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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus_volume 2 - Appendix - No. 16
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The Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus_volume 2 - Appendix - No. 16 Post by :kaylowe Category :Nonfictions Author :Washington Irving Date :April 2012 Read :2217

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The Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus_volume 2 - Appendix - No. 16

Appendix. No. XVI.

Of the Ships of Columbus.


In remarking on the smallness of the vessels with which Columbus made his first voyage, Dr. Bobertson observes, that, "in the fifteenth century, the bulk and construction of vessels were accommodated to the short and easy voyages along the coast, which they were accustomed to perform." We have many proofs, however, that even anterior to the fifteenth century, there were large ships employed by the Spaniards, as well as by other nations. In an edict published in Barcelona, in 1354, by Pedro IV, enforcing various regulations for the security of commerce, mention is made of Catalonian merchant ships of two and three decks and from 8000 to 12,000 quintals burden.

In 1419, Alonzo of Aragon hired several merchant ships to transport artillery, horses, etc., from Barcelona to Italy, among which were two, each carrying one hundred and twenty horses, which it is computed would require a vessel of at least 600 tons.

In 1463, mention is made of a Venetian ship of 700 tons which arrived at Barcelona from England, laden with wheat.

In 1497, a Castilian vessel arrived there being of 12,000 quintals burden. These arrivals, incidentally mentioned among others of similar size, as happening at one port, show that large ships were in use in those days. (329) Indeed, at the time of fitting out the second expedition of Columbus, there were prepared in the port of Bermeo, a Caracca of 1250 tons, and four ships, of from 150 to 450 tons burden. Their destination, however, was altered, and they were sent to convoy Muley Boabdil, the last Moorish king of Granada, from the coast of his conquered territory to Africa. (330)

It was not for want of large vessels in the Spanish ports, therefore, that those of Columbus were of so small a size. He considered them best adapted to voyages of discovery, as they required but little depth of water, and therefore could more easily and safely coast unknown shores, and explore bays and rivers. He had some purposely constructed of a very small size for this service; such was the caravel, which in his third voyage he dispatched to look out for an opening to the sea at the upper part of the Gulf of Paria, when the water grew too shallow for his vessel of one hundred tons burden.

The most singular circumstance with respect to the ships of Columbus is that they should be open vessels; for it seems difficult to believe that a voyage of such extent and peril should be attempted in barks of so frail a construction. This, however, is expressly mentioned by Peter Martyr, in his Decades written at the time; and mention is made occasionally, in the memoirs relative to the voyages written by Columbus and his son, of certain of his vessels being without decks. He sometimes speaks of the same vessel as a ship, and a caravel. There has been some discussion of late as to the precise meaning of the term caravel. The Chevalier Bossi, in his dissertations on Columbus, observes, that in the Mediterranean, caravel designates the largest class of ships of war among the Mussulmans, and that in Portugal, it means a small vessel of from 120 to 140 tons burden; but Columbus sometimes applies it to a vessel of forty tons.

Du Cange, in his glossary, considers it a word of Italian origin. Bossi thinks it either Turkish or Arabic, and probably introduced into the European languages by the Moors. Mr. Edward Everett, in a note to his Plymouth oration, considers that the true origin of the word is given in "Ferrarii Origines Linguae Italicae," as follows: "Caravela, navigii minoris genus. Lat. Carabus: Grsece Karabron."

That the word caravel was intended to signify a vessel of a small size is evident from a naval classification made by king Alonzo in the middle of the thirteenth century. In the first class he enumerates Naos, or large ships which go only with sails, some of which have two masts, and others but one. In the second class smaller vessels, as Carracas, Fustas, Ballenares, Pinazas, Carabelas, &c. In the third class vessels with sails and oars, as Galleys, Galeots, Tardantes, and Saetias. (331)

Bossi gives a copy of a letter written by Columbus to Don Raphael Xansis, treasurer of the king of Spain; an edition of whicli exists in the public library at Milan. With this letter he gives several woodcuts of sketches made with a pen, which accompanied this letter, and which he supposes to have been from the hand of Columbus. In these are represented vessels which are probably caravels. They have high bows and sterns, with castles on the latter. They have short masts with large square sails. One of them, besides sails, has benches of oars, and is probably intended to represent a galley. They are all evidently vessels of small size, and light construction.

In a work called "Kecherches sur le Commerce," published in Amsterdam, 1779, is a plate representing a vessel of the latter part of the fifteenth century. It is taken from a picture in the church of St. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. The vessel bears much resemblance to those said to have been sketched by Columbus; it has two masts, one of which is extremely small with a latine sail. The mainmast has a large square sail. The vessel has a high poop and prow, is decked at each end, and is open in the centre.

It appears to be the fact, therefore, that most of the vessels with which Columbus undertook his long and perilous voyages, were of this light and frail construction; and little superior to the small craft which ply on rivers and along coasts in modern days.

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