Carracks, Wine shipments, Further reading

The painting

One of The « Picturesque Wine Villages of Bordeaux » series.

This marine art painting of  Carracks and Caravels by Gordon Frickers, measures 48 x 62 cms (19″ x 24″), oils, price £600.00 ex studio ex frame.

The mouth of the powerful Gironde estuary were the currents spill into the wide Atlantic Ocean.

A summer evening, a Portuguese carrack, a lead vessel of a fleet is working her way on a flood tide into the fast flowing Gironde estuary towards Bordeaux to trade for wines.

When under sail upon the Gironde, today as in antiquity, powerful tides and the confluence of two fast flowing heavily silt laden major rivers make for difficult navigation

The Admiral would choose a smaller ship in his fleet to ‘sound’ and prove the pilot knew the safe channel for her larger sisters.

The fierce flowing Gironde estuary is well known to the artist Gordon Frickers, an estuary little changed since the earliest navigators dared this turbulent stream.

This carrack has passed the bar so accurate navigating is becoming more critical thus she is reducing sail to slow down.

In those far off days estuaries were poorly marked, buoys, light houses and day marks were rarities.

Charts if carried were much prized ‘state of the art of navigation’ treasured, secret and very basic.

Even if carried the charts rarely marked currents which can be very strong on the French Atlantic  coast and this estuary is subject to shifting sand and mud banks; dangerous ship sucking traps for unwieldy ships.

Thus it would have been sound practice to send a smaller vessel into the estuary to check a safe passage with deep water ahead of the fleet.

It is that practice we see here.

To make doubly sure there were no mistakes our Carrack has as normal for that epoch a Herald with a trumpet; also on stand by an anchor ready to let go.

This ship is ready for trouble, see how many other indications of her alertness you can spot?

People ashore and other estuary traffic would recognise from the flags and designs on the sails these traders as Portuguese, the Portuguese royal flag shown is correct for the period.

A book cover:

The Coming of the Cross”, the book cover will be illustrated by this painting.
Following the success of “The Corsair”, now a best seller in Arabic and English (ISBN 978-99921-94-72-0) the publishers have asked to use the same artist for the whole series.

The cross in various forms was a normal emblem on European ships for many centuries helping identify friend and foe, Christian from Muslim.

The arrival of Portuguese ships in the Arabian sea had a profound influence upon the region. Muslims soon discovered at great cost their men and ships were no match for the sturdy castellated Portuguese vessels which simple shot them to pieces.

One of the many effects was Arab ship construction gradually began to copy European designs.

Wine Shipments:

How the Bordeaux wines success story came about is almost as incredible as the size of the trade and the high quality of the wines.

Bordeaux was for much of the 18 th century the busiest port in Europe.

To name one typical trade port, during the 15th to 18 th centuries; Plymouth used to send 600 ships every autumn to Bordeaux.

English links with Bordeaux wines remain to this day very strong.

Those links have deep roots, the English have much influenced the cultivation of Bordeaux wines.

The region became an English possession when Eleanor of Aquitaine also called Eleanor of Guyenne married Henry II.

Eleanor has a grand story in her own right: among other things she was probably the most powerful woman in 12th-century Europe.

The industrious English together with the original inhabitants soon set about improving the wines.

The Bordeaux region which has traded wines at least as far back as pre Rome when the Phoneticians ruled the waves, began to recover from the ravages of the dark ages and take on its present form.

By the time our Portuguese Carracks arrive a wine trade was well re established.

Wine has been shipped via the Gironde even before Bordeaux and it’s wines existed.

Archaeological evidence shows the Phoneticians, long before the Romans, penetrated hundreds of kilometers inland via the Gironne and Dordougne rivers to there navigable heads and developed as Gaillac on the Tarn probably planting the first Gaillac vines.

The ship:

The Carrack was a remarkable innovation.

The carrack was one of the most influential ship designs in history, widely used by Europe’s maritime powers.

Carracks were used by Vasco de Gama, Christopher Columbus and for much of Europe’s maritime commerce.

