Posts Tagged ‘Henry the Navigator’

A small digression before we meet Henry the Navigator who will do much to push Europeans into the deeper oceans… any discovery of Terra Australis is also linked to the evolution of shipbuilding technology… and around the 13th & 14th century things were changing…

The Bayeux Tapestry of 1070 gives us our first clues of the type of ships in use during the middle ages. It is clear from the tapestry and other sources that the evolution of ship design was influenced by the North Men, or Vikings.
By the thirteenth century the longship had developed into a fighting galley with low castles at the stem and the stern. The Italian galley, for example, at that time was around 40m long, had a width of 5m and carried 120 oarsmen and up to 50 sailors.  It featured a single mast and a triangular sail.
Vessels were generally pretty lightly armed. Some carried small missile weapons with the crew living together on the deck. Squeezy! The galley as craft of these time were known was both a tool of war and trade and continued to evolve and grow in size and firepower to around the 16th century.

In the northern waters of Europe ships known as cogs evolved (from the Celtic flat bottomed boat). The Cog was a perfect load carrier, square rigged, carrying up to around 140 tonnes of cargo. By the 13th century, with the growth in in the scope of European trade, the Cog appeared in  Mediterranean waters.  However, with only a single mast its handling left something to be desired and was largely relegated as a cargo carrying work-horse.

However, the Cog influenced the development of the Carrack which adopted the rudder of the Cog and added a lateen rig to the mizzenmast.

Carracks became the first true ocean going vessel, with the stability and size to withstand the rigors of the deeper ocean. Carracks that were used by the Portuguese as they first ventured from their shores along the West African coast in the Atlantic.

During the 14th century another Mediterranean boat becomes central to our story of exploration. It was a lighter three masted Mediterranean lateener known as a Caravel. The origin of the Caravel is not clear, but is thought to have been influenced by Moorish ships design.

These Caravels started out quite small at 50 tonnes, but grew larger and, in the 14th century, adopted similar rigging of the Carrack (a foresail, square mainsail and lateen mizzen).

The main reasons it was also chosen by the Portuguese for exploration were its speed, ability to sail windward and its maneuverability. Indeed, it was in Carracks and Caravels that Columbus set out in for America in 1492.

And so, under the sponsorship of  Henry the Navigator, Portugal now had the technology to venture past the north coast of Africa towards the far ends of the earth…and a continent unknown…

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