Called “caravela” in Portuguese, the caravel is one of the most amazing ships in naval history.  It was used by the Portuguese from the 15th through the 18th centuries!  However, it did go through many modifications along the way, some of them significant.

The early caravels were around 20×6 meters and had a displacement (mass) of 50 tons.  Their design was based on earlier Middle Eastern ships.  They used two or three masts with lateen sails which allowed them to sail against the wind.  Caravels had the advantage of being small and agile, often used for advanced transport and exploration before sending in larger cargo ships like the carrack and galleon.

This versatile ship helped make Portugal one of the world’s great naval powers in the fifteenth century.

Lateen Caravel

(Image: Brazilian Navy)

Later versions combined three lateen-sail masts with a foremast of two “round sails” (actually square sails which billowed out roundly in the wind).  The dimensions increased to around 30 meters long and a displacement of 150 tons.  This new design became known as the “caravela redonda” (round caravel).  The square sails increased speed, while the augmented size allowed the addition of cannons, so the ships could be used for combat as well as transport and exploration.


(Image: Livro de Lisuarte de Abreu – 16th century)

In “The Fortuitous Meeting”, Gerard speaks of his trip from Europe to Brazil in a Caravel.

7 Responses to “Caravel”

  1. elenar

    Just an old sailor with some friendly info. A sailing vessel (or any vessel designed to sail the seas) doesn’t weigh 50 tons, it only weighs its anchor. When speaking about the ‘tons’ of a vessel, it refers to the amount of water it displaces, as in ‘a Caravela displaces as little as 50 tons and up to 150 tons.’

    Truly enjoyed your story and look forward to more as well as a novel or two or three or more. Very well written.

  2. Ibrahima Seck

    I would like to use the picture of the caravel for a permanent exhibit at the Whitney museum which I am the director. Please let me know if you have a high resolution version and the conditions of use. Nice website!

  3. Ibrahima Seck

    Thanks for putting me in touch with Amora. The piece “Arrival in Salvador” will be displayed at the Whitney plantation Museum of slavery. Do you know the author of the original drawing?

    • Christopher Kastensmidt

      That’s wonderful news!
      By “original drawing”, you mean the piece that was up here before? I don’t know the author, I’m pretty sure it was an old textbook drawing, as it appears on a lot of websites.

  4. Ibrahima Seck

    Yes I am referring to the old picture. Amora’s painting is gorgeous. We ail blow it up and apply to a wide surface. Please visit us near New Orleans whenever you get in this area.

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