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In the early 15th century a caravel was termed as a Portuguese two-masted, lateen rigged and carvel-built vessel with forecastle and deckhouse, designed for trade in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast. The caravel was the “work-horse” of the Spanish and Portuguese during the Age of Exploration; a vessel that would be adapted according to the varying needs and challenges of the era. This ship allowed for the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus and the small yet durable ship was capable of sailing across oceans, making the European Age of Discovery possible as well.

The hulls of caravels were a mixture of Iberian and Arab design and were carvel-built, with the strakes, or planks, of the hull being butt-jointed along their edges; not overlapping (clinker built). This meant less drag, easier cleaning and enabled the use of shorter boards and the construction of a double hull if required. These methods were not new, but the size and rigging arrangements of caravels were vastly varied. The caravela latina was the first design change, with a slimmer hull and three masts, though still all lateen rigged. This was followed by the caravela redonda, a three masted vessel, square-rigged on the fore- and mainmast, however the mizzen retained the lateen sail as an aid to maneuverability. Topsails were eventually employed on board caravels., By the 16th century four-masted versions had appeared. A watercolour by 16th century CE Spaniard artist Monleon depicts two four-masted caravels square-rigged on only the foremast.

The success of the caravel caused an explosion in its use, and large carvel built vessels were being built in Holland and the Baltic by the second half of the fifteenth century. When Henry the Navigator began his search for a sea route to India in the 1420s one of his priorities was the development of a suitable vessel. Bartholomew Diaz sailed with two small caravels designed for poking about amongst the shoals and reefs of an unknown coast. Vasco da Gama, on the advice of Diaz, was supplied with much larger and heavily armed caravels. ColumbusNiña and Pinta were small caravels. (Santa Maria was a “Nao”, a much larger and older design, developed from the craft that had carried the Crusaders two centuries and more before.) Magellan’s fleet included large four-masted caravels.


SourcesEdit

  • "Dictionary of Ship Types", (Conway Maritime Press)
  • J. R. Parry, "The Age of Exploration", (Uni of California Press)
  • Lincoln Paine, "The Sea and Civilization", Atlantic Books, London

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