All I do is write about history.
Folks like Sofia Rodriguez are too busy living it for such sedentary pursuits.
As a little child growing up along the Mediterranean coast in Alicante, Spain, Sofia dreamed of plying the high seas in a tall-masted ship with swift trade winds in its sails. Just like her idols, those explorers, adventurers and pirates of old.
At 16, Sofia stopped dreaming and started doing. She began taking the nautical and maritime classes needed to make those dreams a reality.
And on Friday afternoon at the Brunswick Landing Marina, a smiling Sofia greeted me as I stepped aboard the Nao Santa Maria. The 93-foot-long sailing ship is the most honest replica you will find of the flagship upon which Christopher Columbus sailed west into the unknown to go east more than 525 years ago. Smart folks back then had already figured out the world they occupied was not flat, but actually round. But until Columbus’ bold and daring enterprise, no one had actually proved it. (Ok, history nerds, it was Magellan’s expedition that actually made a complete circle out of the globe in 1522. But at least Columbus did not sail off the side of it.)
If you have not yet visited the Nao Santa Maria, I strongly encourage it. The ship arrived Wednesday and will remain in port at Brunswick Landing today and Sunday. It is opened to the public from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children and $25 for families.
Sofia already had veteran sea legs when she joined the crew of the Nao Santa Maria for its transAtlantic voyage from Spain to the Americas last November. Prior to that, she had served on the crew of the Nao Victoria, an accurate replica of the ship that first sailed around the world in Magellan’s expedition from 1519-22. The Nao Victoria and the Nao Santa Maria are part of the Nao Victoria Foundation (www.fundacionnaovictoria.org) in Spain.
“It’s amazing,” the young lady told me of her life as an old-time sailor. “I’m far away from home a lot of the time, but I love being here. I love meeting new people, having new experiences.”
She hopes one day to be “an officer of the ship.” But there is plenty of time for that. For now, she is happy serving as a deckhand. Her chosen path in life has already brought changes of historic proportion to her family tradition. Mom and dad both grew up in central Spain. Her brother also is a confirmed landlubber.
“My grandfather said, ‘You are the pirate of the family,’” she said, offering a delightful take on the English pronunciation — peer-ate. ”I was the first.”
Embracing the role of family swashbuckler, she also was the first Rodriguez to get a tattoo. She mainly did so after granddad teased her so about taking the pirate’s path.
But there will always be historic firsts and uncommon adventure awaiting on Sofia’s horizon as she answers the call of the sea. The recent transAtlantic crossing aboard the Nao Santa Maria was just one more.
“No, it was my first time crossing and it was incredible,” she said.
The voyage took them only as fast as the winds could push the Nao Santa Maria’s sails.
“It was so amazing,” Sofia said. “The open sails, going very slow, but very free. We were far away from land. It was very very cool.”
Keeping those sails full and in good working order meant routinely climbing into the yardarms of towering masts as they tossed to and fro on the open ocean. And at the end of a hard day, they scampered back up into the 82-foot mainmast just for the fun of it.
“We climb up when the sun is going down,” she said. “We sit up on the sails, just to watch it all. It was so beautiful.”
Along with the caravelles Nina and Pinta, the Santa Maria’s 1492 expedition encountered a previously unknown hemisphere. The explorers reached land in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492, 36 nail-biting days after setting sail from the known world in the Canary Islands.
This was an epic moment for human kind. It launched Europe’s Age of Discovery. Of course, it did not turn out well for those who already inhabited the two vast continents that comprised this “New World.”
The dichotomy of this is not lost on Sofia, or the rest of her crew mates.
“Maybe for some it was good, but for some it was bad,” Sofia said. “But we need to remember it. It is history, and we can’t just forget history. And with this ship we want to show the working history of that journey.”
Like Sofia, fellow crew member Dani Tenorio is plotting his own course aboard the Nao Santa Maria. All are volunteers, by the way, offering their services in exchange for something on which you cannot place a monetary value. Dani is seeking his captain’s certification. His tour aboard this piece of living history is likely to bring that dream within grasp.
“If I sail for one year, I become a captain,” he said. “Maybe they don’t pay me in money, but they pay me in experience.”
The Nao Santa Maria already has made American ports of call in Puerto Rico, throughout Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and Beaufort, S.C. From here it will sail to St. Augustine, Fla., after which it will begin making its way to ports north, eventually touring the Great Lakes this summer.
Sofia will be happy to share with one and all the earth-shaking history that cut the wake in which their replica ship sails. But rather than content herself with that ship’s history, Sofia is busy living her story.
“I am here because I love sailing these ships,” she said, her smile beaming. “I love it.”