In the 15th Century, Western Europeans were consistently venturing further into Atlantic waters for empirical conquest and economic trade. As such, the various involved companies required a very reliable ship to brave the vastness of the sea and its inherently powerful storms while, at the same time, holding enough cargo to make the trip a profitable one. The "Carrack" class of cargo ship, for her time, was a state-of-the-art design made in increasingly different sizes from shipbuilders based in Spain, Portugal, France and other nations with a coast.
Despite their different harbors of origin, these vessels shared some characteristics that were rather standard in their designs. Their profiles were characterized by the use of three or four sailed masts. The foremost mast (known simply as the "Foremast") sported a square rig sail that was mounted onto horizontal wooden spars perpendicular to the to the keel of the ship. The "Main Mast" was located at amidships and was the largest mast fitting, normally using a square-rigged sail. The aft-most mast was known as the "Mizzen Mast" and was noted for being usually shorter than the Main. The sail on the Mizzen Mast was a triangle lateen rig set on a long spar called a "yard" and this would be mounted at an angle on the mast. These ships all had a large bowsprit with a sail as well.
The Carrack of surface ship had a large aftcastle with a slightly smaller forecastle. The aftcastle was used for steering and a platform to attack other ships during boarding actions with the use of muskets and small cannonades. The forecastle was used for defense and tended to make navigation somewhat difficult. The stern was rounded and the main deck was large to support a large crew and appropriate cannon armament. Such an arrangement made the Carrack a little top heavy but, as mentioned, she was primarily constructed for long voyages at sea and not naval combat. The quarters below were expectedly cramped as much of the hull was dedicated for the storage of supplies and any present cargo.
The main deck was large to accommodate the equally expansive crew numbering some fifty men and, at times, cannon. The wide beam measured in at 25 feet and her length was approximately 75 feet. These measurements related to the design concepts of the day and her purpose of being a long-range ship. The sailing warships and cargo ships of the future would eventually reduce the width of the beam as compared to the length of the ship in an effort to streamline the vessel for the purpose of improved speed.
The Carrack proved a popular design during its reign in naval history. She was the basis of several notable long voyages that changed the course of history on several occasions. Such famous Carracks included those as used by explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492. Interestingly, he was noted as disliking the ship, calling the Santa Maria a "cow" because of her difficulty in steering and general navigation. Explorer Ferdinand Magellan also used a Carrack class vessel when circumnavigating the globe in 1519, proving the design as reliable for the long journey.
Such was the value of the Carracks that they were constructed and sailed into the Sixteenth Century before being replaced by improved long range ship types.
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