Ahoy, there, lovers of seafaring beauties.

Set your sails for the downtown Peoria riverfront this week, where the ever-photogenic Nina and Pinta — sans Santa Maria — are back in town, through Friday.

The replicated ships hail from the British Virgin Islands-based Columbus Foundation, where no ships in their right minds would have wanted to be this past Irma-tossed week.

Actually, the boats themselves are typically far afield of their devastated home base, visiting 30 to 40 ports of call around the U.S. annually.

Each is a full-scale replica of the 15th-century original.

Sometimes full is less: they routinely alarm modern eyes (ours included) by their petite and therefore claustrophobic appearance ... as in, 120-plus passengers could actually fit aboard one of these bitty things?

No way.

The all-wood Nina, measuring 93½ feet long and 52 feet tall, is the showboat of the pair: built completely by hand, sans power tools, over a grueling three-year stretch (1988-91) under remote and primitive circumstances (no electricity, phone service, etc.).

The location was Bahia, Brazil; the occasion, the 500th anniversary of Columbus' New World appearance, a date that has gone down in both history and infamy (per the latter, the ships' Peoria return was preceded by the recent vandalizing, via spray paint, of the Columbus statue situated in Laura Bradley Park, near Bradley University).

According to ships' captain, Morgan Sanger, Bahia was picked because of access there to the forest hardwoods used by original Portuguese ship-builders. The type of ship is the Caravel, manned by explorers of Columbus' time.

Nina is a movie star, to boot, having co-starred as herself in Ridley Scott's 1992 Columbus epic, "1492," with Gerard Depardieu as the now-controversial explorer.

As Capt. Sanger lamented to us last visit, "They filmed us for 21 days, then only used us for about five minutes in the movie."

It was a rare box office flop for director Scott ("Gladiator," "Alien," "Blade Runner," etc.), which was no surprise to Sanger: "It was too long at 2½ hours, and it got kind of yawny in the middle. But, it was better than the other one with Marlon Brando ("Christopher Columbus: The Discovery," released the same year), which was awful."

For the record, the Pinta wasn't replicated until more than a decade later, post-Nina, and it was done so at a slightly larger scale, all the better to accommodate more visitors on board at one time.

The deck is 20 feet longer, and, best of all for claustrophobes like us, there's a 900-square-foot air-conditioned main cabin below used for side shows showing the ship's construction.

"The Nina is the most authentic of the two," says Capt. Sanger, "but the Pinta is a heckuva lot more comfortable below deck."

Above or below, both ladies of the sea are bidding us welcome: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, through Sept. 24, at 110 S.W. Water St. Admission is $6 to $8.

The week in arts

As a new feature of this column, we'll be giving weekly shout-outs to some of the notable fine arts happenings in the area. 

  • We dream of Jeanne: With her passing still fresh in the minds of those who loved her — like us — don't miss the chance to see the muse of the French New Wave, Jeanne Moreau, inspire again as the enigmatic object of desire for both "Jules and Jim," the 1962 Francois Truffaut classic screening at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 and 24 at the Normal Theater. It's part of the Gallic-themed fall Beyond Normal Films fest (also, "Children of Paradise," Sept. 21 and 23; "Au Revoir les Enfants," Sept. 28 and 30; and "Amelie," Sept. 29 and Oct. 1).
  • Trane station: An expanded version of the John Coltrane tribute concert two weeks ago at the Normal Theater will be performed by Glenn Wilson & The Chasing Trane Ensemble at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23 in IWU's Westbrook Auditorium. It's free.
  • Symphonic overtures: The Illinois State University Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Glenn Block, kicks off its 2017-18 season at 7 p.m. Sept. 24 in the Center for the Performing Arts. Highlights: Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 and the world premiere of a new work by faculty composer Martha Horst, "Tidal Rhythms."
  • Remembering Roque: The centenary of legendary ISU faculty composer Roque Cordero, who died in 2008, will be celebrated in a free recital at 4 p.m. Sunday in Kemp Recital Hall. 

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com 


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