The Santa was a small carrack, or 'Nao' about 70 feet long, and was used as the flagship for the expedition. She carried 40 men.
The other ships of the Columbus expedition were the caravel-type ships Santa Clara, remembered as the Niña ('The Girl' – a pun on the name of her owner, Juan Niño) and Pinta ('The Painted' – this might be a reference to excessive makeup. All these ships were second-hand (if not third or more) and were never meant for exploration.
The Santa María was originally named La Gallega ('The Gallician'), probably because she was built in Galicia. It seems the ship was known to her sailors as Marigalante, literally 'Dirty Mary'. Bartolomé de Las Casas never used La Gallega, Marigalante or Santa María in his writings, preferring to use la Capitana or La Nao.
The Santa María had a deck and three masts. She was the slowest of Columbus' vessels but performed well in the Atlantic crossing. She ran aground off the present-day site of Môle Saint-Nicolas, Haiti on December 25, 1492, and was lost. Timbers from the ship were later used to build Môle Saint-Nicolas, which was originally called La Navidad (Christmas) because the wreck occurred on Christmas Day.
No authentic contemporary likeness of any of the three ships of the Columbus expedition is known to exist. Several replicas of the Santa Maria have been built, all based solely on conjecture.