Monday, September 23, 2019

Visual Proof that East Tennessee is Not Landlocked!

Sometimes it’s hard to convince geographically challenged folks that we aren’t landlocked here in East Tennessee.  So I end up explaining to them that via the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) and its system of locks and dams, one can actually take a yacht or barge all the way from Chicago, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, New Orleans and Mobile to Knoxville.  The various routes include the Ohio River, Missouri River, Mississippi River and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway up through Alabama.

But some people need to see physical proof that one can navigate all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to East Tennessee, plus points farther west and north.  I was happy when I noticed an attraction on line that was moored nearby that could help prove the point!

Our destination was the Fort Loudon Marina on the shores of Fort Loudoun Lake, which is a TVA reservoir on the Tennessee River.  The marina is right above the Fort Loudoun Dam in Lenoir City Tennessee.  Well, those small ‘yachts’ could actually be trailered into the lake so they don’t prove navigation all the way from the Gulf of Mexico. 


Picky spellers reading this post have already noticed my ‘mistake’.  I spelled Fort “Loudon” Marina one way and the name of the dam and the lake/reservoir another…”Loudoun”.  While it seems like an error, it isn’t really.  Hence, a short history tidbit…

The county where the dam and marina is located was originally named Christiana County, but shortly afterwards it was changed to Loudoun in honor of nearby colonial-era Fort Loudoun.  The Earl of Loudoun had commanded British forces there during the French and Indian Wars.  However, since there already was a Loudoun County in Virginia, postal necessities (confusion) in those early days required a change in the spelling of the Tennessee County’s name as well as that of its County Seat…also Loudon. 

It was a beautiful day as we made our way down to the far end of this large marina.  Just down the way we could see Calhoun’s Restaurant at the Marina…a popular spot for local diners arriving by auto or boat.  See

And there they were…moored almost at the end of the marina.  It was a blast from the past!  Christopher Columbus’s ships, (actually reproductions), the Nina and the Pinta had sailed into Lenoir City Tennessee! 

We were here to check them out…explore history and get a feel for the size of the ships and the conditions that Columbus and his crews had lived in during his several voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. 

We paid the price of admission under that blue awning at the right of the sign.  It was $7.50 for seniors, $8.50 for adults and $6.50 for children between 5 – 16 years of age.  For groups of 15 or more, the charge is only $5.00 per person.

The first photo is the port side of the Pinta and the more detailed or clearer second photo shows the ship’s starboard side.  The Pinta is a larger version of the typical caravel.  At 85’ long with a beam of 18’, she is 15’ longer and 8’ wider than the original Pinta.  Her mission is to accompany the Nina on her voyages, providing space for dockside charters and events.  Like the Nina, the Pinta was built in Brazil using traditional hand tools and methods.

Caravels were as close to perfect as a sailing ship could be back in the day.  With a Scandinavian style bow and midsection, as well as its combination square and lateen (triangular) rigging, caravels were produced for at least 125 years and it was the best open water sailing vessel of its time.

Hey…It isn’t all just about history!  This is the Loudon County Marine Rescue Unit.  Staffed by volunteers, this vessel is part of the Loudon County Emergency Management team.  Powered by two 225 horsepower engines, this 32’ foot rescue boat is equipped with radar, forward looking infra-red, GPS navigation and a fixed fire pump.  Volunteers include 3 Coast Guard licensed Captains, 2 paramedics, 5 EMT’s, 5 firefighters and 4 public safety divers/swift water rescue personnel.

As you will see, this rescue unit is about half as long as Columbus’s favorite ship…the Nina!

The Pinta and the Nina were already busy at 9:30 AM on the Friday morning we visited.  There were plenty of people, young and old alike, checking out these ships…something like this historical display isn’t exactly run of the mill in East Tennessee.  Helpful crew members were busy with history lessons and information about the ships.

As the saying goes, ‘timing is everything’!  We came early to beat the heat and, as it turned out, also to beat a significant number of local elementary school students who were lined up for their visits as we finished our tour and headed for our car.

Almost all of the provisions on the original Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria were stored in kegs like this one.  Water, vinegar, oil, wine, salt, hardtack, flour, lard, lentils, onions, olives and much more were maintained below deck to sustain the crew.  After leaving Spain, the ships stopped in the Canary Islands, (near the supposed ‘edge of the world’), to stock up on livestock…fresh meat for the crew.

