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Published by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. CLICK FOR NEWSPAPER DELIVERY

Tuesday, October 9, 2001

A seafaring challenge

Woman’s trip on Columbus ships makes novel come alive

By Dan Parker
Caller-Times

File photo
For each copy of ‘Challenge the Wind’ sold, the author will donate up to $7.50 to Operation Phoenix — a local effort to fix up the city’s three Columbus ship replicas.
For three years, Christine Echeverria Bender pored over historical records while working on a novel about Columbus, his crew and their first trans-Atlantic voyage.
   But some of her most important research came when she took a day-long cruise a few years ago through Corpus Christi Bay, aboard one of the city’s Columbus ship replicas.
   “That experience was absolutely huge as far as making the book more realistic,” said Bender, who lives in Boise, Idaho. “To actually have the feel of that ship was what was missing. … I actually got to pull on the lines and went down in the hold and got to be involved not just as an observer.”
   Thursday through Saturday, Bender will visit Corpus Christi to do signings for her book, “Challenge the Wind,” which was published on a wide scale for the first time in August. It is her first published novel.
Challenge the Wind
By Christine Echeverria Bender. $16.95. Paperback. 362 pages. Caxton Press

   Bender was so grateful for the opportunity to sail on the Niña two years ago that, for each copy of her book sold in the Corpus Christi area in October, she will donate up to $7.50 to Operation Phoenix — a local effort to fix up the city’s three Columbus ship replicas and get all three in sailing condition.
   Operation Phoenix is trying to raise $500,000 to repair the ships, said Marie Schade-Wood, co-founder of Operation Phoenix.
   The ships were brought to Corpus Christi from Spain in 1993, and officials hoped the vessels would be a popular tourist venue that would generate money both for the city and Spain. However, the ships lost money.
   In 1994, a barge struck the Pinta and Santa Maria. They were never returned to the water but were stored in dry dock next to the Museum of Science and History. The Nina remains docked at the Lawrence Street T-Head and is closed to visitors.
Christine Echeverria Bender book signings:
  • Thursday: 7:30 p.m. Barnes and Noble, 5129 Blanche Moore Drive
  • Friday: 9-11 a.m., Bank of America Lobby; 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Sonja’s European Restaurant, 424 N. Chaparral St.; 3-5 p.m., Art Center of Corpus Christi
  • Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Seamen’s Center, 1501 Mesquite St.

  •    The Pinta and Santa Maria exhibit was closed to tours in October 1999 but reopened in May after the city obtained liability insurance coverage on the fleet.
       Bender, who sold her accounting firm in June and is a full-time novelist, said she started doing research on Columbus and his first voyage to America because she wondered if Basques were on the Columbus ships. Bender is of Basque ancestry.
       She learned that Basques were on the ships, but she also learned a lot more.
       “I studied history in college, and there were still so many surprises, so much not known, that was not out there as far as public awareness, that happened on those voyages, and I was really determined to tell the whole story,” Bender said.
       Bender’s book reveals that the Santa Maria sank and that the Pinta deserted the fleet for a while because its skipper disagreed with how Columbus was leading the fleet.
    File photo
    Bender’s book ‘Challenge the Wind’ reveals that the Santa Maria sank and that the Pinta deserted the fleet for a while because its skipper disagreed with how Columbus was leading the fleet.

       “And there was the magnitude of what happened to the native people, how many were taken, kidnapped, taken aboard the ships and held and were taken back to Spain,” Bender said.
       Bender said she tried to portray Columbus as person he was — a human being with strengths and flaws.
       “No question, he was brave,” Bender said. “He was intelligent. He was ambitious. He had many wonderful qualities. But there was also a tenacity. He refused to accept failure. That, I think, led to actions from a modern perspective that were not admirable.”
       Using log books, crew lists, maps and studies, Bender uses historical fact to tell the story of Columbus’ first voyage through the eyes of a fictional Basque boy, Domingo Laca, who starts as a 17-year-old cabin boy and later becomes a cook on the ships.
    “The ships represent a piece of our history,” Bender said.

       “He learns firsthand the dangers and treacheries of sailing in those days,” Bender said. “And he sees what terrible fear can do to men, even brave men.”
       Bender said she’s glad to be able to help Corpus Christi’s Columbus ships.
       “The ships represent a piece of our history,” Bender said. “(The first voyage) was a huge part of what evolved in our world, and the ships represent a living, almost breathing evidence of that epic. They are extremely important, historically, and I think to see them preserved would be a magnificent contribution to our heritage.”
      
       Contact Dan Parker at 886-3753 or parkerd@caller.com
      
      



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