After making headlines earlier this month when its presence in the Penobscot River angered Maine tribal leaders, the ship Nao Santa Maria — a replica of the vessel Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic 529 years ago — is quietly winding down its time in Maine.
The wooden vessel was tied up to a restaurant dock in Castine’s downtown village on Friday afternoon, welcoming a few handfuls of visitors at a time as they bought $15 tickets to tour the boat. The crowds and protestors who had greeted the ship two weeks ago in Bucksport, after its appearance in Bangor was canceled due to the tribes’ objections, had not reappeared.
The ship and its mostly Spanish crew sailed into the controversy when they arrived in Maine. They were due to sail up the Penobscot River to Bangor as part of a tall ships display to celebrate Maine’s bicentennial a year late. The display was organized by the Penobscot Maritime Heritage Association. While it was meant to celebrate the state’s bicentennial, it wasn’t funded by the state nor officially a part of the state’s celebration.
For members of the four federally recognized tribes in Maine and their allies, the ship’s presence — thousands of miles away from where the original ship plied North American waters — added insult to injury.
“The Penobscot Nation is disappointed and disheartened that any group would use a replica of a ship used by Christopher Columbus to celebrate the heritage and statehood of Maine,” tribal leaders said in a statement on July 9. “While offensive in numerous ways, as well as historically inaccurate, it is also deeply harmful to the Wabanaki Nations as well as the descendants of all Indigenous Nations.”
Dick Campbell, a former Republican state legislator from Orrington and lead organizer of the tall ships festival, said July 9 in a statement that the group “failed to appreciate the symbolic significance of bringing the replica of the Santa Maria to port.”
While the ship’s journey to Bangor was canceled, the vessel remained in Maine, offering paid tours.
Angel Rosa, project manager for the vessel, declined Friday to discuss the controversy, though he did say he and other members of the ship’s crew, most of whom are Spaniards, met with tribal representatives in Bucksport and had a good conversation.
When the ship was in Bucksport, he said, it was “packed” with people who bought tickets. Many had hoped to see the Nao Santa Maria when it was in Bangor.
“The idea is to commemorate the original journey,” Rosa said of rebuilding the ship, which was launched in Spain in March 2018. “We celebrate maritime history, and that journey changed the world, for better or worse.”
Abram Allard of Bucksport, who took a tour of the boat Friday with his wife and young children, appreciated having a chance to see the boat. The family enjoyed the exhibits on board, which show how the sailors of Columbus’ day lived, the route they took across the ocean, and how the replica ship was built with traditional tools.
“It’s part of history,” Allard said, when asked about the tribes’ objections. “[The ship’s operators] didn’t make it to offend anybody. They did it to preserve maritime history.”
The Nao Santa Maria’s next planned stop is in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where it will dock and be open for tours from July 29 through Aug. 1.