FYI… In Columbus’s day, ships couldn’t change course easily and they couldn’t sail into the wind.  Consequently they had to follow the flow of the prevailing easterly and westerly ‘trade winds’ back and forth across the Atlantic.  If the winds died down, the ships just had to wait for them to freshen again…

This photo is by way of comparison.  I don’t know exactly how long that big houseboat is but I’d have to guess that it’s more than 50 long.  Columbus’s favorite ship, the Nina, was only 65’ long…and she crossed the Atlantic 3 times in each direction!

This is a view of the stern area of the Nina from the deck of the Pinta.  At 65’ long, with a beam of only 18’, she weighs about 75 tons and has a draft of 7’.  The shallow draft allowed for speed and the ability to maneuver in coastal waters.  Like the Pinta, the ‘new’ Nina was built by craftsmen in Valenca Brazil using the old methods of shipbuilding.

The 3 original ships, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria were really just common trading vessels.  The Santa Maria ran aground and sank on Christmas Eve in 1492 near Cap Haitien in Hispaniola.  The Pinta returned home from the first voyage and then just disappeared from history. 

But the Nina was altogether a different story!  Not only did she and Columbus complete the first voyage together, she was also his flagship for his second voyage.  She was the only ship out of the fleet of 17 vessels that survived the hurricane of 1495.  After the second voyage she was captured by a pirate in the Mediterranean Sea, then recaptured and returned to Cadiz Spain in time to serve as the advance guard of Columbus’s third voyage.  Finally, in 1501 after a trading voyage to the Pearl Coast off what is now Venezuela, the Nina disappeared from ships logs.  She traveled at least 25,000 miles under the command of Christopher Columbus.

On the Nina’s first voyage under Columbus, this 65’ vessel had a crew of 26.  Stuff it with provisions, extra sails, ropes and the like (plus a few head of sheep, goats or pigs) and this was a ‘cozy’ living environment.  It took them 2 months on the first voyage to get from their last stop in the Canary Islands to landfall in the Bahamas.

Today’s replicas of the Nina and Pinta are equipped with engines that are needed to navigate the inland waters of the USA.  We were told that they do operate under sail in the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and in the Atlantic Ocean.

This sign is right over the small hatch leading to Columbus’ only private space on the Nina.  It only had about 4’ of headroom, a tiny navigation desk and 2 bunks.  As for ventilation, the small hatch was it!  So much for being ‘Admiral’ of the fleet.  Makes me wonder about all those huge cabins in all the pirate movies I’ve watched over the years…

If you really studied the earlier photo of the Nina’s stern deck, you might have noticed that there wasn’t a helm/wheel to steer the ship.  I was surprised to learn that these ships were actually steered the old fashioned way...with this big rudder or steering oar underneath the upper stern deck.  The captain or helmsman would have been protected from the elements but his visibility was very limited.

Here’s that job opportunity you were looking for!  This is a chance for you to join the crew operating the Nina and Pinta, visit ‘exotic ports’, and you can simultaneously hone your cooking skills.  If the crew doesn’t like your food, you might be forced to walk the plank!

The sailing season is winding down though… From Lenoir City Tennessee, the Nina and the Pinta has moved to Knoxville’s waterfront where they will be open for visitors through September 29.  Then it will be a 4 day tip down the Tennessee River to Chattanooga’s waterfront.  They will stay in Chattanooga for 24 days!  The final port of call will be in Rogersville Alabama from October 30 through November 3.

In total, the ships will have visited 2o ports of call in the USA this year.  They had planned to visit the upper Mississippi River system but the early season flooding forced them to cancel that itinerary.  To learn more about the Nina and the Pinta as well as the Columbus Foundation, just go to the following website:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by to see what we’ve been up to!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. 1st of all … friend David … what are you doing being up at this hour … as it is 0418hrs here in AB … anyway … smiles … 2nd of all … friend David … Whenever I see a sail ship I feel like sailing away … Where to you might ask … I dunno know … just wanna sail away … smiles … Just got back from Mexico and am already plotting my next journey to somewhere … smiles … Anyway … Love, cat.

    1. PS: I have always been terrified of locks when sailing. c.