Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Galleon-work horse of the Spanish Empire

The Spanish Galleon became synonymous with trade and treasure in the 16th and 17th centuries.They were also the backbone warships of the major European navy's of the day.
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Cross section of a typical galleon design. Note the two gun decks, supplies stored in the lowest hold and the ballast stones that were critical to the ships stability and one of the key ways to identify sunken shipwrecks to this very day.
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Galleons were massive ships for their time and very expensive, they were therefore embellished with the finest craftsmanship and artistic designs affordable. The tall "castle" in the Stern was designed as an elevated fighting platform for the soldiers in the crew and was a hallmark of the galleon design.
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From 1566 t0 1790 the yearly "Treasure Fleet" transported the income of Spain's American Colonial Empire to Spain.  Fleets of twenty or more galleons would assemble in Cuba and sail in a convoy through the dangerous Caribbean waters (storms, Hurricanes and pirate/Privateer raiders being the greatest threats) to Europe.  In today's money it was not unusual for each treasure galleon to carry between 500 million and a billion dollars worth of silver, gold, gems and jewelry on board-a tempting prize for pirates and the navies of Spain's enemies.

One a year from 1565 to 1815, the Manila-Acapulco Galleon, "the Black Ship," carried the years taxes, trade good and passengers from the Spanish East Indies in Asia to New Spain. The cargo then was transported overland to coastal seaports to join the annual Treasure Fleet to Spain.
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 In large scale sea battles, Galleons were the major warships of the age.  Most galleon were armed with forty to sixty cannon and hundreds of soldiers.  The main tactic was to fire the ships cannon while closing with the the enemy.  When the ships were close enough to grapple (throw ropes with hooks to catch and pull the enemy ship towards the attacker) the soldiers would board the opponent and capture them through hand to hand combat.

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