The Santa Maria was probably a small carrack, about 70 feet long, used as the flagship for the expedition. The other ships of the Columbus expedition were the smaller caravel-type ships Santa Clara, remembered as the Niña ("The Girl") 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 Maria was originally named La Gallega ("The Galician"), because she was built in Pontevedra, Galicia, in Spain's north-west. It seems the ship was known to her sailors as Marigalante, Spanish for "Gallant Maria". Bartolomé de Las Casas never used La Gallega, Marigalante or Santa Maria in his writings, preferring to use la Capitana or La Nao.
The Santa Maria had a single deck and three masts. She was the slowest of Columbus's vessels but performed well in the Atlantic crossing. She ran aground off the present-day site of Cap Haitien, Haiti on December 25, 1492, and was lost. Realizing that the ship was beyond repair, Columbus ordered his men to strip the timbers from the ship. The 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.