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Who first combined the lateen and square sails that led to the carrack?

Who first combined the lateen and square sails that led to the carrack?

In the middle ages the square sail was used in the Atlantic cogs, whereas in the Mediterranean the lateen sail was used due to its more flexible use.

The combination of both sails into one ship happened in Iberia and led to the Age of Discovery, as it enabled oceanic expeditions to be undertaken.

This discovery appears to have happened around the time of Prince Henry the Navigator, and he certainly made good use of it. Was he involved in the development of this ship? If not, who came up with the idea of putting the two kinds of sails together?

There were a lot of other incremental developments that led to the carrack, but for purposes of this question I'm only interested in the merging of the two types of sails. Wikipedia just glosses over this aspect.

As the Portuguese gradually extended their explorations and trade ever further south along Africa's Atlantic coast during the 15th century they needed a larger and more advanced ship for their long oceanic adventures. Gradually, they developed the carrack from a fusion and modification of aspects of the ship types they knew operating in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean and a new, more advanced form of sail rigging that allowed much improved sailing characteristics in the heavy winds and waves of the Atlantic ocean.

So this was a gradual process. Earlier Carracks used clinker planking rather than carvel planking. There was no first carrack or definite date of the first carrack. Many older carvel sere modified into carracks by adding a foresail, a square mainsail, and a lateen mizzen. However, most left off the high forecastle and the sternplace. These were called caravela redonda (not to be confused with the Portugese fighting ship of the 16th cenury of the same name). The Niña was a caravela redonda.

The Portuguese continued to develop the Carrack well after it was considered the main beast of burden of the Age of Exploration:

A new sail, the topsail emerged above the mainsail in the late 15th Century, first as a small yard and sail on the flagstaff rising from the top, then as a full-sized sail on its own mast attached to the mainmast. Later, also the foremast got its topsail.

By the end of the reign of the carrack, a third sail, the topgallant sail had appeared in some ships above the topsail in its topgallant mast.

So the carrack continued to develop throughout the 15th century and even into the mid-16th century. The first "carrack" was probably a modified caravel. We do not know for sure who first came up with the idea, if there was but one man; if ever it has been known, it has long since been lost to history.


  • Carrack -Wikipedia

  • Caravel -Wikipedia


Square-rigged caravel

Last updated May 06, 2020 Square-rigged caravel or caravela de armada, of João Serrão (Livro das Armadas) in the 4th Portuguese India Armada (Gama, 1502)

10 Top innovations in the history of sailing

Visual depictions of sailing boats have been dated as far back as 5500 BCE, discovered on painted discs from ancient Mesopotamia found in modern day Kuwait. These sailing boats, used on the Nile River, were simple, square-rigged reed ships with a single square papyrus sail attached to a mast. Ancient civilisations including the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all used sailing boats, and many cultures and practitioners have contributed to advancements in the science and practice of sailing over the millennia.

Polynesians sailed dugout outrigger canoes to colonise islands, using sticks to create navigational charts of wave patterns and currents that experienced pilots would commit to memory. Arab, Chinese and Indian cultures all had prehistoric sailing traditions. Although Norse Viking ships supplemented sail power with oars but managed to do that cross between the Atlantic’s northern islands, and as far as North America, mostly under sail. And European societies took up the mantle of innovating sailing technologies and techniques during the so-called Age of Discovery.

Steering oars and rudders:

As sailing and navigation increased in importance, ancient cultures began to innovate and improve sailing technology. One crucial technological advancement was the steering oar — an innovation that predated more modern stern-mounted rudders and allowed for the construction of larger boats.

A steering oar was a basic lever – typically an oversized oar or board – attached amidship on the starboard (an etymological derivation of the original ‘steerboard’) side of the vessel or at the stern. The innovation allowed a helmsman to pilot the craft more accurately.

Viking ships exclusively used steering oars. Smaller boats, for example punts on English waterways, still use a basic version of the steering oar.

The invention of the stern-mounted rudder is credited to the Chinese, who came up with the idea of affixing a manoeuvrable steering apparatus to the back of a ship’s hull during or before the first century AD during the Han Dynasty. It took Western civilisations another thousand years to affix a stern-mounted rudder to ships.

Celestial navigation by the stars:

The prospect of navigating through a featureless landscape – like the sea at night – is still a daunting one for the uninitiated, and the fact that ancient cultures were able to achieve it is a testament to human ingenuity.

