FAQ

Did Columbus’ ships have red crosses painted on them?

Most of the paintings and engravings of 15th-century Spanish ships show very little in the way of ornamentation. While bows and sterns may have been carved and painted, we have no way of knowing for certain if the Niña, Piñta, and Santa María were decorated. Being Spanish ships, they very likely carried sails painted with large red crosses, and may have sported colorful pennants or banners. Decorative shields may have lined the sides of the ship, though again, we have no evidence of Columbus having done this. Excessive ship ornamentation really reached its height in the 17th century, with ships displaying all the baroque excesses for which the period was famous. But there is very little evidence to suggest the Columbus’s fleet in 1492 was highly decorated. When the fleet was reconstructed for the 1992 Quincentenary, the designers chose to go with a plainer style vessel, much like you see in the engravings of the period.

How did Columbus’ ships get their names?

The Piñta and Santa María were named by their original owners. The Niña was renamed after the crown acquired it. Historians believe the ship was named for the original owner, Juan Niño de Moguer, but his name, Niño, was feminized to Niña. The ship’s original name was Santa Clara.

How do you spell Sir Frances Drake’s ship? What does it mean?

When Sir Frances Drake took command of his ship, he named it the Golden Hinde. One of the patrons of the expedition, Sir Christopher Hatton, had on his coat of arms a golden hinde or golden horned deer. The “e” is the older English spelling of “hinde.” It has been dropped in the modern era.

How much did the Niña, Piñta, and Santa María cost?

When Christopher Columbus proposed the expedition to Asia, the King and Queen of Spain called in a few favors from the localities. The Niña, who was owned by Juan Niña de Moguer, was commandeered by the city of Los Palos, Spain, to use to pay a fine they owed to the King and Queen. The Piñta was owned by Cristóbal Quintero who owed a fine to the King and Queen as well. The Piñta was payment for the fine. The Santa María was hired by Christopher Columbus from Juan de la Cosa who was a local merchant. Cosa stayed aboard the expedition as the ship’s pilot.

What did sailors eat at sea?

When a ship went to sea, it had no refrigeration and it could be many months before the crew could find fresh water. Water was stored in wooden barrels, but after a few weeks at sea, and as the temperatures rose near the equator, the water started growing algae and bacteria. It smelled horrible and tasted worse, so most ships carried wine and beer as their first drink of choice. If you were French, Spanish or Portuguese, wine was the drink of preference. If you were British or Dutch, you preferred beer. The alcohol in both drinks kept the algae and bacteria at bay.

The food they had was all dried or preserved in salt or vinegar. This prevented it from spoiling on a long journey. As far as cooking food was concerned, the early ships of exploration just had fire boxes on the open deck, but obviously, fire was a dangerous thing on a wooden ship, so the sailors were limited to one hot meal a day in good weather. If it rained, no fire. Standards provisions included hard bread, flour (for making bread aboard ship), beef, pork, or fish stored in salt, dried peas and chickpeas, cheese, and dried fruit. When the ships left port, they carried fresh fruits and vegetables, and live animals such as chickens, pigs, and goats. Once in port or a landing site, they would buy or barter for fresh food and water.

What diseases did sailors contract?

A ship, being small and confined, was a breeding ground for disease. Many sailors arrived onboard with a disease and, in the close quarters, it would quickly spread throughout the ship. Other diseases they could contract in ports of call. Such was the case with the Black Plague. Historians now believe that sailors who had contracted the plague in an infected port city, sailed to another, “safer” port and transmitted the disease to the new population. Hence, the Black Plague spread faster by sea that it would have on land. There were also a variety of diseases that developed aboard ship. Scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency, was the most common one until the late 1790s. Sailors would also develop cholera from poor sanitation aboard many ships.

Sailors also transmitted diseases to the native populations they encountered. In the Americas alone, millions of Native Americans died of European disease. Some of the most common diseases were: Bubonic (Black) Plague, Cholera, the Common Cold, Diphtheria, Influenza, Malaria, Measles, Scurvy, Small Pox, Syphilis, and Yellow Fever.

What does starboard and port mean?

Starboard comes from Steor meaning helm or rudder and bord meaning side. At one time, a boat or ship had rudders tied to its side. The modern word refers to the right-handed side (looking forward) of a vessel.

Port refers to the left-handed side of the ship, looking forward. Historically it was called larboard. In early times merchant ships were loaded from the left side. Lade meaning load and bord meaning side.

What is Captain James Cook’s middle name?

After much research, we cannot find James Cook’s middle name. He did not write it himself in any of his logs, journals, or letters. The records show that when he was born, under his name, it was written: “Son of James Cook, labour.” It is possible that he did not have a middle name.

What is the Columbian Exchange?

The Columbian Exchange refers to the period after Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean. This first contact with the native peoples began an exchange that continues to have impact. Columbus and his men unwittingly began an exchange of diseases, animals, and plants with the native people. This exchange continued every time a European ship landed in American waters. Diseases such as small pox, the Black Plague, and even the flu were passed to the native populations who had not been exposed to the diseases before. The Europeans brought animals that, without natural predators, invaded the islands and completely altered the ecosystem. Europeans in turn took back plants and animals that changed the Old World. Chocolate, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers all had a major impact on the world’s cuisine. This transfer of culture, disease, flora, and fauna still continues today.

