Columbus ship replicas rotting away

May 9 2013 - 5:48pm


Christopher Columbus’ ships (AP images)
Christopher Columbus’ ships (AP images)

CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. -- Replicas of two of Christopher Columbus' ships, a gift from Spain, are deteriorating while city officials consider what to do with them.

A local group will not refurbish the two on exhibit at the city museum, and the company managing the museum doesn't want them.

Corpus Christi received the New World-era replicas in 1993 as a gift from Spain to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus Day.

The Pinta and Santa Maria are dry docked at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History as a part of the museum exhibit. The Nina is docked off the Lawrence Street T-Head as it undergoes a full restoration by the Columbus Sailing Association.

The Pinta and Santa Maria replicas could be moved from the museum's plaza -- given away to an interested party or dismantled for parts -- or they could be demolished, said Bill Durrill, whose family has been managing the museum since August.

''They're blocking the water," Durrill said. "They're dead and they have been an albatross around the museum's neck for a long time."

The Durrills have plans to transform the bayfront plaza into an event space for rental.

City officials will have the final say about what happens to the ships because they own them and the museum property. No decision has been made, Assistant City Manager Wes Pierson said. He declined to comment about whether the city is considering demolishing the ships.

Under a five-year lease agreement with the city, the Columbus Sailing Association agreed in 2010 to fully restore the NiA+-a. Once that happens, the city would transfer ownership of the other two ships to be restored.

A committee of city staff likely will make a recommendation about the fate of the ships.

Since the Durrills began managing the museum, the city has been in talks with the association about the timeline for the ship repairs. Association president John Torrey said the group is about six months away from completing the Nina's restoration. The group raised about $40,000 for the project along with the $20,000 it received from the city when the agreement was signed, he said.

The group can't afford to restore the Santa Maria but was interested in restoring the Pinta, which is in better condition between the two ships, until they discovered how expensive it would be, Torrey said. It would cost about $100,000 to get the ship seaworthy, he said.

The city and the Durrills also were pressuring the association to speed the restoration process, he said.

For both to be seaworthy would cost an estimated $1 million, according to a report prepared for the Durrills by a Spanish shipbuilder. It would be cheaper to build a new Santa Maria rather than restore the replica at the museum, the report said.

''The two ships, Pinta and Santa Maria, are in a deplorable state of deterioration resulting from a lack of adequate maintenance," the report said.

A barge crash in 1994 damaged the two ships and they were relocated to the museum as a part of its permanent exhibit. The Santa Maria is in the worst shape and tour groups no longer are allowed on board.

The fate of the deteriorating Columbus ships have long been a point of public discussion by city leaders as they searched for a group to take over the restoration. An answer came in 2009 when the association, a group with about 20 members, seemed interested in taking on the project with the goal of being able to sail the ships and offer tours to the public. Former Mayor Joe Adame encouraged the group to take over the restoration. The City Council signed an agreement with the group in 2010.

It's been difficult for the association to walk away from the ship restoration project, Torrey said.

''Being able to raise the kind of money to completely get her into the water is beyond our means," Torrey said. "The city poisoned the atmosphere around the ships with just the general incompetence over the years."

(Reach reporter Jessica Savage


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