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During the Renaissance, there were a number of advances in ship design that saw ships get bigger, more sea worthy and adaptable to meet the needs of exploration and discovery, defense and war, as well as trade and commerce.

We spent our time studying three classes of ships: the carrack, the caravel, and the galleon.

Ship Terminology

"What is that part called?", you ask. Here is a labeled diagram that you can understand what all the parts of a ship are called.

a) Bowsprit Sail b) Waterline c) Bowsprit d) Anchor e) Rudder f) Mizzen Mast g) Mizzen Sail
h) Main Mast i) Crowsnest j) Top Sail k) Main Sail l) Foresail m) Foremast n) Bowsprit Mast

Here are some of the diagrams we drew together. And some of the words we learned.


The Carrack

Probably the best known carrack was the Santa Maria the ship Columbus sailed in 1492 when he tried to find the Western route to China. He found the Carribean instead (much like Cabot found Canada). Here is a photographed model of the Santa Maria.

Carracks could come in many sizes but were typically quite large and cumbersome. They were considered "state of the art" when they were designed.

The characteristics of carracks are:

Columbus called his ship a "cow" for being difficult to maneuver. In fact, the Santa Maria sank when she ran aground in the Carribean when Columbus first sailed there.

The Caravel

In response to the large and bulky carrack, the caravel was designed. Columbus sailed two caravels (the Nina and Pinta) and John Cabot sailed a caravel (the Matthew) when he set sail in 1497.

They became prefered ships for exploration because their smaller size allowed them to be more steerable and able to go closer to shore without running aground. They were capable, sturdy long distance ships that could be managed with a moderately sized crew (Cabot only had 19 sailors).

Here is a picture of the Matthew:

Caravels were very seaworthy and not prone to the problems that plagued the carrack.

The characteristics of caravels are:

Caravels proved themselves to be quite capable sturdy little ships for trade or exploration. They weren't well suited for war and so a new ship was needed.

The Galleon

In response to the need for a fast, easily steered ship that could be both a ship of exploration and war the galleon was developed. The Spanish were the first to start building galleons for the transport of riches from the Far East and the newly discovered gold of the Carribean. The Spanish started becoming aggressive and the English who were also interested in expanding their empire soon felt the need to defend their territory. The Spanish Armada was created to try to defeat England and they tried three times to destroy the English Navy. But the English were triumphant with tactics and new ship designs that defeated the Spanish.

Here is a picture of a galleon:

The characteristics of galleons are:

Because of their versatility, galleons were used well past the Renaissance into the 18th Century.

What did sailors eat?

We found out that sailors during the Renaissance ate a lot! They had to work very hard and had to eat over 6000 calories a day (nearly twice as much as we eat today). The list of provisions that John Cabot took with him was extensive:

The sailors of the day had a problem with a lack of Vitamin C which lead to SCURVY. Scurvy causes bleeding gums, teeth to fall out, and bruises all over the body. Untreated, it can be deadly. It wasn't until it was found that citrus fruits could cure scurvy (and prevent it) that sailors started living longer.

Another thing that surprised us was that the sailors drank a GALLON (four litres) of beer a day! It is a wonder they didn't stumble overboard and drown from drinking so much!

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