• The Aftcastle of the Carrack
  • The Forecastle
  • Aftcastle and Rudder

The Carrack or Nau (Portuguese: Nau; Spanish: Carraca, Nao; French: Caraque, Nef) was a ship originally developed by the Portuguese in the 15th century and used widely by them and the Spanish in exploration and mapping missions.

It was built with Atlantic exploration in mind and could withstand open and heavy seas while carrying enough provisions for long journeys.


The Carrack had three or four masts. A large forecastle was raised over the stem, with a bowsprit and a large aftcastle at the stern.

The foremast and mainmast were usually square-rigged, while the mizzenmast was lateen-rigged.

Historical ShipsEdit

Santa Maria (1480)Edit

La Santa Maria de la Immaculada Concepción (The Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception) was the flagship of Christopher Columbus during his first journey to America in 1492. At about 70ft it was probably a relatively small Carrack. She was built in Pontevedra, Galicia and it was originally called La Gallega. The ship was also known as the Marigalante, or the "Galant Mary" among the crew.

The ship was the slowest of the three in Columbus' fleet. She ran aground off the present-dasy site of Cap-Haitien, Haiti on December 25, 1492 and was lost. Columbus ordered for her timber to be stripped and it was used to build La Navidad (Christmas) settlement (named after the day of the wreck).

The anchor of the Santa Maria now resides in the Musée du Pantheon National Haitien (MUPANAH), in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Sao Gabriel - Sao Rafael (1497)Edit

The two ships were built were builtt specifically for Vasco da Gama's first expedition to the Indies. They were built under the supervision of Bartolomeu Dias who having reached Cape Hope before, knew what type of vessel would be suited for the voyage. The timber was cut in the crown woods of Leiria and Alcacer do Sal. The size of the vessel given by contemporary describers was between 90-120 tonnes (metric), but modern estimates tend to be higher. It has been estimated that the overall length was 25.7 meters, the width 8.5 m, the draft of 2.3 m and fully loaded weight about 178 t. To enter estuaries the draft was kept shallow.

The vessel carried three masts, including a 110-foot (measured from the keep) mainmast, with a crow's nest at 70 feet (21 m). The ship could fly six sails; a bowsprit, foresail, mizzen, spritsail, and two topsails. The total sail area was 4,000 square feet (370 m2). The red cross of the Order of Christ was painted on the sails.

The ships carried 20 guns, 6 placed in the 2 castles, and 8 on the lower quarterdeck. In the forward hold requisites were kept including spare sails and spare anchor, midships water, and in the aft ammunition and arms. The ship was equipped with the latest scientific astronomical and nautical instruments. Navigational instruments and training were provided by the astronomer Abraham Zacut.

Key personnel of the São Gabriel were Vasco da Gama, captain-major, Pêro de Alenquer, pilot, Gonçalo Álvares, master, and Diogo Dias, clerk. The ship held about 60 men.

The fleet left Lisbon on July 8, 1497. After rounding the Cape of Good hope, they anchored at the Aguada de São Brás (Mossel Bay) where the supply ship was broken up and its contents distributed on the others. The three ships sailed further North along the African coast to Malindi, East Africa. After crossing the Indian Ocean they reached the harbor of Calicut at the Malabar coast in India on May 20, 1498. The return crossing of the Indian Ocean took over three months and many of the crew members got sick from scurvy and died. With a diminished crew the São Rafael became superfluous; the vessel was burned at East Africa after the transfer of its crew and provisions. The remaining two vessels got caught in a storm near the Cape Verde islands and separated. At that time both ships were leaking and in poor shape.

The Bérrio under Nicolau Coelho's command arrived at Cascais near Lisbon on July 10, 1499, and the São Gabriel without Da Gama and directed by João de Sá came in one month later. Da Gama had left the São Gabriel on its final leg and commissioned another vessel to bring him with his dying brother Paulo to the Azores before he returned to Portugal in early September, 1499.

Flor de la Mar (1502)Edit

The Flor de la mar was built in Lisbon in 1502, being one of the finest vessels of the time. It was built for the Portuguese India run. At 400 tons, it was the largest carrack yet built, nearly twice the size of the largest ships that had gone on previous runs. She took her maiden trip from Portugal to India in 1502, under the command of Estevão da Gama, a cousin of Vasco da Gama. However, her return trip in 1503 met some complications -- once loaded with spices, her large size and weight made her hard to maneouver, particularly in the fast currents of the Mozambique Channel (notably, around Cape Correntes). Eyewitness Thomé Lopes reports her springing leaks and being forced to stop for repairs on Mozambique Island for nearly two months. She finally arrived in Portugal in late 1503.

