Year of Invention: 1410
What Is It? The first long-distance, transoceanic sailing ship.
Who Invented It? Prince Henry (in Lisbon, Portugal)
The first Portuguese Caravel set sail thousands of years after the first ship equipped with a sail. But the Portuguese-built Caravel redefined the world as no other ship had done. It expanded Europe’s reach across the globe.
The Caravel made global ship navigation possible. Like the Apollo capsules were in space, the Caravel was an explorer built to venture into seas and parts of the world no other European had been able to reach. The Caravel opened Africa to European exploration (and exploitation).
A Caravel was the first ship to round Cape Bojador (the tip of West Africa). Using Caravels, the Portuguese discovered the Islands of Madeira and the Azores, both in the open Atlantic Ocean. Columbus sailed three Caravels to discover the New World. A Caravel was the first ship to round Cape Horn at the southern tip of Africa and venture into Indian Ocean waters. The Caravel set the stage for Europe’s ocean trade and colonization across Africa, India, and the Americas.
Few early ships relied exclusively on the wind. Cargo and military boats were designed with long rows of oars that propelled the boats when winds and currents did not flow the right way. War galleys—the most advanced ship designs—were rigged with a single mast and square sail to travel with the wind and as many as three rows of oars to power and maneuver the ship during battle. As late as 1571, Christian and Turkish fleets were rowed to war for the Battle of Lepanto. Ship captains used wind when it was handy and the backs and sweat of their sailors (and slaves) when it was not.