The Santa Maria

Replica of Columbus's Santa Maria in Santa Cruz de la Palma
Replica of Columbus’s Santa Maria in Santa Cruz de la Palma

Back when I worked for the observatory, we ocassionally gave visiting astronomers a lift up to the mountaintop. I always enjoyed detouring past the replica of Christopher Columbus’s ship, the Santa Maria, partly to see the visitor’s reaction.

Astronomer: “What on earth is that!?”
Me: It’s a concrete ship in the middle of the road. What’s it look like?”
Astronomer: “Concrete!?”

One astronomer even begged us to stop, so that he could go up and touch it, because the “wood” paint was so convincing that he couldn’t believe it was concrete. It’s beautifully done. It even has old fashioned “nails” with “shadows”.

Detail of replica of Columbus's Santa Maria in Santa Cruz de la Palma
“Nails” in the replica of Columbus’s Santa Maria

The ship houses a small naval museum. Now I’m no expert on ships because I get sea-sick standing in a puddle, but I enjoyed it. Downstairs they have some rather nice model ships, sextants, and two old figureheads.

Model ship in the naval museum, Santa Cruz de la Palma
Model ship in the naval museum

Figurehead in the naval museum, Santa Cruz de la Palma
Figurehead in the naval museum

(They also have several empty display cases, because they haven’t quite finished the refurbishment yet). Upstairs there’s a display of old charts.

When appoaching the Straits of Gibraltar, be aware that fishermen have tunny nets extending up to seven miles from the coast.

If you want to take photos of them, you’ll need a polarizing filter to remove the reflections.

And then you can go out onto the deck and up to the aftcastle and forecastle. At that point, if I were eight years old, I’d instantly be desperate to play pirates. They even have two small canons. That is, they look small until you imagine canonballs that size whizzing straight at you.

Canons on the deck of the Santa Maria in Santa Cruz de la Palma
Canons on the main deck

The stairs are steep, and might be a problem for elderly knees. And they have genunine C15th safety barriers, which is to say no barriers at all, so you’ll need to hang onto any impetuous little people. It’s no problem for sensible adults in the replica, although it must have been downright dangerous in a storm on the original.

The bit that surprises me is that this full-scale model is so small. Columbus’s crew of thirty-nine men spent thirty-four days in a boat this size, from La Gomera to the Bahamas. I suppose an estate agent would have called it cosy.

To be honest, it’s not the world’s greatest museum, and I was only in there for twenty minues, but then it costs one measely euro.

The Santa Maria is on the Plaza Alemeda at the nborth end of Santa Cruz de la Palma. It opens from 10 am to 2 pm, Monday – Friday. Price €1.00. There are public toilets opposite.

The deck of the Santa Maria, in Santa Cruz de la Palma
The deck of the Santa Maria, in Santa Cruz de la Palma

Posted by sheila

Sheila came to La Palma with a six month contract and has stayed 24 years so far. She used to work as a software engineer at the observatory, but now she's a writer and Starlight guide.

This article has 6 Comments

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