The caravel (also spelled carvel) is a light sailing ship that that was developed by the Portuguese in the late 1400’s, and was used for the next 300 years. The Portuguese developed this ship to help them explore the African coast.
The caravel was an improvement on older ships because it could sail very fast and also sail well into the wind (windward). Caravel planking on the hull replaced thinner, less effective planking. Caravels were broad-beamed ships that had 2 or 3 masts with square sails and a triangular sail (called a lanteen). They were up to about 65 feet long and could carry roughly 130 tons of cargo. Caravels were smaller and lighter than the later Spanish galleons (developed in the 1500’s).
Two of Christopher Columbus’ three ships were caravels (the Niña and the Pinta).