The carrack (or Nau) developed by the Portuguese was the forerunner, the ‘grand dad’ of the great ships of the age of sail.

The carrack was not a ‘tall ship she was though for her time, a much improved design.

The Late Middle Ages witnessed gradual improvements to the Viking round ships.

They developing into the cog, hulk, hoy and other types of simple square-rigged vessels.

Those ships were widely used around Europe mostly for short sea voyages and coast hopping including in the Baltic in the Mediterranean.

The design gradually developed into the stouter Carrack, square rigged with topsails and Caravel the latter usually smaller and with lateen sails.

The Portuguese were propelled by a desire to find a seaway to the spice islands (and a fortune) and to spread their religion.

By the late 14th century their adventures demanded a more advanced ship for their increasingly long oceanic gambles.

Gradually they developed the more robust Carrack and Caravel types with stronger hulls and a more advanced form of rigging.

Features included a stronger more stable hull with an enlarged rig.

Those features improved sailing characteristics in heavy winds and the battering waves of the Atlantic, enabled more supplies and more cargo to be carried.

With the carrack and caravel they had ships that were sufficiently robust to enable them to gradually extended their explorations and trade south along Africa’s Atlantic seaboard.

Small topsails were introduced as were up to 4 masts, the aft two being Lateen rigged and in particular, important in big seas,  the transom and rudder were more strongly fitted than on previous European ships.

Popular with their crews carracks represented for a while the largest class of European sea going ship.

Together with the smaller caravel design Europeans found they had ships capable of challenging the 5 oceans.

Our carrack shows all the features of a medium size carrack.

A Carrack tended to be slower, bigger, carry more and was less able to sail against the wind than the caravel, but was steadier and safer, more comfortable for the crew.

Used for general commerce by the Portuguese and later by the Spanish, Carracks sailed to explore and map much of the world.

A typical Carrack had a strongly built hull with much tumble home, a high rounded stern, large aft-castle, forecastle, bowsprit and bumkin.

Our Carrack has the typical Carrack sail plan no separate topmasts, ‘flowerpot ‘ tops, no foot ropes on the yards.

The sails of the fore and mainmast were cut square, the mizzen sail was triangular.

There were no reefing points.

The main and fore course  had bonnet used to reduce sail when the yards were lowered;  one or two removable ‘bonnets’ could be stitched on in lighter airs, removed in a blow.

The total sail area would have been about 4,000 square feet (370 m2).

Topsails appeared on Carracks but were small.

Thus far no way had been found to support taller masts and no one had thought to fit foot ropes so working aloft in bad weather was extremely dangerous, the medieval practice of doing as much work as possible on the deck was followed.

Spritsail on a bowsprit, foresail and mizzen lateen completed the outfit.

This vessel sports rather more than the usually number of gun ports for the period.

Our ship was protected by castles that housed about 20 guns including some to cover the waist, plus swivels and the officers accommodation aft.

For the period a carrack was state of the art and well-armed.

The number of cannon a carrack carried steadily increased as did their size as the decades passed.

The Portuguese carracks pioneered the Atlantic sea lanes to the America’s, their crews explored and mapped the west coast of Africa, rounded the cape of Good Hope to open the Arabian seas and routes to the far east.

The carrack had a profound influence on Arabian shipping, it’s design, sailing abilities, decoration and ability to literally shoot to pieces any Arab pirate dhow (and many tried) rash enough to attack a carrack.

Carracks and caravels were the keys with which European sailors unlocked the sea routes to the east and West Indies, the America’s and much more.

The carrack’s impact in the east was as far reaching as in the west.

Some carracks were built and still sailing in the 18 th century.

The galleon design gradually replaced the carrack in turn leading directly to the English Race Galleon favored by men like Francis Drake, thus to the first 100 gun ship, ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ and on to Nelson’s superlative HMS Victory.

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This marine art painting by Gordon Frickers, measures 48 x 62 cms (19″ x 24″), oils, price £950.00 ex studio ex frame.

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Gordon Frickers © 13.07.2013 updated 30.03.2015, 28,03,16,

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