Celestial navigation is the method by which ancient mariners piloted in darkness or when out of sight of land. The method requires angular measurements taken between heavenly bodies and the horizon as well as accurate time keeping to keep a ship on course.

Written records of the practice go back to the mythical text of Homer’s Odyssey written nearly 3,000 years ago. In the story, the nymph Calypso tells the hero Ulysses to keep the constellation of stars known as the Bear, Ursa Major and The Big Dipper, on his left hand side while observing the position of several other constellations to aid in his position.

A structural beam that runs from a ship’s bow to its stern and sits lower than the rest of the hull, the keel was first invented by those intrepid Norse sailing men known as Vikings. Because their sailing ships were square-rigged, they were prone to making a lot of leeway when tacking close to the wind. The addition of a keel prevented this lateral movement, increased speed and made Viking ships more stable.

Initially, keels were small and didn’t increase boats’ draughts a great deal. Modern fixed keels can be quite deep and restrict yachts from sailing in shallow waters, but the innovation of fixed keels has also made designing for stability in modern boats much easier.

Many keels add ballast to boats and lower the centre of gravity, helping to keep them from capsizing. On racing yachts, for instance a canting keel provides righting momentum to keep the yachts upright.

The lateen (triangular) sail:

One of the biggest jumps in the history of sailing technology was the invention of the lateen or latin-rig sail. The lateen is a triangular sail mounted at an angle and running in a fore-and-aft direction. With a manoeuvre called ‘tacking,’ the sail allows boats to make way to windward in a zig-zagging fashion.

Though its exact origin is unknown, the lateen sail is the earliest-known fore-and-aft rigged sail and was in use in Greece in the first century BC. It is believed to have been introduced to the Mediterranean region by Arabic or Persian sailors. Polynesians also invented a mastless lateen-rigged sail that is very different in construction from that used in the Mediterranean.

The lateen sail effectively allowed for the advent of the Age of Discovery.

The carrack and the first circumnavigation of the earth:

It was a carrack ship that completed the first full circumnavigation of the world. It took the Spanish expedition two captains and nearly four years to make the voyage. Portuguese captain Ferdinand Magellan, who initially led the expedition, set off from Spain in 1519 and died in the Philippines in 1521. Juan Sebastian Elcano brought the carrack ship Victoria – the only one of five ships that started the expedition to survive the trip – back to Spain in 1522.

Carracks were three- to four-masted sailing ships developed by Genoan sailors in the 15th century for use in commerce. Their spacious cargo holds made them good for long-distance exploration and they were important in advancing European colonial expansion leading up to the Age of Discovery. Ocean-going ships that were large enough to be stable in heavy seas, carracks were square-rigged on the fore and main masts and lateen-rigged on the mizzenmast.

Marine engines:

The carrack was by no means the final word in ship design, and faster ships – like the clippers – succeeded it and shortened the duration of trips to transport goods and people around the world. But the next major advancement in marine technology was the engine.

The first marine engines were steam powered and were adapted for ships nearly a century after Thomas Newcomen created the first commercially successful steam engine in 1712.

Scottish engineer William Symington built the world’s “first practical steamboat,” the Charlotte Dundas, in 1802. The first transatlantic trip by steamboat happened 17 years later in 1819 when another ship named Savannah sailed from Savannah, Georgia, in the US to Liverpool, England. Innovation of the technology continued throughout the 19th century and was eventually overtaken by diesel-powered engines. The obvious impact of the technology was to enable ships to sail at consistent speeds even when winds or sailing conditions were unfavourable.

The advent of Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) has made sailing a much safer endeavour.

EIPRBs are tracking transmitters that communicate with the Cospas-Sarsat service, an international satellite system used for search and rescue (SAR) operations.

Although they can be manually activated, EPIRBs provide an additional measure of safety in catastrophic situations by the fact that they are automatically activated when, for example, a boat capsizes. The beacons send out a distress signal monitored by a worldwide system of satellites that aid rescue efforts to find survivors.

According to the Cospas-Sarsat service, since its beginnings in 1979, distress radio beacons have assisted in the rescue of tens of thousands of people in distress situations.

GPS navigation:

With the rather complex history of navigational techniques we’ve noted – from celestial to stick charts – a reliable way to find the position of your boat on the open ocean is of crucial importance.

