Quick, finish this phrase learned by every school child: "The Nina, Pinta, and the ..." The Santa Maria is one third of the most famous trio of ships in history -- the ship in which Christopher Columbus himself sailed -- and if a leading underwater archaeologist is correct, it's lying on the sea floor off the northern coast of Haiti.
The researcher, Barry Clifford, commanded a recent reconnaissance dive to the site, and he's certain they have found the ship's remains.
"All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus' famous flagship, the Santa Maria," Clifford told the The Independent.
Columbus set sail in the Santa Maria in 1492, alongside the Pinta and Nina, in an effort to stake out a trade route to Asia by heading west. But, instead of Asia, he found the future vacation spot of the Bahamas.
A couple of months later, the Santa Maria, with Columbus aboard, struck a reef and had to be abandoned. Its location has been a mystery for more than 500 years -- until perhaps now.
Columbus, after the wreck, built a fort nearby, and that fort -- whose probable location was determined by other archaeologists in 2003 -- figures in Clifford's assertion that he's found the Santa Maria.
Simply put, the shipwreck is in the right spot, relative to the fort, and other data points such as undersea topography, Columbus's own diary notes, and local currents seem to be a match as well.
The physical wreckage itself is not a new discovery. Clifford had already found and taken pictures of it in 2003, though at the time he did not know it was the Santa Maria. But the recent recon dives made by his team, along with a review of the 2003 dive photographs and fort location data, nudged the puzzle pieces into place.
Of particular interest in those 2003 photographs of the wreckage was what looked like the exact type of cannon documented to have been aboard the Santa Maria. The recent dives taken by the team had the goal of definitively identifying that cannon.
Unfortunately, though, the cannon and other identifiable artifacts had disappeared, most likely taken by looters.
Clifford says there's a chance the rest of the Santa Maria may be able to be hoisted to dry land and placed on public exhibition.
"The wreck has the potential to play a major role in helping to further develop Haiti’s tourism industry in the future," he said.