Yes, the most famous voyage of the Niña and Pinta went from Spain to the West Indies, but the ships – or at least their modern replicas – have anchored at Bayou La Batre again this winter.
At 65 feet and 85 feet respectively, the boats are based in the British Virgin Islands; however, each year, the two replicas make their way to Landry Boat Works in the tiny coastal Alabama town for any needed repairs. Rena Landry, who owns the shipyard and oversees the maintenance, says that the work is typically routine; although, it is absolutely necessary to keep the Columbus fleet afloat.
The job is a perfect fit for Landry, whose father opened the business to build and repair shrimp boats not long after World War II. As the shrimp market has been dampened by overseas competition, Landry has broadened the trade at his five-employee shipyard to include fiberglass boats and wooden yachts.
The Niña and Pinta first came to us because the historians arrived in the area and asked around for shipyards. We were the name given as the “best folks around, ” so they headed our way. Matter of fact, the boats are sitting here right now. When the fleet stops here, they stay for about a month, and it gives the crew a chance to go home and visit their families.
The boats travel all around the country during the year, mostly doing tourism work. They’ve been all the way to Puget Sound, and they’ve made the Great Circle. They sail down the Mississippi on occasion. When they stop, they usually call all the schools in the area and get the students to come visit.
We have all five guys working on the ships. Some are painters, some are carpenters, and I do a little bit of everything. I’m welding at the moment. We use some local materials when repairing the boats but we also use some South American wood, including Spanish cedar.
In years past, we’ve replaced the upper deck of the Niña after a fire, and we’ve worked on the keel. We typically do some maintenance on the bottom and fix any structural problems.
I’m interested in the history of Columbus and his original ships, but I wouldn’t consider myself a history buff. I work too much!
On Feb. 12, the Columbus fleet departs from the shipyard to begin its U.S. tour. Check out the sailing museum at the St. Margaret’s Catholic Church dock in Bayou La Batre on Feb. 8.
text by Nedra bloom • photo by todd douglas