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Caravel facts for kids

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Portuguese Caravel
Model of a Portuguese caravel, found in the Musée national de la Marine

A caravel (Portuguese: [caravela] Error: {{Lang}}: text has italic markup (help)) is a type of small sailing ship. It is easy to maneuver. It was developed in the 15th century by the Portuguese. The Portuguese used caravels to explore the West African coast and the Atlantic Ocean. Lateen sails made the caravels fast and able to sail against the wind. Caravels were used by the Portuguese to explore oceans during the 15th and 16th centuries in the Age of Discovery.


Its English name derives from the Portuguese caravela, which in turn may derive from the Latin carabus or κάραβος in Greek, perhaps indicating some continuity of its carvel build through the ages.


The earliest caravels appeared in the thirteenth century on the coasts of Galicia and Portugal. These early caravels were used for offshore fishing and some coastal cargo carrying. They were small, lightly-built vessels – perhaps of 20 tons or less, carrying, in one regional example, a crew of 5 men. Evidence from 1388 suggests that these were open boats. There is mention, in 1307, of larger caravels (up to 30 tons) in Biscay – a size that can be regarded as a ship, rather than a boat. Caravels were clearly a common type in Iberia for most of the 15th century.


Due to its lighter weight and thus greater speed, the caravel was a boon to sailors. Early caravels generally carried two or three masts with lateen sails, while later types had four masts. Early caravels such as the caravela tilhlda of the 15th century had an average length of between 12 and 18 m (39 and 59 ft), an average capacity of 50 to 60 tons, a high length-to-beam ratio of around 3.5 to 1, and narrow ellipsoidal frame (unlike the circular frame of the nau), making them very fast and maneuverable but with somewhat low capacity. It was in such ships that Christopher Columbus set out on his expedition in 1492; Santa María was a nau of about 100 tons which served as the flagship and the Pinta and Niña were smaller caravels of around 15–20 m with a beam of 6 m and displacing around 60–75 tons.

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Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Carabela para niños

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