Such a little Ship, on Such a Mighty Ocean…
Whether one is an ancient Phoenician trader, a Moorish admiral, A Venetian pirate or a Nordic settler, it’s always been about space aboard ship…
As long as we have been taking to the seas with any greater purpose than ‘muck about in a boat,’ the focus of shipwrights the world over has been (up to a point) to maximize the size which the materials and technologies will allow. After all, the more of anything one can get aboard ship, the better…
However, a few notable exceptions aside (such as the treasure ships of the Chinese admiral Zheng He), the development of the ocean-going ship until the 15th century was a rather slow affair, especially in Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Persian Gulf. It is almost as if, with the limited range of even sea travel until the ‘age of exploration,’ the design of ships evolved – quite naturally – alongside the conditions in their local environs.
In the East, where trade dominated, sleek dows and junks filled the sea lanes. In the ‘Middle Sea,’ free from tides, the worst of storms but rife with piracy and conflict the galley was Monarch – as it had been since the time of Carthage (perhaps even the Sea Peoples).
Further West, in the storm-tossed Atlantic, the little, stable Cogs and barks bullied their way through the waves, almost the mirror image of the sleek clinker-built dragon ships which would sacrifice capacity and stability for speed in their pursuit of both trade and booty.
We do not have a need to go too deeply into the history of the ships of the whole world, as we would be here to until Doomsday.
However, it is worth making the point that, as with a great deal of human technology, the ship as a ‘device’ evolved very slowly down through the ages, as the relatively confined and parochial maritime interests of even the Great Powers of the world were well served by the small craft they had at there disposal. Thus, from the time of the Persians to that of the Spanish Reconquista, the ships of many nations would have been more or less recognizable to a sailor of almost any time and place.
This should not be thought of as a bad thing, however.
Even an ocean-going ship is something of a ‘mousetrap,’ by which I mean that very quickly the cultures of the ancient world discovered the perfect compromises of materials, capacity, and speed which their needs required and without some great shift in social need, very little changed as a result.
All very staid, all very steady…
And it may have stayed that way if great wealth had not been discovered in the East.
Once reports of China, Japan, and India began filtering back to the courts of Europe, the game began to change, and ship design with it.
There was little hope of rowing a galley all the way to the East, across wild oceans, and even if one managed it, what cargoes of worth could be brought home (and at what profit) on such confined vessels? The Dow was a better design, to be sure, with its exceptional sails, but again, space was the issue. European Cogs had the space and stability of rough seas, but not the firepower of the galleys…
This was all a bit of a quandary, until some clever sparks began mixing and merging ship elements in the late 15th century in the search of a reliable, efficient ship design that could sail with almost any wind and cover great distances as safely as possible to bring back the bounty of the Far East…
By the end of the 15th century, trade to the East had reached as far as the tip of Africa and the Portuguese captains who dominated those waters needed ever larger, and better-armed, ships for their daring voyages. Gradually, they developed their own models of oceanic ships (the Carrack).
From Wikipedia: The origin of the word carrack is usually traced back through the medieval European languages to the Arabic, and from thence to the Greek κέρκουρος (kerkouros) meaning approximately “lighter (barge)” (literally, “shorn tail”, a possible reference to the ship’s flat stern). Its attestation in Greek literature is distributed in two closely related lobes. The first distribution lobe, or area, associates it with certain light and fast merchantmen found near Cyprus and Corfu. The second is an extensive attestation in the Oxyrhynchus corpus, where it seems most frequently to describe the Nile barges of the Ptolemaic pharaohs. Both of these usages may lead back through the Phoenician to the Akkadian kalakku, which denotes a type of river barge. The Akkadian term is assumed to be derived from a Sumerian antecedent. Sumerian antecedent A modern reflex of the word is found in Arabic and Turkish kelek “raft; riverboat”. 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.
These Carracks were all well and good, but not perfect.
They represented a good mixture of the important styles of the age, to be sure. The rounded hull of the Cog or Drakkar, the defensive towers of the Galley and the sails of the Dow or the Junk… Putting them together was certainly a step in the right direction, and no one can be blamed for the fact that the carrack was not perfect, as it was still a quantum leap ahead of its older competitors…
And yet, there was still a need for greater efficiency.
Columbus and Magellan, who both made long, deep-water voyages in Carracks, took careful note of their ships’ good and bad points in many different conditions and upon their return home shared this data with shipwrights who looked to better understand the limitations of their own craft.
One of the most remarkable men to work in this age was the trader, soldier, and settler, John Hawkins, who took great note that the top-heavy nature of the average Carrack required that she had to maneuver very carefully, lest she heel over too far and be swamped (as happened to the Mary Rose against the French fleet).
Hawkins argued that, if a way was found to reduce (or raze) the castles as far as possible, it would make for a much more nimble ship which, at the cost of some defensive power, would be far faster and more agile. Indeed, as the castles were primarily used to defend ships from boarding, it was Hawkins’ hope that they would not be as important on a fast ship which was, as likely as not, the one to be be doing the boarding in the first place.
Thus, he squashed, razed, stretched, and teased the Carrack.
He chopped off her rump, skinned in her sides, lengthened her keel and poured on the sail, creating – in his own words – a ship:
With the Head of a Cod, and the Tail of a Mackerel
The Race Built Galleon – of which class the Golden Hind is the most famous (well, for an Englishman) example.
In part two, as we get into the build, we shall have a look at the Hind herself, as well as some of the deeds in which she sailed.
However, for the moment, let’s get into the loot!
Heller has long had a name for ships, and I can recall making this kit (or, making a mess of it) when I was a wee lad.
On the one hand therefore, I do have a bit of nostalgia over this kit and that cannot be denied.
However, this length of run also beings me to the first issue of note. The kit has not been updated since the molds were cut in the ’70s. Indeed, having a word with an old oppo on site it is clear that the same actual clamps are still being used by Heller all these years later.
There does not seem to be a single part that is not free from flash and spill over.
Not a major issue on most parts, but on things like the deck guns, some of the components were more scrap than part, and with my eyesight being a bit shonky, I managed to wreck a couple of things, simply because I could not see what was what.
Minor niggle compared to what was to come though… 🙁
Even at 1/200, the Golden Hind is a small ship, and allowed for this very sturdy two-part hull, with superstructure details.
The ‘razed’ nature of the fore and aft castles can clearly be seen here.
Did i say the kit had not been updated? Well, that was mostly true, save for these handy, dandy ratling stairs.
When I first made the kit, these were made from plastic coated sting, and required the devil’s own luck to affix properly.
These things, made from a flexible styrene, seem easier to work with, but perhaps a bit too ‘bulky’…
We shall see.
Oh… These sails. I never liked them… Still don’t.
I understand the reasoning of the age in which the kit was made, but if the ratlings have been redone, I do not see why these could not have been updated.
A skilled modeler would work with them, and make them good.
I however, chose the coward’s way out… I’ve ditched them, and ordered a set of cloth sails from the nice local model shop…
Hawkins and Drake would approve… 😉
This build really is a blast from the past and I am looking forward to it with cautious optimism.
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