The Spanish Galleons
A classic Spanish galleon.
Illustration by Thomas Trojer
The galleon was designed to protect the annual treasure fleets sailing between Spain and the New World. Most galleons weighed 300-500 tons. They held a lot of cargo and were built with three masts called the foremast, mainmast and mizzenmast. They had tall forecastles and massive sterncastles which made them unwieldy and hard to sail.
Most of the sails were square, requiring that the galleons sail with the wind coming from near the stern. The galleons could hold up to 60 cannons and could carry 200 crew.
They often carried many Spanish soldiers to help fight off pirate boarding parties. The galleons main drawback was that they were heavy and slow. Pirate ships could easily chase them down, get past the cannon fire and come alongside for a boarding attack.
The English privateers, including Francis Drake, used much faster, smaller ships called ‘Race-Built Galleons.’ These became the main ships in the English navy. the English galleons had sleek hulls, low structures and powerful cannons.