Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Of Caravela Latinas & Bowsprits

The notion of bowsprits on caravela latina is an unusual one for me. On purely lateen rigged vessels, bowsprits should serve very little purpose. Yet, is it possible that some caravela latina carried them?
It was when I purchased a copy of Robert Marx's "The Voyage of the Niña II" in 1991 that I had my first view of such a rig. The Niña II, built by Carlos Etayo, was a hybrid, capable of carrying both square and lateen. Based upon the rather critical review given it by Jose Maria Martinez-Hidalgo in "Columbus' Ships", I, too, gave it very little consideration, though I did build a model of it.
I started giving this slightly more consideration in 2000, when examining a drawing found in "Columbus' Ships". On page 20, there is a drawing, an "artistic interpretation" by Joaquim Melo, of a Portuguese caravela latina with a bowsprit. This is based on an original located in the Convento da Madre de Deus in Lisbon. The caravel carries a bowsprit as well as an unusual spritsail that appears to be bent directly to the bowsprit.
I did an interpretation of the drawing, changing the spritsail to a more regular design. Otherwise, I tried to keep the details as close as possible to the original. This is where the problems arise.

Portuguese Caravel, interpretation by Joaquim Melo

R.Little interpretation, July 2000

On Melo's interpretation, there is a mainstay running from the bowsprit to the top of the main mast. Such an arrangement would interfere with the operation of the huge main yard. This isn't to say that it can't be done, but the way the caravel tacks would have to be considerably different. 
A similar rig is to be found on a piece by artist Joseph Wheatley in "Historic Sail". His "A Caravela Latina of 1480" carries three masts and a bowsprit. The text states that the drawing is based upon models found in Lisbon and Faro, Portugal, but trying to pin down a prototype has proven difficult. In  many ways, the design is similar to the d'Albertis Niña, but more closely resembles the replica built for the 1892 four hundredth anniversary. That vessel was considered an abject failure; it was a converted sail coaster, and was almost completely unsailable. This was due to the fact that the stern was shortened during the conversion, leaving the run of the hull too short.

Niña, 1892, Courtesy US Library of Congress

It seemed, therefore, that the subject of the model used by Wheatley was based on the 1892 replica, leaving the subject of bowsprits and caravela latinas a potential dead end.
It took researching another caravel interpretation for me to stumble upon yet another bowsprit equipped caravela latina. I was researching the d'Albertis caravel designs and decided to see how they influenced later designs. It was when I did a search for information by Adm. Julio Fernando Guillen y Tato, who designed a replica of the Santa Maria as a caravel, that I stumbled upon a page that showed a model of the Niña designed by Luis Segal and based upon the work of Guillen y Tato.

A little more searching, and the plans themselves were located online. These plans date back to 1945, and are really meant for a model. The rigging plan, though, makes sense, and the bowsprit figures into the plan logically. When I investigated further, I found that I had seen this design before, in an illustration  by John  Bachelor for the Time-Life book "The Explorers". As before, I assumed this was based upon the 1892 design.
This plan appears to be very similar to the caravela latina model used by Joseph Wheatley, though it also appears to be more a source of inspiration. If, indeed, the Segal design is based upon the work of Guillen y Tato, then we can at least rest assured that there is a fair degree of scholarship behind it, though his work was wrong about the Santa Maria (something he later admitted). I must admit, however, that I remain skeptical as to this caravela latina model's heritage; it is simply too similar to the 1892 vessel.

The Luis Segal (Guillen y Tato?) Niña, from
"Modelismo Navale", 1945

The second item was an order for a "calavera" by one Gracia Amat in 1465. Martin Malcolm Elbl, in his paper "The Portuguese Caravel And European Shipbuilding: Phases of Development and Diversity", has, on page 571, an appendix dedicated to the subject. There, based upon the information from the initial contract, is a line drawing of the vessel. It is rather caravel-like in appearance (one can't help but wonder if calavera was a transcription error; it means "skull"), and carries a bowsprit as well as two masts. According to Elbl, it may have carried a square sail (pg. 563), and was fairly small.

"Calavera" of Gracia Amat, 1465,
by Martin Elbl

This design was clearly an inspiration to Carlos Etayo and his work. In the line drawing, you can see how very closely it resembles Etayo's Niña II (and later Niña III). 
So, we come full circle, back to Etayo.