What is the definition of “knot”?

A knot was a measure with a chip log, which was first described by William Bourne in his book, A Regiment for the Sea, published in 1574. Bourne writes: “To know the ship’s way some do use this (as I take it) is very good: they have a piece of wood, and a line to vere out over boorde, with a small line of a great length, which they make fast at one ende, and at the other ende, and middle, they have a piece of lyne which they make fast with a small thred to stande lyke unto a crowfoote: for this purpose that it should drive asterne as fast as the shippe doth go away from it, always having the line so ready, that it goeth out as fast as the ship goeth. In like manner they have either a minute of an hour glass, or else a knowne parte of an houre by some number of woordes, or such other lyke, so that the line being vered out, and stopped just with that tyme that the glasse is out, or the number of wordes spoken, which done they hale in the logge or piece of wood again, and looke how many fathomes the shippe hath gone in that time.”

To translate: at the time Bourne was writing, mariners were reckoning a nautical mile to be 5,000 feet. They generally let the log run for 30 seconds (either using a small sand glass or reciting carefully measured words). Thirty seconds is 1/120th of an hour. 41.6666 feet is 1/120th of a 16th-century nautical mile. However, it was easier to measure in lengths of 42 feet since 42 feet equals 7 fathoms (a fathom being 6 feet—and also, conveniently, the distance of an average-sized man’s outstretched arms.) So, once 30 seconds were up, the log would be stopped, the line reeled in and the fathoms counted. Eventually, knots were tied in the line every 42 feet, to make it easier and more standardized. Hence we refer to nautical miles as “knots.”

In 1637, Richard Norwood proposed re-knotting the log line at 50 feet to reflect the change in reckoning a nautical mile from 5,000 feet to 6,000 feet (based on more accurate measurements of the globe). The ratio remains at 1/120th. Many instrument makers created log lines on the new principles, but sailors, being creatures of habit, still preferred the old lines and merely altered their sand glasses to run for 27 seconds. Modern reckoning of the nautical mile is 6,080 feet (a rounding off of the actual figure of 6,077 feet to mean measurement of a nautical mile measured both at the poles and the equator).

What is “Dead Reckoning”?

Men used to navigate before the development of a good system of measuring longitude was in place. The navigator would take the ship’s known position, then calculate the ship’s speed, time, actual course, and distance to be traveled. They would then project that course ahead to their destination, which was called the Dead Reckoning.

What was the name of Prince Henry the Navigator’s school?

Prince Henry of Portugal started the School of Sagres, a navigational school on Portugal. His goal was to map the world and develop reliable navigational techniques.

What were some of the punishments aboard ships?

While at sea, the sailors were under the rule of the Captain. His word was law. There were some accepted punishments for particular crimes, but they varied from country to country, navy to merchant fleet. The most common punishment was the lash. The offender would be tied to a mast or rack, his shirt removed and he would be struck a set amount of times based on his crime. The rope used was sometimes knotted at the end or it was a “cat ’o nine tails.” The “cat” had nine braded lines with a knot at the end of each one. The knot would cut the man’s skin and it would take many days to heal.

Other punishments included extra watch duties, reduced rations, and being placed in irons below decks. The worst, of course, was death; this sentence was usually given in the serious cases of mutiny or treason. Ferdinand Magellan hanged the leaders of a mutiny during his expedition.

What were the effects of the Age of Exploration?

The Age of Exploration had a world-changing effect. European powers gained control of the seas and they influenced religion and culture in the regions they contacted. The transportation of goods developed into a commercial revolution with mercantilism at the core. A middle class of merchants developed in societies that basically had only two classes, rich and poor.

The impact on the Americas is immeasurable. Due to European diseases, the susceptible native populations died at a rate that still has historians debating the numbers. It also increased migrations of people. Thousands of Europeans left their homes for new lands in Asia, Africa, and America. Thousands of Africans were forced to leave their homes and become enslaved in America.

When did the Age of Exploration begin?

The term “Age of Exploration” generally refers to the period between the 15th and 17th centuries. This is the time when the Europeans developed new trade routes around Africa to India and the Spice Islands. It was also the time when they explored new routes to Asia, eventually running into the Americas.

When was the hammock first introduced to the Europeans?

Hammocks were developed in the Americas and were used in the Caribbean Islands, Yucatán Peninsula and areas of South America. The hammocks were made from a variety of materials and woven by hand or on a loom. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, one of the first things he and his crew noticed was that the natives used hammocks in which to sleep. The sailors, who had to sleep any place they could find on the deck of the ship, thought the hammock would make for more comfortable sleeping on their way home. From that point onward, the hammock became standard sleeping berths until the modern era.

Why were spices, silk, coffee, and tea so important to the Europeans?

Before the 15th century, spices, silk, coffee, and tea were all imported to Europe through trade routes in Egypt and Persia. The goods passed through many merchants and by the time they reached the consumer, the prices were extremely high. Spices were used in cooking, medicine, and perfumes. Coffee and tea were an alternative to plain water. Silk was a must-have fabric for royalty.