National Geographic : 1938 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE In that battle larger vessels carried 100 crossbowmen, 40 cannon, and catapults for throwing stones. Power came from 150 galley slaves, chained to their long sweeps and whipped savagely upon their naked backs to make them pull hard, in steady rhythm. In Greek and Roman galleys oars were arranged in two or more tiers. The Vene tians abolished this system, installing all oars on the same level. The rowers, how ever, sat on two or three different levels, with the benches inclined in such a way as to leave each man's motions free from inter ference by the others. The oars of each group of two or three rowers projected through the same open ing or "rowlock." The high bench was nearest the center of the vessel and its occupant pulled the longest oar-some times measuring nearly 50 feet in length. The galleys themselves were about 150 feet long. COLUMBUS'S FLAGSHIP SMALLER THAN MANY MODERN YACHTS We look now at models of the tiny caravels of Columbus, and are amazed that in craft so frail he dared so much. We might set his whole fleet, the Pinta, Nina, and Santa Maria, upon the decks of the new Queen Mary (page 58) and still have room to drill a regiment of infantry. Yet, in their day, these were stout little ships, developed by man after centuries of experience with Egyptian Nile and coastal craft, Chinese junks, Phoenician traders, Arab dhows, and Roman galleys, succes sive rungs of man's maritime ladder. Columbus's flagship, the caravel Santa Maria (Plate VI), was a type of vessel developed by the Portuguese in the course of their explorations about Africa; she had better lines than the old cargo carriers, sailed faster, and maneuvered better. Yet she was only 128 feet long-about as big as a fair-sized yacht of today! Despite their small size, often less than 100 tons, caravels became famous for sea worthiness on long voyages; Vasco da Gama used one in rounding the Cape of Good Hope; so did Magellan, in his pioneer circumnavigation of the globe. Opening the doors to a new world-wide era of exploration, commerce, wealth, and empire, the little caravel poked its bows into harbors previously unfurrowed by white men's ships, and fled safely from un- friendly shores, easily escaping from the canoes of warlike native tribes. Among heroic pioneer navigators in this age of exciting discovery was Sir Francis Drake. This English sea hawk sailed around the globe in the Golden Hind (Plate V) at the end of the 16th century, and was the first Englishman to pass through the Strait of Magellan and to ex plore the west coasts of South and North America. Drake scraped his ship's bottom hard by what is now San Francisco Bay, crossed the Pacific to the East Indies, and sailed home around the Cape of Good Hope. Rich with spoils from Spanish ships, he reached England after an absence of nearly three years. In those adventurous days some mari time nations built men-of-war of unprece dented size, called "great ships." As early as the 15th century the Portuguese had vessels of 2,000 tons carrying 1,000 men and 40 guns. Spain followed Portugal as mistress of the seas, using "great ships' to trade with her New World colonies and to carry home fabulous treasure in gold and silver. When the proud Spanish Armada con centrated its forces to crush Britain's rising sea power in 1588, the Ark Royal, of 800 tons and 55 guns, was the English flagship (Plate VIII). Many types of ships from galleys to galleons took part in this deci sive battle. The British had 197 fighting craft to the Spaniards' 130 or so; but they were smaller and less heavily armed. Britain's superior ity lay in the greater mobility of her men of-war, in advanced seamanship, and in gunnery. After some ten days of fighting and maneuvering, terrific Channel storms wrought havoc among the invading fleet, driving the Spaniards north around the British Isles. Fully half the ships of the great Armada were wrecked on the coasts of England, Scotland, the Orkney Islands, and Ireland, or sank in the open sea. That fight finished Spain as the greatest naval power, and Britain's sea star rode high. WHEN AMERICAN MERCHANT SHIPS WERE SUPREME Long before steamboats came into use, sailing ships had already explored the open waters and inhabited coasts of practically the whole world.