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.

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