Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Catalan Caravel of 1465

In my studies of Iberian and southern European shipbuilding in the late Medieval period, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the class we refer to as "caravel" was broad. In some ways, I almost want to agree with Monleon in his assessment that the term was something of a catch-all. However, I do not necessarily believe that is the case. While Monleon believed that the word caravel not only applied to a specific class of vessel, as well as being a blanket term, what is apparent is that the so named vessels had enough familiar features as to be a class unto themselves, and not strictly any small vessel. 
The variation in caravels would eventually become very great by the mid 16th century, however what is not appreciated is the fact that a century earlier the class was also fairly diverse. This is no doubt due to regional design variation. 
Around 1465, a Catalan shipowner Gracia Amat entered into a shipbuilding contract with Miguel Joam and Pere Vicens for the construction of a small caravel of around "36 toneis" capacity. This document was researched by Carlos Etayo, and later Martin Elbl. Enough dimensions are provided that an outline of the vessel can be made. Based upon the information from Elbl's paper "The Portuguese Caravel and European Phases of Development and Diversity". The dimensions, converted to metric from palms are 4.36 meters beam, 2.19 meters depth, 13.5 meters keel, and 18.75 meters overall, with a bow height of 5.5 meters and 4.0 meters vertical at the sternpost. As I noted elsewhere in this blog, this caravel carried a bowsprit, and I am now convinced that it was rigged mainly "redonda", that is square, though I suspect that it could carry strictly lateen when such was called upon (something I believe Etayo suspected as well). The one feature of Amat's order that stood out was a call for three rudders; two lateral, one axial. 
While this may seem peculiar, Elbl notes that there was at least one other Catalan caravel so equipped. We also know that Gracia Amat had other caravels, and if this three rudder arrangement was a particular feature found on some Catalan caravels, it is probably safe to assume that the others carried thus. What advantage this arrangement may have imparted on ships can only be speculated. Perhaps it was a carry over from earlier, pre-axial rudder designs. Maybe the lateral rudders helped with stability. Regardless, here they are officially recorded. 
Using the information from Elbl's translation of the contract, I set about imagining what this vessel may have looked like. Here, only the hull has been imagined. No sails or rigging have been attempted. Some license was used for a few details. Four ports, two per side, were added for sweeps, a fairly common feature on smaller vessels of the period. The sheer on my design is a little less than Elbl indicated in his initial elevation, and of course the rake of the bow and stern can only be guessed. In order to have the three rudder arrangement work on this design, I have effectively made the hull double ended, a feature which is hard to perceive in the side elevation. What is apparent, though, is the impact Amat's contract and description had upon Carlos Etayo's caravel replicas. I was once rather critical of Etayo's work, but that was before discovering the diversity in this class of vessel. Today, I am far more forgiving of it. If these dimensions are correct, and based upon the contract they probably are, then this caravel was certainly lean, with a hull form that looks a bit more modern for the period. 
Eventually I plan on doing two sail plans for the design, but for now this is a start. It helps us to imagine these slender Catalan caravels that once plied the waters of the Mediterranean and around the greater Iberian peninsula. 

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