The latest leap forward in navigation came when boats began to be equipped with GPS units. Operating in fundamentally the same way as the Sat Nav that guides you while you drive, Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers have made marine navigation less dependent on paper charts and more dependent on electronic ones.

GPS receivers are part of a space-based navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites.

We’ve come a long way since the days of sailing by the stars. Now we’re sailing with the aid of heavenly bodies that are man made.

Internet on board:

Yes, believe it or not, it’s possible to logon and login while sitting on a boat in the middle of the ocean. But it’s not cheap.

The democratisation of information has hit the high seas with satellite internet options available far away from land and high-speed wi-fi from on-shore hotspots or personal hotspots transmitted via mobile phone.

The problem, however, is that the price is not very democratic. Depending on your desire for data, you can spend thousands on keeping connected.

According to service and hardware provider Global Marine Networks, the hardware setup for satellite internet can cost anywhere from $3,000 to over $15,000. And monthly tariffs run from $50 for email and weather data or into the thousands if you’re a heavy user.

Of course, costs will decrease as technology improves, and the fact that it’s even possible to stay connected to loved ones or even stream a movie while at sea is another sign that we’re living in a world only predicted by science fiction.

4.05 Age of Discovery

Carrack: Carracks were ships carrying three or four masts and lateen sails. They had high, rounded sterns and were faster, more maneuverable, and more seaworthy than caravels.

Compass: A compass that has a magnetized needle that points toward Earth's magnetic north used for direction.

Prince Henry the Navigator: Under his leadership, Portuguese sailors managed to make it as far south as Senegal on the African coast. Prince Henry died in 1460, but his desire for exploration was taken up by many others.
In that year, Pedro de Sintra reached Sierra Leone. Other Portuguese explorers sailed farther south, crossing the equator (a first for Europeans) in 1487. One Portuguese explorer, Diogo Co, even ventured inland along the Congo River.

Bartolomeu Dias: Under his leadership, Portuguese sailors managed to make it as far south as Senegal on the African coast. Prince Henry died in 1460, but his desire for exploration was taken up by many others.
In that year, Pedro de Sintra reached Sierra Leone. Other Portuguese explorers sailed farther south, crossing the equator (a first for Europeans) in 1487. One Portuguese explorer, Diogo Co, even ventured inland along the Congo River.

Vasco da Gama: The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama set sail from his native land in 1497. The men aboard his fleet of four ships sought a sea route from Europe to India, which was the hub of the spice trade. They sailed south and around today's Cape of Good Hope, and then northeast up the eastern coast of Africa and across the Indian Ocean.
On May 20, 1498, da Gama and his men reached Calicut, a city on India's southwestern coast. Da Gama negotiated a good trade deal between India and Portugal. When he returned home in 1499, he was treated as a hero.

Ferdinand Magellan: Financed by the Spanish king, Magellan and his explorers headed out into the Atlantic Ocean in August 1519. His fleet headed south across the ocean and landed in Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America. From there, Magellan and his fleet made the perilous journey through the rough waters of today's Strait of Magellan and into the Pacific Ocean.
He was the first to link the two oceans by ship. From there, Magellan sailed across the immense Pacific. Magellan died in a battle with indigenous people in the Philippines, but what remained of his boats and crew finally returned in triumph to Spain in 1522. Magellan had led humanity's first round-the-world voyage.

The Dutch: The Dutch were eager to take advantage of the profits of exploration. In the late 16th century, several wealthy businessmen in Amsterdam began discussing the idea of financing a voyage to the East. Ultimately, they equipped four ships which sailed around Africa and reached Indonesia. The voyage proved very costly to the men, many of whom died. However, the pepper and nutmeg that they returned with managed to bring a profit for the financers.

John Cabot: While many think of John Cabot as an English explorer, he was actually from Genoa in modern-day Italy, where he was known as Giovanni Caboto. He was, however, commissioned by England to explore areas for the crown. He and his son's explorations furthered the English interest in profiting from exploration. However, it was not until much later that the English took an active role in exploring areas to the east. Christopher Columbus, commissioned by Spain, was also from Genoa. Consider what you know about the rise of the Italian city-states.

