Replica of Nina stops in Muskogee

Friday, October 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) _ A handmade replica of one of Christopher Columbus' three ships has sailed into town on the Arkansas River, making another stop on a world tour.

The Nina, an 88-foot wooden vessel, nosed into Three Forks Landing on Thursday for a three-week stay.

The sailing vessel is as close to the Portugese-built Nina as any ship in the past 500 years, the crew said. Its deck is made of African wood; the rest, Brazilian hardwood.

The replica was built by shipwrights who did not use a single modern power tool.

The original Nina was one of three ships _ including the Pinta and Santa Maria _ that Columbus led toward the New World in 1492. Officially the Santa Clara _ but nicknamed for the ship's owner, Juan Nina _ the Nina reportedly was Columbus' favorite vessel.

The Nina is 66 feet long on its main deck and 88 feet overall. The original carried the Italian discoverer and his crew some six weeks across the Atlantic Ocean.

The ship is funded by the Columbus Foundation based in the British Virgin Islands.

The replica has visited 300 ports since leaving the Rio Uno in Brazil 10 years ago, allowing tens of thousands of schoolchildren each year to tramp along the main deck and gaze at the masts that feature the American and Spanish flags.

The Nina's crew act as museum guides while stopped in towns throughout the world.

``It's such a great job,'' said Capt. Morgan Sanger, who has guided the new Nina through its decade-long journey. ``The best times are when we're sailing out in the ocean, when we can show people what it's really like sailing.''

Elli Kaiser, the ship's cook, said she has seen more geography in her two years aboard the replica than in the previous 27 years she spent as a church secretary in New Mexico. One summer she visited her son, ship's First Mate Jeffrey ``Doc'' Kaiser, and the widowed mother decided that the sailor's life was for her.

``My husband, before he passed away, always wanted to go from one port to the next,'' Kaiser said. ``He never got the chance.''

Second Mate Allison Asher, a bartender before joining the crew, said she has no desire to leave.

``It's not claustrophobic _ because that's our living room,'' she said, pointing upward to the main deck. ``It's the whole wide world.''

The Nina's visit to Muskogee is a major promotion for Port of Muskogee officials, who are planning a multimillion-dollar Three Fork's Harbor project. Plans include a marina, a floating restaurant and boat slips.

The ship will pull out of Muskogee on Nov. 11, heading south to the Mississippi River and ultimately, the Grand Cayman Islands.