Replicas of two of explorer Christopher Columbus' seafaring ships sailed out of the distant past and into the Hudson, Wis., harbor Thursday, looking small amid the St. Croix River's big yachts and cabin cruisers.
Their sails furled for lack of wind, the latter-day Niña and Pinta chugged on diesel motors across the great shimmering blue sea that is Lake St. Croix, docking in Hudson for a 12-day port call.
They'll be open daily for public tours through July 19.
"These ships are essentially the space shuttle of their day. They opened the world for exploration," said Hudson resident Dave Zenk, who has spent four summers aboard the authentic wooden ships.
The Niña was built in exacting detail to mirror the smallest of the three ships Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492. The replica craft, with a crew of seven, was the first to arrive at the city docks where the old Interstate 94 bridge once entered Hudson.
Behind it came the larger Pinta, with Capt. Morgan Sanger aboard. The question he hears most often? "Where is the Santa Maria?" he said.
The answer is simple: A new Santa Maria was never built. Columbus hated the original Santa Maria — a freighter that sailed like a barrel and shipwrecked off the coast of Haiti.
People on Thursday stared as the two black vessels, made by hand of Brazilian hardwoods, nudged through a flotilla of pleasure craft anchored in Hudson's harbor.
Some boaters docking near the Pinta, seeing Sanger's shirt emblazoned with "Captain Morgan," wondered aloud whether that meant he had rum aboard.
"I get that all the time," he said with a laugh.
The Niña was built at a cost of $600,000 and completed in 2001, while the Pinta, finished in 2006, cost $2 million.
Because original construction documents and the ships themselves are lost in time, the new ships were designed from drawings and information gleaned from dives to ancient shipwrecks in the Bahamas.
The Niña, Sanger said, is an exact replica of the ship Columbus sailed. The Pinta is 15 feet longer and 8 feet wider than the original to accommodate more people for charters and events.
"These two are incredibly accurate as far as what 15th century ships should look like," said Sanger, who's been sailing for 60 years.
The Niña and Pinta represent the Columbus Foundation, which educates the public on the caravel type of ships Columbus sailed. They travel about 11 months a year as floating museums.
Details are available at thenina.com.
Tours in Hudson are available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, and no reservations are required. Tickets can be purchased on site: $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for children and free for kids 4 and under.