but the Santa Maria was a heavy cargo ship.   All the ships were less than 100 tons. A 100 ton ship could carry 100 tuns (barrels) of wine.


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We looked at what life was like on board the Santa Maria.  There was very little space so everything had to be stored in special places.This cutaway picture shows -

rolled up sails     barrels of fresh water     Columbus's cabin     cannon     tiller

sacks of food     stones for ballast   


Copy of food.jpg (5490 bytes) The ship would be equipped with bread, vegetables, honey, raisins, wine, meat, oil, flour, fish and water. Fresh fruit and vegetables would soon run out and this lack of vitamin C would cause the sailors to suffer, and often die, from scurvy.
In his cabin the captain would keep a diary. In this Captain's log he would write details of the journey.  He would note down direction, speed, date, wind direction, weather conditions, food supplies and details about the crew.

Columbus underestimated distances because he thought the crew would be frightened if they knew how far they had really travelled.

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Copy of navigation.jpg (6313 bytes) Here are some of the items that would have been on board. There was no clock so the hour glass or half-hour glass would have had to be turned by a sailor.

The pilot would have helped Columbus log all the details about speed and distance.

We learned about compass directions which were so important then.

We looked at all the other various jobs that would have had to be done on board the ship like ..........

the helmsman (in charge of the rudder),  the cook, the boatswain (looked after sails and anchors and killed the rats!), the steward (in charge of food, water and wine), the caulker (manned the pumps and stopped all leaks), the doctor, the cooper (mended the barrels), the carpenter, the ship's boy, the gunner and the look-out.

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Each day was divided into six watches of four hours.  The ordinary seamen were on duty every other watch.

The first watch of the day began at 3 a.m. when a boy sang a short hymn, then said the Lord's prayer and a short prayer for "good days, good sailing and good company".

At 11 a.m. a seaman spread a cloth on deck and laid out some ship's biscuits and beef bones (full of maggots by the end of the voyage).  There might also be some beans, dried meat or fish and some wine.  All the ship's company, saying "Amen", immediately rushed out and ate all the food.

The afternoon watch (3-7 p.m.) was fairly easy.  The men did routine maintenance, told stories and searched for lice in their clothes and hair, while the lookout kept watch from the crow's nest.

At sunset a boy sang a hymn called the Salve Regina.


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