When it comes to passenger boat design, the features serving perfunctory purpose of a vessel is hardly its most notable aspect. Whilst heavy cargo isn't so concerned with its surrounding appearances, vessels designed to ship people across the oceans put appearances in high regard, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Galleon. A large, multi-decked ship that sailed primarily from European states in the 16th-18th century, we're virtually all capable of picturing them with each of their design hallmarks, even if we're not sure what they are. In this entry of the Seachest Blog, we're going to take you through what made the Galleon so iconic, with a look at some of our personal favourite vessels.


The world 'Galleon' has anchored into multiple languages - 'Galeón' "armed merchant ship" in Spanish, Portuguese 'Galeão' "war ship" and 'Galion' "little ship" in Old French. The close Byzantine Greek word 'Galea' meaning "galley" (a similarly designed, man powered ship used since the first millenium) suggests the origin of the word lies in the similarly defined Old French term 'Galie'. The ship itself was first noted in 16th century Venice, where its hugely increased level of stability on water and reduced wind resistance made it invaluable to the Venetians when going after pirates.

Built to be square-rigged and with three or more decks and masts, Galleons would require months of work from hundreds of expert-knowledge workmen to become seaworthy, mostly for military (and later trade) use. They were entirely powered by wind, and as the boats strove to be larger, a fourth mast was also attached - a lateen rigged mizzen called the bonaventure mizzen.

Though their tenure on the sea lasted a solid two and a half centuries, with notable uses including the Spanish treasure fleet, Manila Galleons - with the same ships often serving both wartime and peacetime roles - they certainly had their fair share of eye raising features. Their advanced rigging systems, which allowed a single vessel to be sailed home by a relatively small skeleton crew, was really only to make up for the fact that poor living conditions on board (aye...scurvy) and dangerous sea activities often left most of the crew dead.

Still, one can't deny the might of these epic ships lives on, forming the best bulk of maritime museums and exhibitions the world over. As a little tribute, have a look below at our personally chosen list of famous Galleons:

The Batavia

Built: 1628Where? Amsterdam, NetherlandsPurpose: Spice Trade

Ships don't come with a taller tale to tell than this poor vessel. The Batavia was shipwrecked on its maiden voyage after striking Morning Reef. This however came just after an impending mutiny was brought to light, who's would-be perpetrators later enacted their seizure of power in grizzly fashion. Before this tragedy, the survivors of the wreck embarked on a 33-day open boat journey to Jakarta, which is now considered one of the greatest feats of navigation. A replica of the Batavia can be found moored at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney.

Ark Royal

Built: 1587Where? EnglandPurpose: Royal Navy

Originally ordered for Sir Walter Raleigh himself before she was purchased by the crown, the ARK Royal was a heroic flapship instrumental in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, with her name carried on numerous other British warships since. Despite a tendency to roll heavily, she was a famously effective part of the navy, with her career only ending in 1636 where she struck her own anchor and sunk; far too damaged for repair.

Nuestra Señora de Santísima Trinidad

Built: 1769Where? Havana, CubaPurpose: Spanish Fleet

From one of Britain's most famous ships to one of its greatest enemies, the Santisima Trinidad was a first-rate ship of the Spanish fleet during the American War of Independence and the heaviest-armed of its time. By 1802 she carried 140 guns, essentially creating a continuous fourth gundeck, and though she sank after being scuttled by British ships in the Battle of Trafalgar, her effectiveness in battle was not forgotten.

Golden Hind

Built: 1577Where? EnglandPurpose: Exploration

And lastly we have one of the best known galleons of them all; the ship personally captained by Sir Francis Drake for circumnavigating the globe from 1577 to 1580. Despite the sometimes piratical conduct of its commander, Queen Elizabeth I came on board to knight Drake, taking a fair share of its substantial treasure. Unlike the ships above it's undoing came with time; staying on display for nearly 100 years before she eventually rotted way and finally broke up.

What are some famous galleons you would have loved to have ridden on? Have you had the pleasure of sailing on a modern replica? Let us know over at Facebook, through Twitter or over at Google+!

Post By Graham