As he sailed into uncharted waters in 1492, Christopher Columbus encountered plenty of difficulties, including problems with the crew. And he never did get where he thought he was going. That sounds like an apt description of the presidential commission trying to plan the 500th anniversary celebration of Columbus's voyage to America.

Congress gave the commission a small budget in 1985 to pay for staff and office space, while commission members were recruited from the business world. The idea was to pay for the 1992 celebration through business donations and corporate sponsorships.The highlight of the celebration is supposed to be construction of replicas of Columbus' three ships. The ships are to follow Columbus' route to America and visit 50 U.S. ports.

Like Columbus, who had trouble getting his own financial backing, the commission is $600,000 in debt for the ships, which are being built in Spain. The ships were originally financed by a donation from Texaco, but the company halted contributions in September after raising questions about the commission's management.

Chrysler was supposed to provide another $1 million, but the company has held up the donation because of unspecified contractual questions. And some corporate sponsors are unhappy because they have found their exclusive rights to use the Columbus logo on souvenirs isn't so exclusive after all. Getting money from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella couldn't have been much harder for Columbus.

The latest blow is the disclosure that a close friend of the commission has ties to a company doing business with the commission. The chairman has resigned. There is mutiny in the ranks.

About all that can still go wrong is for the three replica ships to fall off the edge of the Earth during their voyage and never make it to America.