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Carrack fleet entering the Gironde – Carrack – new painting

The carrack (or Nau) was the forerunner of the great ships of the age of sail.  Carrack_entering_the_Gironde_IMG_6556.JPG_d.JPG

This carrack painting shows us a relatively small carrack flying Portuguese flags, leading a trading fleet into the fast flowing Gironde estuary towards Bordeaux probably for the wine trade.

The carrack was one of the most influential ship designs in history, widely used by Europe’s maritime powers.

This painting is by Gordon Frickers 485 x 610 mm (19″ x 24″), Oils, Price of the original  1.450 euros

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Our carrack:

A small ship would be chosen to sound the passage for her larger sisters, maps, bouys and charts being primitive, expensive and unreliable.  Carrack__detail_3__IMG_6563.JPG_wp.JPG

Our carrack painting shows many of the seaman like details one would have witnessed on a carrack at this time and place, how many can you spot?

Our ship was protected by castles that housed the officers aft and about 20 guns including some to cover the waist, plus swivels.

For the period a carrack was state of the art and well-armed.  Carrack__detail_2__IMG_6562.JPG_wp.JPG

The number of cannon on a carrack steadily increased as size and the decades passed.

The carrack had a profound influence on Arabian shipping, it’s design, sailing abilities, decoration and ability to literally shoot to pieces any Arab pirate dhow (and many tried) rash enough to attack a carrack.

A carrack or nau was a three- or four-masted sailing ship developed in the 15th century by the Portuguese for use in the Atlantic Ocean.

Carracks became widely used including by Vasco de Gama, Christopher Columbus and for much of Europe’s maritime commerce.

A Carrack had a strongly built hull with much tumblehome, a high rounded stern, large aftcastle, forecastle, bowsprit and bumkin.

A Carrack tended to be slower, bigger, carry more and was less able to sail against the wind than the caravel, but were steadier and safer, more comfortable for the crew.

Used for general commerce by the Portuguese and later by the Spanish,  Carracks sailed to explore and map much of the world.

The Development of the Square-Rigged Ship: carrack to full-rigger.

The Late Middle Ages witnessed gradual improvements to the Viking roundships developing into the cog, hulk, hoy and cog style square-rigged vessels.

Those ships were widely used around Europe mostly for short sea voyages and coast hopping including in the Baltic also in the Mediterranean.

The design gradually developed into the stouter Carrack and Caravel the latter with usually smaller and with lateen sails.

These ship types were familiar to Portuguese navigators and shipwrights.

The Portuguese were propelled by a desire to find a seaway to the spice islands ( and a fortune) and to spread their religion gradually extended their explorations and trade south along Africa’s Atlantic seaboard.

By the 15th century they needed a larger and more advanced ship for their increasingly long oceanic adventures.

Gradually they developed the more robust Carrack and Caravel types for operating in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean and a more advanced form rigging that improved sailing characteristics in heavy winds and waves of the Atlantic.

A typical three-masted carrack had a distinctive rig of six sails usually on 3 masts.  Carrack___detail_1__IMG_6557.JPG_wp.JPG

Often the masts were a single spar.

The sails of the fore and mainmast were cut square, the mizzen sail was triangular.

The total sail area would have been about 4,000 square feet (370 m2).

The relatively large mainsail retained its medieval appearance with a bonnet so the yard was lowered for reefing.

Topsails appeared on Carracks but were small because thus far no one had thought to fit foot ropes so working aloft in bad weather was extremely dangerous.

Spritsail on a bowsprit, foresail and mizzen lateen completed the outfit.

Carracks and caravels were the keys with which European sailors unlocked the sea routes to the east and West Indies, the America’s and much more.

The Carrack roll of honour includes among other things:

Carracks were the first European ships to reach South America, the Caribbean, to discover and penetrate Magellen’s Passage and enter the Pacific Ocean (Great South Sea), first to explore West Africa, first to round the Cape of Good hope and enter the Arab gulfs and the Indian Ocean.

This successful rugged design was still in use as late as the early 17th century.

The galleon design gradually replaced the carrack and lead directly to the English Race Galleon favoured by men like Francis Drake and thus to the first 100 gun ship, ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ and on to Nelson’s superlative HMS Victory.

Gordon Frickers July 2013 (C)