FLORENCE — Amid a volley of cannon fire from the lead ship that was returned from Florence Harbor Marina, the Niña and Pinta docked in the city Tuesday afternoon.

The replicas of two of the ships of Christopher Columbus that sailed to the New World more than 500 years ago will remain at port until departing early on the morning of July 24.

Both ships tour together as a "sailing museum" for the purpose of educating the public and school children on the caravel, a Portuguese ship used by Columbus and many early explorers, according to the Columbus Foundation, which created the projects.

While in port, the general public may view the ships for a walk-aboard, self-guided tour. Admission is $8.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors, and $6.50 for students ages 5 to 16. Children 4 and younger may tour for free.

The ships will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Although tours weren't available Tuesday, the ships drew a great deal of attention as people took photos from the docks.

"I like it. It want to ride it," 9-year-old Icysis Smith said, while her 4-year-old brother, Korbin Kamden, jumped up and down and yelled "SpongeBob" as he pointed at the ships.

Stephen Sanger, captain of the Niña, said the crew travels to some 30 U.S. ports over 10 months each year. This year, they rerouted due to flooding in the Midwest.

"We were coming this way anyway, but it was going to be in September," Sanger said.

He said it took three years to build the Niña replica, which is 65 feet long and 18 feet wide with a 7-foot draft.

The ship first set sail in 1992 to mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in the New World. It was built without the use of any power equipment, Sanger said.

"They wanted to make sure it was done correctly," he said.

Since that time, the Niña has traveled more than 500,000 miles.

The Pinta is 85 by 24 feet, which is bigger than the original but allows additional space to help accommodate visitors. It also took three years to complete, Sanger said.

He said the reactions the ships draw from children and adults alike never get old.

"It's always eyes open, jaws dropped," Sanger said. "A lot of kids are screaming that it's a pirate ship. By the time they visit it, hopefully they'll learn these weren't pirates ships but were for exploration."

If someone has an extreme interest in the sailing life, Sanger has an invitation.

"We need a cook and two ship hands, so tell your friends," he said.

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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