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The Ni & ntilde;a is one of the centerpieces of the Ships Festival on the Lagoons.



Published: Thu, July 12, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Ni & ntilde;a is one of the centerpieces of the Ships Festival on the Lagoons.

By JOYCE O'CONNELL

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

With the roar of a cannon and the click of dozens and dozens of camera shutters from onlookers, a replica of Christopher Columbus' Ni & ntilde;a announced Tuesday she was ready to sail into Mentor.

She'll dock there through Monday, offering Northeast Ohioans an opportunity to see how Columbus and his crew sailed and lived more than 500 years ago.

The Ni & ntilde;a's crew, who range in age from 20 to over 70, is on a mission to educate. Besides knowing how to sail a 93-foot four-masted rig, the crew has to know history to conduct tours and public relations to deal with all the stares and pictures snapped wherever they go.

The Ni & ntilde;a is one of the centerpieces of the third annual Ships Festival on the Lagoons Friday and Saturday in Mentor. This is the Ni & ntilde;a's only Ohio stop this summer.

How it's built: The Ni & ntilde;a's tiller takes up most of the covered part of the bridge and requires an almost gymnastic ability involving the entire body to steer. Her sides are dark wood, tarred and oiled with linseed. The thick ropes are made the way they were centuries ago, and her square sails take several crew members to raise.

There are concessions to this century, though, such as a engine, a radio, and a tow boat escort into the crowded harbor. The replica has also done without the live animals Columbus carried below decks.

Crew: Most of the crew members were smitten after touring the Ni & ntilde;a and filled out applications. They come from all over the country, some of them with experience as sailors, some of them running away to sea for the first time. Capt. Morgan Sanger, who's sailed with the Ni & ntilde;a just about everywhere, said the waters of Lake Erie are some of the toughest, and he has great respect for the lake.

Built in Brazil using the same techniques as shipbuilders of the 15th century, the Ni & ntilde;a has visited more than 250 ports since 1992. She is owned and operated by Columbus Foundation Inc., which relies on admission fees to keep the ship sailing.

Even in a sea of tall ships, she stands out, say crew members, because she is so historically accurate. One of the things they like is to take the ship to small places where residents may never have the opportunity to see a ship like the Ni & ntilde;a. In many ports, the ship becomes a classroom for students who are walking off school buses into history.

The Ni & ntilde;a appeared in the film "1492" and in Archaeology magazine.




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