From canoes to caravels.....


Early Types of Vessels
Dugout Canoe
Early societies used dugout canoes for water travel. They were made of rafts, skin or bark. An advanced canoe would have a wooden framework and would be covered with an outer layer of thin wooden planks. Egyptian Vessels

Egyptian ships were made of a wooden framework covered with wood planking. They could accommodate at least 20 oarsmen and could carry cargo which could hold up to several head of cattle. Pictures of these galleys date to as early as 3000 BD. Ships in early Egyptian paintings had a double mast, joined at the top from which sails were hung. Later, a single mast was used and the sails were hoisted with rollers at the top of the mast. Early Egyptian vessels were steered with one or more steering oars. When more than one oar was used in steering, the steering oars were bound together and were directed by a single steering arm. Phoenician Vessels
The Phoenicians (2000 B.C.) were the most able shipbuilders of ancient times. They constructed merchant vessels capable of carrying large cargoes. They also constructed warships larger and more effective than the Egyptians. The Phoenicians developed the "round boat", a broad beamed ship that depended mainly on sales rather than oars and had a larger cargo-space than the narrow galleys. These round ships traveled the Mediterranean and probably as far as the African coast. Greek Ships
Greek ships were made of naturally curved timber. A superstructure was built at the after end of the deck to house and protect the captain and the officers. At the end of the ship, the deck was raised to form a structure called a forecastle. The Greek ships also had a series of ropes strung around the sides of the ship to strengthen the ship if they were rammed in battle. These Greek ships had one or two masts for sailing, but the sales were not used when the ship was engaged in battle. The crew of a Greek warship was approximately 220 men who were primarily oarsmen. Roman Ships
The Romans had many kinds of warships, primarily galleys that had bridges for boarding enemy ships and some had catapult artillery. The Romans also built large ships for commerce, up to 175 feet in length and about 45 feet in width and depth. These large cargo ships were rigged with square sails on three masts and may have had a topsail above the mainsail on the mainmast. The Roman warship was called the dromond, a swift galley with one or two banks of oars, and this was used in the 5th century A.D. From this time and later, warships were improved by adding forms of protective coverings, such as leather and vinegar-soaked cloth to guard against the missiles that were part of the navy. Norse Ships These were highly efficient long ships, which were oceangoing vessels and were propelled by both oars and sails. They were developed by the Vikings and Danes in Scandinavia. The smallest were called the snekkja which had about 30 oars. One was found in Norway which was 78 feet in length, 16 feet in width and about 6 feet in depth. The Viking round ship or skuta was primarily a sailing vessel that could also be rowed. It was used in Viking expeditions to Greenland and Iceland. The Chinese Junk
Click to return to questions. The Chinese developed one of the strongest and seaworthy vessels, the junk. It is still used by the people of Southeast Asia. It is a large, light flat-bottomed box. It does not have a keel, a stern and stern posts. Its hull is partitioned off by bulkheads running lengthwise and crosswise to divide it into watertight compartments. These bulkheads make a ship structurally rigid and also protect it against sinking. They were adopted by the West in the 19th century. In place of a keel is a heavy steering oar or rudder mounted through a watertight housing on the centerline in the bottom. The rudder can be raised or lowered. The sails are made up of narrow horizontal linen or matting panels each on its own line or sheet so that each sail can be quickly spread or closed.


By the 9th Century A.D. Chinese junks were carrying merchants to Indonesia and India. By the 15th century junks were wailing to East Africa.
Sailing Ships
Near the end of the Middle Ages the use of oars for propulsion began to give way to the exclusive use of sails, especially on vessels built in northern Europe for use in the Atlantic Ocean. Early European Types
The caravel was a ship typically built in Portugal and Spain. It was a small vessel. It had a broad bow and a high narrow poop deck. It was rigged with three or four masts, of which only the foremast carried a square sail. All the other masts had lateen sails. The Santa Maria, Nina and Pinta were all caravels.