Caravela de Armada

The Caravela de Armada, fundamentally similar in design, was a sub-type of square-rigged caravel, created to meet the needs of war and protection of the Portuguese Armadas, especially influential in the sixteenth century. Apparently it was the conjugated need to carry more cargo and have more heavy artillery on board that led to increases in the square-rigged caravel. In order to keep the center of gravity low, so as not to compromise the stability, were increased the draft and the hull of the ship, thus enabling the existence of several decks (covered) inside. [5]


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Small Ships Offered Advantages𠅋ut Also Discomforts

Small caravels like the Ni༚ and Pinta could only carry between 40 and 50 tons and were crewed by fewer than 30 sailors each. Their lightweight design and rounded bottom meant that they rode high in the water. This proved critical when Columbus needed to navigate the shallow island coastlines near modern-day Cuba.

The bulkier Santa Maria, which was a 110-ton cargo ship called a nau, ran aground on Christmas Day 1492 and had to be abandoned.

Yet the main advantage of the Spanish caravel, namely its compact size, was also its greatest disadvantage. Life aboard a short ship like the Ni༚ or Pinta would have been absurdly crowded and uncomfortable.

Unlike the Santa Maria, which at least had tiny cabins where sailors could sleep between eight-hour shifts, the Ni༚ and Pinta had a single small deck at the rear of the ship with only one cramped cabin reserved for the captain.

“If you’re a sailor on a caravel, you’re living on the deck and sleeping on the deck,” says Marc Nucup, public historian at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. “You’re trying to stay out of the way of the sailors who are working. There’s almost no private space.”

Work was relentless on any 15th-century ship. The 20 sailors on the Ni༚ and the 26 crewing the Pinta would have been constantly engaged with adjusting the rigging, trimming the sails, inspecting for leaks and plugging them with spongy scraps of old rope called oakum.

�thedrals, castles and ships—those were the most complicated things that humans had built up until that time,” says Nucup. “There was always something to do.”

The round-the-clock workload meant that even if you were off-duty, good luck trying to sleep on the deck while the other sailors stomped around you. Hammocks weren’t yet in use on ships in the 15th century, says Nucup.

Christopher Columbus and his crew.

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images


Unger, Richard W. The Ships in the Medieval Economy, 600�. Montreal, CA: McGill–Queen’s University Press. 1980.

Lewis, Archibald R., and Timothy J. Runyan. European Naval and Maritime History, 300�. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.

Wilson, David M. The Vikings and Their Origins. New York: A & W Publishers, 1980.

Rogers, John G. Origins of Sea Terms. Boston: Nimrod Press, 1984.

———. Naval Warfare under Oars. 4th to 16th Centuries. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1940.

Wedde, Michael. Towards a Hermeneutics of Aegean Bronze Age Ship Imagery. Mannheim: Bibliepolis, 2000.

Famous Carracks

  • Santa María, in which Christopher Columbus made his first voyage to America in 1492. flagship of Vasco da Gama, in the 1497 Portuguese expedition from Europe to India by circumnavigating Africa.
  • Flor do Mar or Flor de la Mar, as it was called, served over nine years in the Indian Ocean, sinking in 1512 with Afonso de Albuquerque after the conquest of Malacca with a huge booty, making it one of the legendary lost treasures.
  • Victoria, the first ship in history to circumnavigate the globe (1519 to 1522), and the only survivor of Magellan's expedition for Spain.
  • La Dauphine, Verrazzano's ship to explore the Atlantic coast of North America in 1524.
  • Grande Hermine, in which Jacques Cartier first navigated the Saint Lawrence River in 1535. The first European ship to sail on this river past the Gulf.
  • Santo António, or St. Anthony, the personal property of King John III of Portugal, wrecked off Gunwalloe Bay in 1527, the salvage of whose cargo almost led to a war between England and Portugal.
  • Great Michael, a Scottish ship, at one time the largest in Europe. and Peter Pomegranate, built during the reign of Henry VIII — English military carracks like these were often called great ships.
  • Grace Dieu, commissioned by Henry V of England. One of the largest ships in the world at the time.
  • Santa Catarina do Monte Sinai, a war ship built in India by the Portuguese
  • Santa Anna, a particularly modern design commissioned by the Knights Hospitaller in 1522 and sometimes hailed as the first armoured ship. chartered to a group of merchants in 1563 by Queen Elizabeth. Jesus of Lübeck became involved in the Atlantic slave trade under John Hawkins.
  • Madre de Deus, which was seized by the Royal Navy off Flores Island. Built in Lisbon during 1589, she was one of the world's largest ships. She was captured by the English in 1592 with an enormously valuable cargo from the East Indies that is still considered as the second-largest treasure ever captured.
  • Cinco Chagas presumed to have been the largest and richest ship to ever sail to and from the Indies until then, it exploded and sank at the Action of Faial in 1594.
  • Santa Catarina, Portuguese carrack which was seized by the Dutch East India Company off Singapore in 1603.
  • Nossa Senhora da Graça, Portuguese carrack sunk in a Japanese attack near Nagasaki in 1610
  • Peter von Danzig, ship of the Hanseatic League in 1460s-1470s.
  • La Gran Carracca, the ship of the Order of St. John during their rule over Malta


