Evolution of the ship of the line
The Sovereign of the Seas
Galleys and galleasses
Architectura Navalis, 1629
The German architect and engineer Joseph Furttenbach published in 1629 a printed book titled "Architectura Navalis", in which he describes the
construction of several types of ships and gives some ideas about the naval strategy of that time. The woodcuts are not very satisfying and they
seem to have been drawn from rough models. A small Dutch vessel, probably a merchant ship, is represented in different perspectives and also in
section. The shape of the midship rib is perfunctory, but the interpretation is correct.
The vessels were built with flat or almost flat bottoms to increase the capacity for cargo while reducind the draught. The sides of the carrack
were curved inwards and when the ships were armed with long rows of heavy cannons, the gun decks were gradually narrowed, transfering the
gravity center closer to the centerline to increase stability. But these concave sides rendered boardings more difficult because the bulwarks of
the ship would be separated several meters. The Dutch built ships of low draught and great length in comparison to the beam to ensure their sailing
An important element of the book is the representation of a very small but modern Dutch gallion, which has a covered balcony astern, the poop deck
and the quarterdeck placed in a very backward position and a very low forecastle, to the point that the deck has a "hump" to make space for the door.
As in the contemporary Dutch warship Saint Louis, catheads are not present, but we can see a long beam placed transversally upon the beakhead, and
in future designs the catheads would always protrude from the beakhead in Dutch ships, whereas from the forecastle in the English counterparts.
In Nordic ships, the lateen sail was placed inner to the shrouds, because its main purpose was to help steering and not propulsion. In contemporary
paintings this sail is always shown furled when the ships have tailwind and set when steering.
The Spanish gallion
Few times will have been a type of ship so abundantly mentioned and however so loosely defined; the term "gallion" was used during the 16th and 17th
centuries, it is present in writings since 1516 and remain in use in 1732 when Felipe V ordered to replace the gallions, considered heavy vessels, by
"navíos inmatriculados" (unmatriculated ships of the line). Subsequently warships would be called in Spain simply "navíos", until the 19th century.
As it has happened along History it was not a new and different type, but the result of the evolution of the oceanic vessels existing since the 15th century,
which were the naus and carracks. Between these two and specially between the large nau of tall freeboard and the carrack, there were no essential
differences; both had forecastle and sterncastle, very wide hull, round stern and two main masts with square sails and also a bowsprit with a sail for
steering, and astern one or two mizzen masts with lateen sails for steering as well.
The successor of naus and carracks was the gallion, whose characteristics are not well known. A vessel with two different purposes: the dominance of the
seas and combat actions, without restrictions of size, and the protection of the convoys of naus which went to and returned from America, having to
fight against the bad weather in the Atlanctic and the corsairs who untireingly attacked in both ends of the route. Those serving the latter purpose had
their draught limited by the "Bar of Sanlúcar" (Seville) and the port of San Juan de Ulúa (Mexico).
In the Antilles, due to the large number of isles which served as refuge to corsairs and pirates, the Spanish gallions and naus often had to fight in
conditions of inferiority, because the corsairs were notified and protected by the coastal inhabitants, who obtained great profits with the sale of cow
leather and sugar, which corsairs would resell in Europe. To help the gallions, it was decided in 1578 to send a number of galleys which, because of not
relying in wind and being more maneuverable, were believed to be very useful. However, in the following years until 1599 their actuation was not very
effective, because many of them were excessively loaded and poorly governed, and they were, in general, lightly armed and unsuitable for those seas.
Gallions were somewhat lighter and maneuverable than large naus and carracks, from which they were gradually differentiating, specially by not having
so tall and long forecastle and sterncastle, which allowed to better maneuver by sail. Also the stern was modified, without being known the reason and
the date on which it went from being round to be flat and mandolin-shaped, being very narrow underwater, to allow the water streams to reach the rudder,
widely widening over the waterline and then gradually decreasing its width in the upper decks, ending in a very narrow sterncastle. In the following
pictures we can two typical Spanish gallions from the late 16th century which adequate to those characteristics.
Naval construction was still very primitive, having the hulls excessively flat and wide shapes in the underwater prow; the dimensions given from the beam
were disposed by the Laws of the Indies, evolving from a length/beam ratio of 3.2 to one of 3.55, but in 1691 Garrote proposed a value of 3.45. He
detailed the dimensions of six types of vessels, being that of third rate the "simple gallion", those of fourth and fifth rate the "flag gallion" and
that of the sixth rate the "royal gallion", being the armament of these four rates, respectively, sixty, seventy, seventy-eight and eighty-six, and
their beam, expressed in royal cubits (0.574 meters), eighteen, twenty, twenty-two and twenty-four, being limited to eighteen for those of the Fleet of
the Indies, because of the low depth in the aforementioned "Bar of Sanlúcar" in the mouth of the Guadalquivir.
The structure of the hull was weak, for albeit the keel and the keelson, made of several pieces assembled together, were resistant enough for their length,
the ribs attached to them were excessively separated, from 45 to 73 centimeters depending on size, and besides they had a sole external lining reinforced
only by protective belts at the level of the decks, but with more sheer than these to give the ship a more "airy" appearance. Internally they had another
lining in the lower part, reinforced by longitudinal stringers. To increase resistance, Garrote proposed to add a second lining on the sides and to reduce
the height of both forecastle and sterncastle, as José de Zaragoza had proposed already in 1644.
Of the interior no plans have been preserved, but there are some descriptions and regulations like that of 1611 which sets only one dining room or chamber
in a ship, but it is known that the San Vicente Ferrer (1666) and the San Felipe had two chambers. It was also decreed that cabins were installed only in
the quarterdeck, being the cabin of the pilot placed on the poop deck. In 1613 a regulation set that water be carried in large barrels of three cubits in
length, each of them equivalent to six common barrels, built with staves of two inches in thickness. After having depleted the potable water they would
be filled with salt water as ballast, and during winter, once emptied, they would be used to store the spare sails, protected from the rodents. In another
example, from 1679, of the many regulations set in that time it was decreed that a ship with a beam of twenty-two royal cubits or above had installed bowsprit
sail, bowsprit topsail and bowsprit topgallant sail.
The rudder was operated by means of an almost vertical tiller which passed through a hole in the upper deck, working on a piece with two axes in longitudinal
direction. The main masts were made with several pieces assembled and tied together, whereas the top masts, topgallant masts and yards were generally made in
a single piece, being the wood used pine from Flanders or Prussia. The tops were circular. The sails formed large billows and their area was increased during
good weather by one or two bonnets attached to their feet. The rigging, both standing and running one, were essentially like that used in later times, being
different particularly in the large amount of "spiders" attached to sails, stays or mizzen yards, specially in foreign ships. Above the waist deck were extended
some nets, sometimes replaced by wooden gratings, to difficult enemy boardings and protect the crew from elements falling from the masts and rigging.
The ornamentation was generally sober, on the color of the wood with tar, albeit following foreign influences there were some ships
painted in blue and red in the upper part, occasionally with polychrome ornamentation, and it seems that there were some others with gun ports framed by yellow
or gilded circular reliefs. The stern generally had a balcony or gallery, at the level of the upper deck, with ledge decorated with moldings. Along the bulwarks
of the hull there were shields or a red canvas; a similar decoration was used in the main tops. The ornamentation in the beakhead and cutwater was just some
volutes, with the figurehead included only from the 17th century.