Ship Modelling

Rigging Patterns - The Galleons

A Dutch galleon, painting of around 1600 by Hendrick C. Vroom [Source: Wikipedia]
Galleons were sailing ships developed from the former predominant Mediterranian Carracks and Caravels; Christopher Columbus sailed to America using "big" caravels (Nina and Pinta) and a "small" carrack (Santa Maria), but compared to modern ship sizes, caravels and even carracks were very small indeed, so that bigger, oceangoing ships were built. So, the carracks were made bigger and gradually became the later galleons. The developement from caravel and carrack to galleon was a long process, and so, a galleon was often also still called a carrack. More precise distictions were made in modern times only but were of no importance in those days.

The first galleons were the Spanish and Portuguese galleons, around 1450. Then this type was built by all major seafaring nations until around 1700 (well, some historian may discuss the dates, but very little evidence is available for any theory).

Spanish galleons were the biggest ships of their time, tranporting cargos from the various colonies home to Spain. Some of them, although still called galleons or carracks, were in fact galleys mostly in the Mediterranian, oared by some hundred men and supported by sails - another example which makes it cumbersome to make some meaningful distinctions, as we rely on ancient documents after all which are quite ambivalent and sketchy, and thus hard to interpret correctly in modern times.

The rigging of the galleons was higher and wider than that for caravels, due to the larger sizes of the ships. It was alike the rigging of the big Carracks. Spanish galleons continued to have 4 masts, 2 square rigged (top and even topgallant sails) and 2 lateen.

Smaller, more agile English and Dutch galleons were built as an answer to the heavier, slow Spanyards; but they shared the same rigging (almost):

  • Bowsprit: 1 square spritsail
  • Fore Mast: 2-4 square sails [course, topsail, topgallant sail, royals very rarely]
  • Main Mast: 2-4 square sails [course, topsail, topgallant sail, royals very rarely]
  • Mizzen Mast: 1-2 lateen mizzen sails only
  • on large galleons: "Bonaventure Mast", a second Mizzen Mast: 1 lateen mizzen only
  • no staysails, no stunsails

Both "types" of galleons fought 1588 in the Battle of Gravelines: the Spanish Armada against the Royal Fleet.

Sources and Books

Only little is known about galleons, the "age of science" was yet to come, so plans are almost non-existent. We do have many text sources in the archives about the manifold voyages of hundreds of ships, but all we get is a few puzzle parts how the ships may have looked like.

There are some rare depictions from contemporary maritime artists; but even when they already applied perspectives into their paintings, only a few of these artists knew about ships and rigging, the majority did not and made idealized pictures instead.