The Mayflower brought the first group of Pilgrims to North America in 1620. No one knows exactly what the ship looked like, but it was probably about 27 m (90 ft) long and had three masts and two decks. The ship sailed from Plymouth, England, on September 16, 1620, with 102 passengers and arrived at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, on November 21. This photograph shows a replica of the original Mayflower.

FThe 15th-century exploits of the great explorers earned riches and power for the seafaring nations of Europe. Spain devoted much of its new wealth to building a corps of battleships to accompany and protect merchant ships, laden with treasures collected in the Americas, against piracy. Toward this end, Spanish shipwrights developed the galleon, a modified, enlarged version of the carrack that became the premier ocean-going ship of the 16th and 17th centuries. Although developed as a warship, the galleon proved to be a fast and able sailer with a large cargo capacity. Most European nations adopted them to carry the treasures of Asia and the Americas back to Europe.

Swedish warship Vasa

Salvaged from the Baltic Sea in 1961, the Swedish warship Vasa is the only intact 17th-century ship in the world. It sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. Now completely restored, the ship is on display at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

In galleons, the hull is longer and slimmer than in carracks. A high sterncastle and long beak at the bow give the hull a crescent shape. Excellent sailers, galleons carried three masts and flew square sails on the fore and main masts and a lateen sail on the mizzen. Some galleons had a fourth mast, which carried a lateen sail called a second, or bonaventure mizzen. The typical galleon was heavily armed, having two decks with cannons and several smaller decks that served as fighting platforms. These included a half-deck, a smaller quarterdeck, and a poop deck (a partial deck aft of the main mast).

galleon the Golden Hind

English explorer Francis Drake sailed around the world between 1577 and 1580 in his galleon the Golden Hind. On his voyage Drake was able to seize large amounts of treasure from Spanish possessions in South America. As a result of his success, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I of England. This replica of Drake?s galleon can be seen on the Thames River in London.

Galleons fulfilled many famous missions. They were the principal fighting ships of the Spanish Armada of 1588. The small merchant galleon Mayflower brought the Pilgrims to America in 1620. The beautiful Swedish galleon Vasa, built by Dutch shipwrights for the King of Sweden, sank tragically on its maiden voyage in Stockholm harbor in 1628. A wind blew Vasa onto its side, allowing water to pour through the open gun ports. The ship lay in the mud at the bottom of the harbor until the 1960s, when it was resurrected and meticulously restored. Today the Vasa is the only surviving galleon and Stockholm's most popular public exhibit.

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