Today, the Columbus Commemorative Half Dollar Coin takes us back to April 21, 1893 when the reproductions of the Santa Maria, Pinta and Nina arrived at Hampton Roads.
This excerpt from the Baltimore American from April 1893, provides a glimpse into the excitement at the arrival of the small ships.
Just as Columbus Came
The Counterparts of the caravels arrive.
Great Curiosity to the Ancient-looking little ships —contrast with the modern Spanish Men-of-War that towed them in
Fortress Monroe, April 21.
At last the caravels are here. They came in this morning, each in two of a Spanish vessel, and their advent created more interest than that of any of the big ships.
As soon as they were sighted, there was a rush for the piers, and in a twinkling hotels and stores looked as if everybody had gone home.
Thousands gathered in the fort, and from the High street watched with glasses the little fleet as it slowly passed it.
The Infanta Isabel led the way in, dragging the Pinta along; next came the Reina Regenta, with the Santa Maria, and last came the Neuva Espana with the Nina.
Before they reached the fort the counterparts of the little vessels that first sailed in American waters were greeted with a salute—a compliment that had not been extended to any other incoming vessel.
So great was the curiosity of the people that every sailboat and launch which had been lying idle was engaged at remunerative prices, and for two hours the sharks did a rushing business.
Women who heretofore fought shy of sailboats, conquered their fears, and ventured out, even though the wind was quite fresh, and, as a result, a number o them became seasick.
The officers and sailors were not a whit less curious. They were, if possible even more interested in the queer-looking craft than the landsmen. All hands flocked to the decks, and the number, to get a better view, climbed aloft.
Nearly an hour elapsed from the time they were sighted before the caravels arrived in the Roads. The big cruisers, with great consideration, moving along very slowly. At the head steamed the torpedo boat Cushing, which had been sent out to show the way.
No sooner did the Infanta Isabel touch the fort than the Hollander, who goes off at the slightest provocation, ran up the Spanish flag, and fired the usual salute.
No attention was paid by the Spaniards, who sailed along with their little tenders, picking their way as they passed down between the lines formed by the American and the foreign vessels.
If Columbus could have heard the criticisms passed upon his fleet, he would himself have wondered how he managed to get far enough across the Atlantic to sight the promised land. There was, probably, not a landsman, or tar either, who would not have preferred to risk a voyage on a fifteen-ton schooner-yacht, to a trip on either of the caravels.
All conceded that Columbus was deserving of all the credit he had claimed and all the honors he was about to receive from those who were benefited by his discovery.
The Pinta, which was being towed by the Infanta Isabel, was the first to undergo inspection.
A quainter-looking craft has never been seen in these waters. She resembles a long box hollowed out, and then having all the necessary attachments affixed.
Yet, there are some of these that, after being discarded by shipbuilders who improved on the antique types have been re-adopted, and are now considered essential parts of all great vessels of war.
At any other time the big war ships would have attracted much attention, for they are formidable vessels, but today the caravels had the call.
As the Cushing steamed along, the procession followed very slowly at first and gradually increased its speed.
It was supposed by the foreigners that the Spaniards would be anchored near the Frenchmen, and with the view of boarding the Infanta Isabella the flag Lieutenants boarded their cutters and followed in the cruiser’s wake, but the Cushing did not find suitable ground for the caravels, and so, after running the gauntlet of the fleet, she turned and came back at the outside.
All this time various cutters’ crews were pulling like crazy men to keep up.
This maneuvering resulted in a very fiery struggle between various cutters carrying the boarding officers, all of whom were trying to overtake the Spaniards. The Spreckles enjoyed this impromptu race, but the sailors who were obliged to do the pulling were mad as hornets.
A stern chase is not at all times a long one, and this one was no exception to the rule.
It was all the more exasperating as the ships they were after kept gaining all the time; still, it would never do to be beaten by another country, and so the tars lugged away against wind and tide, the perspiration streaming from every pore.
Side by side came the Frenchman, the Englishman and the Russian, all three of whom had pulled over the entire course.
The Dutchman and the Italian dropped in at the upper turn, but the American, who was better posted, waited until the Cushing selected an anchorage and then quietly pulled across.
Like all good things, this race finally came to an end.
The Cushing stopped when off the Rip-raps, and the Infanta Isabella prepared to anchor. Her stopping enabled the cutters to draw up.
Flag Lieutenant Potter quickly pushed his way to the port side, while the Russian, who had forged to the front, made for the starboard landing.
The two lieutenants sprang out of their cutters at almost the same time, darted up the stairs and faced each other as they stepped on deck.
Behind the American came the Englishman, while the Russian was followed by the French, Dutch and Italian in the order named.
It was almost immediately after this the Infanta Isabella ran up the Stars and Stripes, and then the usual salutes followed all along the line.
While the firing was still in progress, the Santa Maria, with all sails set, gave an exhibition of her sailing powers.
Thousands of eyes followed the craft as she proceeded down the line, at the end of which she turned very prettily, and coming back, anchored, with her little sisters near the rip-raps and off shore.
The Blake, the Newark and the Spaniards are anchored close by.
Owing to the high winds, very few visited the vessels, but by tomorrow, should the weather prove fair, there will be plenty to board them.
The voyage here was very rough, but as they steamed along very slowly, no damage was done.
The Columbus Commemorative Half Dollar Coin shows with a poster of the Naval Rendezvous in April 1893.