The World of Gerard van Oost and Oludara

Posts Tagged ‘transport’


In “The Fortuitous Meeting”, the Spaniard-turned-native Piraju tells Gerard, “I was a sailor on the Spanish carrack Madre de Dios, which shipwrecked here in All Saints’ Bay in 1535.”

The carrack (“nau” in Portuguese) was one of the most important ships during the Age of Discovery.  It had three or four masts, and used a combination of square-rigged and lateen-rigged sails.

Vasco de Gama’s Nau São Gabriel


Much larger larger than its predecessors, the caravel and round caravel, the carrack displaced up to 600 tons.  This allowed it to carry more weight, making it suitable for longer exploration voyages, for trade, and for war.

Both the carrack and caravel were used by explorers like Cabral, de Gama, Magellan, and Columbus.


Replica of Christopher Columbus’s Carrack Santa Maria, 1904

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)


The Santa Maria at anchor, Andries van Eertvelt

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The carrack was succeeded by the galleon, a ship with up to two times the displacement.  However, the carrack continued to be used into the seventeenth century.

For a technical discussion of the carrack, Rick Spilman recently wrote an excellent article entitled Spec Tech: Designing a Ship for a Fantasy Novel.

Replica of Pedro Cabral’s flagship

(Photo by Christopher Kastensmidt)


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.