THE INEFFICIENT hull form of the carrack was one of
the reasons that the galleon ship type took the dominant role
in shipping by the end of the 16th Century. The new hull form
that offered a considerably greater hull length-to-keel length-to-beam
(width) ratio (4:3:1 as opposed to the carrack's 3:2:1) improved the
flow of water around the hull, reducing resistance and giving the ship
more manoeuverability and better seaworthiness. Also carrack's
round stern was changed into a narrower, flat one that also supported
the weight of the aftcastle better.
carrack and galleon sterns
The excessive bulk of the fore- and aftcastles in the later carracks
had hindered their sailing characteristics. That was also
characteristical of the first galleons, albeit the moving of the
forecastle from above the stem to a position behind it, with the
bowsprit poking out from its front, reduced the chance of wind
hitting the forecastle and turning the ship inadvertently. That
enabled a galleon to sail considerably closer to the wind.
A new addition, the head was constructed to start from
the front of the forecastle (and above the stem) and to extend out
underneath the bowsprit in a tapering form to a decorated figurehead.
This area was used for the crew's toilets and even in today's mariner
language the word "head" means a toilet...
The introduction of the modified galleons with the
Revenge in 1575 moved the mobility of sailing warships to
a new level. The English galleons, with their smaller size, lower
superstructures (older ships with tall castles were cut of their
excess bulk, ie. "razed", thus the name "race-built"), longer and
slimmer hulls and improved rigging, as well as improved long-range
gunnery (the Spanish still relied on closing on the enemy and boarding
them -- a tactic deriving all the way from the Roman navy -- which
required great manpower aboard, hence a large, unmanouverable ship as
well as old-style large castles to rain fire on the opponents' decks)
could out-sail and out-gun their more cumbersome opponents, making them
unable to even try to board. The English used their ships to
advantage when they fought off the Spanish Armada in 1588.
(Defeat of the Spanish Armada)
The addition of ever-heavier cannon, as well as the need to
otherwise increase the cargo capacity of the ships, led to the use
of hull frames that were wide at the waterline, but tapered
inward in order to take the guns on the sides as close to the
centreline as possible and thus improve the stability of the ship
(the tapering form also had the added advantage of making boarding
the ship more difficult from an adjacent enemy ship). Especially
the Dutch also had ships with a considerably flat bottom in order
to make them fit for sailing in the shallow coastal waters of
On the stern side, galleries, open-air balconies that
went around the whole stern portion, extending on occassions even to the
mainmast chains (where the shrouds were attached on the hull)
on the sides, were introduced especially in larger galleons. Later, the
galleries were at least partially covered, a development started with
the Dutch ships. As covered, they became the officers' toilets and
later a part of the officers' quarters. The galleries would remain a
distinctive part of the stern of the sailing ship long into the 19th
The introduction of a vertical lever for operating the long rudder
bar and an opening for the helmsman to see the sails helped the
steering operation considerably. Gradually, the steering lever
would be extended to the deck and, in the 18th Century, replaced by
a wheel which offered better maneuverability, and which has been
retained to the present day.
As for rigging development in the era, one important change, first
employed by the English Navy, was the recutting of the large,
billowing sails into flatter ones to improve the sailing capabilities
and make the ships sail better into the wind. The use of bonnets
under the sails was spread to the foresail and (lower) mizzens.
The Dutch introduced around in 1570 the first topmasts that could
be lowered, ie. slid down along the lower mast so that the two
stood adjacent above the deck. This innovation quickly spread to other
countries and eventually the topsail began to grow in size while
the courses got lower and smaller.
In the beginning of the 17th Century, the foremast, which had been
so far located in front of the forecastle, was moved back and
raised now through the forecastle top deck.
mizzen topsail and sprit-topsail
Around in 1620 a square topsail, the mizzen topsail, was
introduced to the mizzenmast above the lateen mizzen, replacing the
unpractical lateen sail. This resulted in such ships being called
frigates (not to be confused with the term of the same name that
meant a sailing warship with one full gun deck).
At the same time the still high-rising aftcastles of the large ships
led to a need for more sails to the bow of the ship. A new mast with
a square-sail, sprit-topsail, was derived from a flagstaff
at the end of the bowsprit. Although awkward in use, the sail
nevertheless remained until the advent of
jibs to the foremast stays.
Also a top was introduced to the end of bowsprit -- there had already
been tops in virtually every mast, at the top of individual mast
segments, bar the topmost, of course.
As with the flamboyant carracks, also the galleons were adopted to
the "prestige ship" role. The French Saint Louis (built
in Holland in 1626 as an example for the new expanding French Navy)
and the Swedish Vasan (1627) were both constructed with the
help of Dutch naval engineering knowledge (also Russians, Germans and
Danes used the Dutch expertise), whereas the English Prince
Royal was built by the master shipwright Phineas Pett in 1610.
All three were equipped with a large number of cannon, as well as
ample decor and sculptures. The number of heavy cannon may well have
been Vasan's undone: the top-heavy ship sank shortly after it
had set sail for its maiden voyage in 1628, but it was recovered
333 years later, in a relatively good condition, restored, and put
to display in a dedicated museum.
(Vasa Museum website)
The form and general appearance of the square-rigged sailing ship of
the latter centuries has been more or less derived straight from
the galleon -- there have of course been modifications in general
arrangements, structures and rigging, but the form with its castles,
the poking head and the arrangement of masts and their functions
survived to the last of the full-riggers.