Detail of Carrack from “A) Galion, B) Fregate, C) Caraque, D) Flute ou Pinque, E) Est un Beulot ou Bâtiment,” Description de L’Univers, 1683, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, G114.M25 rare.

Carrack or Nao

The Carrack or Nao (meaning ship) was developed as a fusion between Mediterranean and Northern European-style ships. The carrack first appeared, historians believe, in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. The Spanish and Portuguese developed a particular type of ship to trade in the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic. The hull was rounded in the stern and it carried a superstructure of an aft and forecastle. These ships carried two, three or four masts and a combination of square and lateen sails were used. The main mast always carried a square sail while the mizzenmast carried a lateen sail. The square sail was used for speed and the lateen rig allowed for maneuverability.

By the 1420s, a topsail was added to the main mast (square) and the foresail on a three- or four-masted ship was also square. The carrack had a wide and deep hull that allowed for bulk cargo. The smallest would be 300 to 400 tons and the largest was 1,000 to 2,000 tons. Some of the cargo included Alum (used to fix dye) and woad (a blue dye) from Genoa to England, and raw wool and wool fabric back to Genoa. The Portuguese adopted the carrack to move goods to Africa, India, and the Spice Islands.

There was a fore and aft castle on the carrack. The forecastle was always higher that the aft castle. The carrack, with its sail configuration, was cheaper to crew as a merchant vessel. These became the favorite ships of the ocean-going explorers. They were more stable on the open ocean and could carry enough men and food to be a ship of exploration.