Whether Etayo's design was faulty or not, it does appears that he had a basis for the mounting of a bowsprit. We can only speculate on how common a feature this was though it does show how diverse a category caravela was.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A New Caravel Considered

As previously mentioned, there is a caravel building in Saint Augustine, the Espiritu, a caravela redonda from the early 16th century. I only found out about this recently, and from reports, they are already fairly far along.
I did have some initial concerns about some of the details of the vessel. The fact is that caravels are still somewhat enigmatic, at least from the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and of course all references prior. This was when the age of exploration was well underway, and the caravel was, paraphrasing Dr. Roger Smith in a talk he gave in October 1992, the equivalent of the space shuttle. What had started out as a humble fishing and cargo vessel had become the preferred vessel for exploration along the coasts of Africa and the New World. 
Looking at the images of caravels from that period, one thing is clear; there may have been common features, but it is very likely that individual caravels were probably unique. The most common features, such as the rig, were based not just on tradition but on experience. There are many images from that period that show a variety of subtle differences to the hulls as well, such the presence or absence of fender cleats, or bows that were either sharp or bluff. Some appear to have had fairly short quarterdecks, if any at all, whilst others had fairly long ones. 
The caravel was essentially a large boat, and had a hull that looked very boat-like. That modern wooden fishing boats would carry on that shape is simply a given, especially those that followed traditional designs yet slowly evolved in time. 
That is the case with many small vessels built in parts of Latin America, and of course Saint Augustine, where Majorcan shipwrights carried on their traditional building and passed these techniques on to future generations. In other words, strip away the cabin, the booms, engines and screws, and the remaining hull is an evolved descendant of those vessels that plied the oceans so long ago.
I wanted to compare the Apple Jack/Espiritu to one of my favorite replicas, the Santa Clara, also known as the Niña. This vessel has been afloat since December 1991, and is considered by many the most accurate caravel replica built. It carries a four masted rig, based upon findings by Dr. Eugene Lyons of Saint Augustine in the 1980's. I have had the pleasure of having visited this caravel several times. 

Santa Clara, AKA Niña, image courtesy The Columbus Foundation

Lacking a set of working drawings of the Espiritu, I decided to take the newspaper image of the hull design and do some image correction. 

Espiritu, original image Rhonda Parker, The Examiner

Clearly, the lines of the Espiritu are not too bad. Some still might grumble about the false rudder, but I understand in this situation that some allowances have to be made. 
I hope to be visiting the Espiritu soon. When I do, you may be certain that images will be posted here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bruegel's Mystery Ships Revisited

It was none other than Bjorn Landstrom in his classic "The Ship" that may have opened up another possible explanation for the Bruegel "galleons". This is found on page 118, illustration 297. It is actually a thought I had myself; it has to do with the shape of the bow, as well as the flags the ships are carrying. 
These might be the ultimate incarnation of the caravel, and sadly an end in themselves.
I've speculated several times that the Spanish and Portuguese sought to combine the best qualities of the larger naos with the lighter, shallower caravels, and that this may have led in turn to the Iberian galleons. By the time of Bruegel's engraving, the ship that could be defined as the predecessor to their galleons, though, was already afloat.
The caravel was still in use, in various guises. A comparison of the Bruegel vessels to the larger Portuguese carabela redondas is interesting in what it reveals. In many aspects, they are clearly similar, save for the rig and the long, multi-decked sterncastles of the Bruegel ships. In essence, these could be the ultimate form of the Spanish caravela redonda. As to why the ships were built in the first place is open to speculation.
Clearly, they were heavily built for their class, whichever class that was.
My interpretation attempts to clean up the original somewhat, and I readily admit that some of the rigging is sketchy. However, this may be a fairly good guess as to what these vessels may have looked like. So many other questions remain, as no other illustrations can be found of them. They can be best thought of as an experiment. 
They are singularly unique. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Caravel for St. Augustine

Not quite sure how I missed this, but apparently there is a caravel being built in St. Augustine. "Built", really, is not the term, but converted. In this case, they are taking the last wooden shrimper built in St. Augustine, the Apple Jack, and converting it into a caravela redonda, similar to the Santa Clara, though stepping only three masts. She will also carry a top sail, trapezoidal in shape, typical for the period.
This isn't such a bad idea, really. I had dreams of doing something similar myself, due to the fact that, at least above the waterline, a shrimper looks quite a bit like what we expect a caravel should have looked like. I do worry, though, about the sail plan she'll carry, and really hope that plenty of thought has gone into that, as there are other "caravels" afloat that, if not laughable, are hysterically wrong in appearance. 
Based upon one of the images, though, it appears as though some serious consideration has been made to the hull and the masts rake, as well as "detail" above the waterline.

Image credit Rhonda Parker, examiner.com.

There are some things I could quibble with, such as the length of the quarterdeck and the shape of the bow (should be rounder), but overall I think this is an interesting project. Why Florida, and especially St. Augustine, have never had a permanent Spanish ship from this era has always puzzled me. At least the Espiritu is a start, and hopefully will do us proud.

The story in pictures - 
Applejack to 'Espiritu': Spanish Caravel will ready for upcoming celebrations