In the middle ages the square sail was used in the Atlantic cogs, whereas in the Mediterranean the lateen sail was used due to its more flexible use.

The combination of both sails into one ship happened in Iberia and led to the Age of Discovery, as it enabled oceanic expeditions to be undertaken.

This discovery appears to have happened around the time of Prince Henry the Navigator, and he certainly made good use of it. Was he involved in the development of this ship? If not, who came up with the idea of putting the two kinds of sails together?

There were a lot of other incremental developments that led to the carrack, but for purposes of this question I'm only interested in the merging of the two types of sails. Wikipedia just glosses over this aspect.

  • This is one of those things that were developed gradually by many people. It was not a one-man thing like the light bulb. Jul 4 '12 at 1:46
  • 2
    @Luke - I'd love to see that expanded into an answer. Particularly if you could come up with a link or two supporting it.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 4 '12 at 3:22

As the Portuguese gradually extended their explorations and trade ever further south along Africa's Atlantic coast during the 15th century they needed a larger and more advanced ship for their long oceanic adventures. Gradually, they developed the carrack from a fusion and modification of aspects of the ship types they knew operating in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean and a new, more advanced form of sail rigging that allowed much improved sailing characteristics in the heavy winds and waves of the Atlantic ocean.

So this was a gradual process. Earlier Carracks used clinker planking rather than carvel planking. There was no first carrack or definite date of the first carrack. Many older carvel were modified into carracks by adding a foresail, a square mainsail, and a lateen mizzen. However, most left off the high forecastle and the sternplace. These were called caravela redonda (not to be confused with the Portugese fighting ship of the 16th cenury of the same name). The Niña was a caravela redonda.

The Portuguese continued to develop the Carrack well after it was considered the main beast of burden of the Age of Exploration:

A new sail, the topsail emerged above the mainsail in the late 15th Century, first as a small yard and sail on the flagstaff rising from the top, then as a full-sized sail on its own mast attached to the mainmast. Later, also the foremast got its topsail.

By the end of the reign of the carrack, a third sail, the topgallant sail had appeared in some ships above the topsail in its topgallant mast.

So the carrack continued to develop throughout the 15th century and even into the mid-16th century. The first "carrack" was probably a modified caravel. We do not know for sure who first came up with the idea, if there was but one man; if ever it has been known, it has long since been lost to history.


  • 1
    Good, although I picked this question because I knew wikipedia didn't give an adequate answer. It could well be that we can't narrow it to a specific person, but I know there's more to the story than this. Hint: "Carrack" is a corruption of the original name for this type of ship, which was "Coch Baonesche".
    – Bryce
    Jul 4 '12 at 17:15
  • 2
    What do you mean, "there's more to the story than this."? I know that the name was changed by the Moorish influence, but what does this really add? Jul 4 '12 at 21:20

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