The word galleon 'large ship' comes from Old French galion 'armed ship of burden' or from (Castilian) Spanish galeón 'galleon, armed merchant ship', (perhaps via Italian galeone 'big galea, big galley' [4] ) from Medieval Greek galea 'galley', to which the French or Spanish augmentative suffix -on is added. [5] Another possible origin is the Old French word galie 'galley' [6] also from Medieval Greek galea. [7] The galea was a warship of the Byzantine navy, and its name may be related to the Greek word galeos 'dogfish shark'. [8] The term was originally given to certain types of war galleys in the Middle Ages.

The Annali Genovesi mention galleons of 60, 64 and 80 oars, used for battle and on missions of exploration, in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is very likely that the galleons and galliots mentioned in the accounts of the crusades were the same vessels. [ citation needed ] In the early 16th century, the Venetian galleoni were a new class of galley used to hunt down pirates in the Mediterranean.

Later, when the term started to be applied to sail-only vessels, it meant, like the English term "man-of-war", any large warship that was otherwise no different from the other sailing ships of the time. [ citation needed ]

In the beginning of the 16th century, a lowering of the carrack's forecastle and elongation of the hull gave the ocean-going galleons an unprecedented level of stability in the water, and reduced wind resistance at the front, leading to a faster, more maneuverable vessel. The galleon differed from the older types primarily by being longer, lower and narrower, with a square tuck stern instead of a round tuck, and by having a snout or head projecting forward from the bows below the level of the forecastle. In Portugal at least, Portuguese carracks were usually very large ships for their time (often over 1,000 tons), while galleons were mostly under 500 tons, although the Manila galleons were to reach up to 2,000 tons. With the introduction of the galleon in Portuguese India Armadas during the first quarter of the 16th century, [9] [10] carracks' armament was reduced as they became almost exclusively cargo ships (which is why the Portuguese carracks were pushed to such large sizes), leaving any fighting to be done to the galleons. One of the largest and most famous of Portuguese galleons was the São João Baptista (nicknamed Botafogo, "Spitfire"), a 1,000-ton galleon built in 1534, said to have carried 366 guns. [ citation needed ]

Carracks also tended to be lightly armed and used for transporting cargo in all the fleets of other Western European states, while galleons were purpose-built warships, and were stronger, more heavily armed, and also cheaper to build (five galleons could cost around the same as three carracks) and were therefore a much better investment for use as warships or transports. There are disputes about its origins and development but each Atlantic sea power built types suited to its needs, while constantly learning from their rivals. It was the captains of the Spanish navy, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and Álvaro de Bazán, who designed the definitive long and relatively narrow hulled galleon for Spain in the 1550s. [11] [12]

The galleon was powered entirely by wind, using sails carried on three or four masts, with a lateen sail continuing to be used on the last (usually third and fourth) masts. They were used in both military and trade applications, most famously in the Spanish treasure fleet, and the Manila galleons. While carracks played the leading role in early global explorations, galleons also played a part in the 16th and 17th centuries. In fact, galleons were so versatile that a single vessel might be refitted for wartime and peacetime roles several times during its lifespan. The galleon was the prototype of all square-rigged ships with three or more masts for over two and a half centuries, including the later full-rigged ship.

The principal warships of the opposing English and Spanish fleets in the 1588 confrontation of the Spanish Armada were galleons, with the modified English race-built galleons developed by John Hawkins proving decisive, while the capacious Spanish galleons, designed primarily as transports, showed great endurance in the battles and in the great storms on the voyage home most survived the ordeal.

Watch the video: Different Sail Types Explained 9 Types of Sails (January 2022).