The Flor de la Mar went out again on another India run in March 1505 under the command of João da Nova, as part of the 7th Portuguese India fleet of 22 ships, carrying D. Francisco de Almeida as the first viceroy of Portuguese India. On the return trip in 1506, she once again ran into difficulties in the Mozambique Channel. Springing leaks, she was forced to dock once again in Mozambique island for lengthy repairs. This time, she would stay stuck in the channel for some ten months. Nova attempted take her out repeatedly, but the heavy-laden ship kept running into problems, forcing him to return to the island, repair and try again. The Flor de la Mar and her frustrated captain were still stuck in Mozambique when they were found in February 1507 -- almost exactly one year after the Flor left India -- by the outgoing 8th India armada under the command of Tristão da Cunha. Cunha ordered his crews to help repair the ship back to seaworthy shape, unload the Flor's spice cargo onto another Portugal-bound transport (under the command of António de Saldanha) and then annexed the empty Flor de la Mar and her captain into his own India-bound armada. She was never to return to Portugal.

The Flor de la Mar and her captain João da Nova participated in Cunha's conquest of Socotra. In the aftermath, to Nova's surprise, Cunha ordered her to remain in the western Arabian Sea, integrated into the patrol squadron of Afonso de Albuquerque. Nova and the Flor participated in the Albuquerque-led conquest of the cities of Curiati (Kuryat), Muscat in July 1507, Khor Fakkan, (accepting also the submission of the cities of Kalhat and Sohar) and Ormuz in the same year.

Two years later in India, she was commandeered to serve as the flagship of D. Francisco de Almeida in the 1509 battle of Diu. João da Nova died that same year in Cochin, and Almeida (ending his term as vice-roy) planned to bring the Flor de la Mar back to Portugal himself, taking special care to repair it into shape. But his successor, Afonso de Albuquerque, forbade it and retained the Flor in India, giving Almeida another ship to take home instead. Under Afonso de Albuquerque orders, the Flor gave support in the conquest of Goa in 1510, and in the conquest of Malacca in 1511.

The Flor de la Mar's longevity was remarkable. At a time when India ships were built for only three or four years of useful service (already remarkable), the Flor was one of the longest-lasting ships of the India run. However, her service as a cargo ship left a lot to be desired. Dangerously unseaworthy when fully loaded, she only completed one full India run, and not without difficulties. Nonetheless, much was learned from the Flor's experience. Although several larger ships - 600t, 900t, 1500t - would be occasionally built, the average India nau would hover around 400t-450t. As such, the Flor de la Mar can be considered the prototype of what would become the typical 16th C. India Nau. The Flor's experience also led to the institutionalization of the "outer route", i.e. captains of heavy-laden large ships were ordered to avoid returning via the fast Mozambique Channel, but rather sail a longer but calmer course east of Madagascar. Frol de la Mar, served over nine years in the Indian Ocean, sinking in 1512 with Afonso de Albuquerque after the conquest of Malacca with a huge booty, making it one of the mythical lost treasures.

Victoria (1519)Edit



(or Nao Victoria, as well as Vittoria) was an 85 tons ship with a crew of 42. It was a Spanish carrack and the first ship to successfully circumnavigate the world. The Victoria was part of a Spanish expedition commanded by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, and after his demise during the voyage, by Juan Sebastián Elcano. The expedition began with five ships but the Victoria was the only ship to complete the voyage. Magellan was killed in the Philippines. This ship, along with the four others, was given to Magellan by King Charles I of Spain. Victoria was named after the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria de Triana, where Magellan took an oath of allegiance to Charles V in order to be granted full access to the Spice Islands.

The four other ships were Trinidad (110 tons, crew 55), San Antonio (120 tons, crew 60), Concepcion (90 tons, crew 45), and Santiago (75 tons, crew 32). Trinidad, Magellan's flagship, Concepcion, and Santiago were wrecked or scuttled; San Antonio deserted the expedition before the Straits of Magellan and returned to Europe on her own. All ships were Carracks, except for Trinidad, which was a caravel.