Who invented the Caravel?

The Caravel – Portuguese sailing technology

The Caravel was the Transportation technology that enabled Columbus to discover the New World.

The Caravel is the first and most famous ship of the European age of exploration. It gets its name from the shipbuilding term, carvel, which is a method of butting the planking on the hull so that the planks form a tight smooth surface. The early Caravels had all lateen or triangular sails and were very maneuverable, but later models such as those Columbus sailed in 1492 had both square and lateen rigging. The Nina and the Pinta were such ships sometimes called caravel redundas. With the square sail added these ships were both very fast and very maneuverable. Columbus’s flagship the Santa Maria was actually an older and larger ship, a carrack. She was slower and less maneuverable than her sister ships, and this is said to have caused much grumbling among the sailors aboard in 1492.

The caravel was first developed by the Portuguese early in the 15th century for exploration down the coast and on the rivers of Africa. It was the need to sail in uncharted coastal waters and up rivers that made the early caravels so small and maneuverable, and it was the addition of the square sails that made them so good for crossing the Atlantic and for exploring in the Indian Ocean. The Spanish also built ships of this design, but soon came to favor large and cumbersome galleons.

The caravel comes at the very beginning of the age of sail and of exploration, and is the direct forebear of most European sailing ships. Caravels discovered America and sailed as far around Africa as China. Many Portuguese ships carried Jesuits to new missionary territory and brought back many wondrous tales and trade goods from the Far East and America.

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