The regulation of 1731 had classified Spanish warships in six categories. First rate, over 90 guns; second rate, from 80 to 90 guns; third rate, of 74 guns; fourth rate, from 60 to 64 guns; frigates, from 32 to 58 guns; and corvettes, from 16 to 28 guns. The third rate was the most numerous category (a total of 72 of these ships were built). A regulation from 1765 established the calibers of cannons on 36, 24, 18 and 12 pounds. The caliber 36 was often not mounted in the ships and because of this these resulted less powerfully armed than the foreign counterparts.

The gun ports were distributed in number of 13 to 16 on each side in the gun decks, in number of six or seven on each side in the quarterdeck and in number of two or three on each side in the forecastle. As an exception, the Santísima Trinidad had 17 gun ports on each side in the gun decks, otherwise she could not have had a minimum of 120 guns. As auxiliary cannons, usually were mounted two firing forward on the forecastle and another two firing backward beneath the transom. Sometimes warships were designated by the number of side cannons, omitting the auxiliary cannons. For example, a 70-gun ship would be actually a 74-gun ship.

For every caliber, cannons were made either of bronze or iron. There were also "carronades", which were short cannons of very large caliber. In 1785 the Spanish Navy adquired six carronades from the factory based in Carron (Scotland). These were two monstrosities of 96 pounds, two of 68 pounds and two of 42 pounds, which were tested against the counterparts of Spanish manufacturing. The results were favorable to the Scottish artillery and the Spanish models were accordingly readjusted. For bombardment were used mortars of 12 to 14 inches in caliber which fired huge projectiles of up to 200 pounds.

Artillery of a ship of the line
The most common ammunition was the solid cannon ball made of iron or stone, known as "bala rasa" (literally, "level bullet"). The incendiary version, known as "bala roja" ("red bullet") was of great effect but dangerous to manipulate. To destroy the enemy masts and riggings there was a contraption consisting of two truncated pyramids linked by a bar on their smaller face, known as "palanqueta" ("jimmy"). Another version of similar purpose, known as "enramada" ("branched"), used half balls linked by chains or articulated bars. Yet another similar version, known as "estrellada" ("starry"), had four cones linked by thin chains forming a cylinder. And the last type was that filled with shrapnel, intended to massacre the enemy crews.

The following picture shows the 80-gun ship of the line Rayo as she was built in 1749 with two decks, and after her reconstruction as a 100-gun three-decker in 1804. Her original armament comprised 24-pound cannons in the lower gun deck, 18-pound cannons in the upper gun deck, 8-pound cannons in the weather decks and two 3-pound cannons in the poop deck, which fired stone balls. After her upgrade as a 100-gun three-decker, her armament comprised 36-pound cannons in the lower gun deck, 18-pound cannons in the middle gun deck (replaced by 24-pounders shortly before the Battle of Trafalgar), 8-pound cannons in the upper gun deck and four 24-pound howitzers in the poop deck. After this reconstruction, her maneuvering and speed qualities, which had been excellent until then, greatly decreased, making this ship slower than her contemporaries. But despite of that she preserved her original name, meaning "Lightning".

Ship of the line Rayo as built and after reconstruction


Ornamentation was usually austere in Spanish warships. From the middle century it was imposed to wear as figurehead a rampant lion holding a coat of arms or some scrollwork. Allegorical figureheads were allowed again during the last years of the centrury. The sides of the hull were painted in yellow and black following a scheme of alternate bands, and during the early century the sides of the quarterdeck were painted in blue. Over time this custom disappeared, and from 1781 it was allowed only one narrow fringe of sienna color in the sides of the quarterdeck and sterncastle. There were exceptions however, caused by the notorious lack of materials in the Spanish Navy; the ships were sometimes painted with the available colors. For example, the Santísima Trinidad was seen in Trafalgar painted with a livery of red and black bands, highlighted by narrow white strips.

Unlike in British warships, the transom was always fitted with balconies, probably because of the frequent sailings on warm areas. Three-deckers had two balconies in correspondence with the upper gun deck and the quarterdeck levels, being those showy but not excessively. The galleries were surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped arch ("crowning") which in both sides had the quarter galleries ("gardens"). These housed the toilets used by the people astern and had a small water tank on top for washdown. The transom was crowned by one or three lanterns depending on the category of the ship. The decoration would be generally painted in yellow with black background.

Transom and quarter galleries of the ship of the line Real Fénix


Circa 1700: the circular tops ("crow nest") are replaced by rectangular tops with their fore corners rounded.

Circa 1720: the utilization of a bowsprit topmast is abandoned.

1720: the King decrees the first regulation for naval construction, the "Gaztañeta system".

1737: the lateen sail on the mizzen mast is replaced by a variation on which an additional strip is added to the lower part of the sail, so the traditional triangular sail becomes a trapezoidal sail. Soon the part of the sail before the mast would be suppressed.

Circa 1750: the gaff sail framed by two sprits on the mizzen mast is introduced.

1769: the first copper recipients for gunpowder are introduced, which over time would replace the traditional wooden barrels.

1776: a regulation standardizes artillery, portable weapons and ammunitions.

1779: a regulation sets jib sails to be used instead of bowsprit sails.

1781: a regulation sets the ships to be painted solely in ochre yellow and black, following the standard scheme of alternate color bands, and with a thin sienna strip on the quarterdeck and sterncastle. The same yellow color is applied to masts.

1783: the careen, protected with tar and sulfur, starts to be lined with copper sheets. The Spanish Navy was delayed in respect of the British Navy in the introduction of the underwater copper lining, which caused a deficit in the mobility of its vessels. Also during this year, a regulation requires to line the powder magazines with lead plates to avoid sparks.

1784: a regulation sets the gaff sail to be used instead of the traditional lateen sail in the mizzen mast, which was much less manageable. The 112-gun ship of the line Santa Ana, launched this year, was fitted with lightning rods in the masts; these were chains which drove the electricity from the top of the mast to the water.

1793: a Royal decree allows to shape figureheads in accordance with the name of the ships, instead of the cocky lion used until then in every warship of the Spanish Navy.

Circa 1810: white color replaces the ochre yellow in the hull of warships.

112-gun ship of the line 1790 by Berlinguero

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