Bobby Stephens grew up in Eastern North Carolina and has been around boats all his life.
That’s what drew him to the Niña and the Pinta Monday on the waterfront in Morehead City.
The boats, 65- and 85-feet-long, are replicas of two of the three sailing vessels brought by Christopher Columbus on his 1492 voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in search of the New World.
“I was born and raised here,” Stephens said. “I’ve always just tooled around in the cuts. I’ve never been an ocean person.”
Stephens said he couldn’t imagine making a trip across the ocean in such relatively small ships.
“It’s not seaworthy unless it’s got a casino and a buffet on it,” Stephens said in reference to cruise ships.
The black-hulled, wooden boats appeared to be well built and sturdy, though, and Stephens was impressed with the seamanship of the sailors more than 500 years ago.
“That was the true sailors then, working by just stars and sun and your wind,” he said. “That is very impressive.”
Debi Jackson visited the ships Monday with husband Donald.
“It’s amazing that they sailed all the way across the ocean in these small ships, relatively small for the number of people that they held and the amount of distance that they had to travel,” she said. “I don’t know how they did it.”
Jim Gupton, standing 6-foot-5, found walking below decks difficult.
“I would take a trip if I could, but I’m too tall,” he said. “My head hits underneath and there’s not but about 4-foot of room to walk around down there.”
Wife Teresa Gupton is substantially smaller and said she could make a trip on the vessels.
“I’d love to do it,” she said. “I understand that I’d be good at steering the boat, so I’d love to try it.”
Eric Phifer brought his 4-year-old son Monday to see the boats.
“I just wanted to show my son how ships have evolved from when they were built centuries ago versus today’s modern boats and what they had to go through to hand-craft a boat like this to make it seaworthy,” he said. “It took a lot more time, energy and effort to do things to make it seaworthy, versus today when you can just turn a key and go on about your business.”
Kaylee Soud, a deckhand on the Niña, spent part of the afternoon recoiling lines on the foremast of the vessel. The college anthropology major said the Niña is “like working on a museum.”
“I like working line and rigging,” she said. “I like working with the 15th century maritime technology. I like the history.”
She said traveling on the ship is quite an experience.
“It is quite a voyage,” she said. “The boat is rocking and rolling each way. We have three-hour watches, three hours on deck and three hours below and you had better be sleeping in that time or you’re going to be too tired. Somebody steers, somebody’s on the bow watching and somebody’s running back and forth communicating between the two.
“Adventure has always been a big thing for me and it happened to be a good time in my life to go. I took a break from school. I needed a break from school. I wanted to do some hands-on learning for once instead of book work. I had a friend on board who told me all about it and I decided this is the best time to do it.”
The two boats will be docked at the Sanitary Restaurant and Fish Market at 501 Evans St., in Morehead City, through Sunday. Tours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. General admission is $8 for adults, $7 for ages 60 and older, and $6 for ages 5 to 16.
For more information, call 787-672-2152 or go online to www.thenina.com.