Caravels: Blue Water Sailing Ships

Sketch of a Caravel

The caravel is a sail ship type invented in the 1200s. It is a sturdy design, usually with three or four masts, carrying a crew of twenty or more as well as a cargo. It was the first ship capable of transporting a cargo over long distances, traversing deep water environments with rough seas.



A lateen rig is a kind of triangular sail on a spar which is set at a 45° angle. The approximate center of the spar is connected at the approximate center of the mast.


The ship was used primarily by nations situated on the Iberian Peninsula, particularly Portugal, Castile, and Catalonia. It had a gently sloping bow, and normally a raised area on the stern (aft portion of the ship). The sails could be square rigged or lateen rigged depending on sea conditions or wind direction. Its design allowed it to sail, by tacking, to windward - making it more capable of dealing with variable winds on long journeys.

Originally the caravel may have been an adaptation of North African or Arabic ships designed for fishing and trade in the Atlantic called Qaribs1. The Portuguese adopted it first for fishing. However, its advanced speed and maneuverability brought it notice from prominent individuals within the Portuguese government. Soon caravels were being used as light warships. The ship came into its own when it came to be used for exploration. It was adopted by the early Portuguese and Spanish explorers during the Age of Exploration for extremely long range expeditions around Africa and eventually by Christopher Columbus. Two of the ships that went on the first expedition to the new world, the Niña and the Pinta were caravels.


  1. History of the Caravel

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