At full sail! Museu Marítim de Barcelona 1
AT FULL SAIL!
Àrea d’Educació i Activitats
MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION. WHAT’S A SHIP?
Means of transportation are those which let us
go from one point (A) to another (B).
As long as going from one point to another was
the only objective of human beings, means of
transportation used to be quite simple: horses,
canoes… But as commercial relationships started
to establish things changed: goods’ volumes
were gradually higher and had to cover longer
distances, keeping costs lower as possible at the
same time. Those are the reasons why means of
transportation needed to evolve.
Ever since prehistory human kind has travelled round the world on foot and on
foot has human kind carried his belongings. It is not easy neither to cover greater
distances nor carrying heavy volumes this way, and that’s the reason why next
step in transport evolution involved pack animals. The kind of animals used for
this purpose varied depending on the geographical location: donkeys, mules, hors-
es, camels, elephants, llama…
The load was initially carried by the beast
itself, but it soon came evident that pull-
ing on the cargo had to be rather more
effective. The first vehicles then ap-
peared (carts, carriages, cars…), which
meant that loads could be bigger and
heavier and distances to cover, longer
At full sail! Museu Marítim de Barcelona 2
Ground transportation worked this way for centuries. Steam engines made its ap-
pearance in the 19th
century, followed soon after by combustion engines. Carts and
carriages were gradually substituted by cars, buses, lorries and specially by the rail-
way system, the biggest novelty at that time. Nevertheless, the ship was still the
means of transport par excellence in order to cover great distances until the 20th
Ground means of transport are in the need of an important infrastructure: roads,
This means of transport is faster than any
other, but it’s dedicated mainly for people’s
travels. Some examples are airplanes, heli-
copters, rockets… These inventions are in
no need of any kind of infrastructure on
route, but they do need them on the
ground: airports, hangars, control towers…
Transport over rivers and seas is as old as ground transportation. The first and main
purpose of a boat was that of letting people cross water surfaces. But purposes
were gradually getting more complex, and so the size and profile of boats. First
boats were a mere surface made of tied tree trunks. But over time ships were slow-
ly changing forms and propulsion systems in order to adapt to objectives, sizes,
technical improvements… Over the centuries, the Mediterranean Sea has been
home to all kind of amazing ships, from traditional and fearsome war galleys to
modern, enormous aircraft carriers.
At full sail! Museu Marítim de Barcelona 3
BUT, WHAT IS A SHIP?
A ship is a means of transport which travels over a water surface, this way trans-
forming an obstacle (the sea), into a communication route.
And why does it float? Theoretically, an object floats or sinks whether it is heavier
or lighter than water. Tree leafs, a piece of cork, tree barks… All these things float
because they’re lighter than water. Meanwhile, an iron pipe, marbles or cobble-
stones sink because they’re heavier than water.
However, if we put a glass on the water surface it won’t sink unless we start filling it
up with things until it’s so heavy that it goes down to the bottom. There are two
reasons that explain this behavior: firstly, its shape (similar to that of a ship) which
makes that, when partially immersed in the water, the weight of fluid it displaces is
smaller than the total weight of the glass. And secondly, on the inside of the glass
there’s only air, an element with a lesser density and weight than water. In fact, if
we start filling up the glass with objects, we’re emptying the air out at the same
time, increasing its weight until it finally sinks. The concept behind a ship is quite
similar, and that’s why ships can be built from heavy materials like iron or steal,
provided that they have a suitable shape and we never exceed its load capacity.
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PARTS OF A SHIP
Sailors use a special vocabulary when referring to its work; that’s the reason why
the names of the different parts of a ship are different to those used with other ve-
hicles or means of transport.
The front side of a ship is called bow.
The back side of a ship is called stern.
Starboard is the right side of a ship, when facing the bow.
And the left side of a ship, when facing the bow, is called port.
But there are many other parts in a boat, and each one has a specific name. We’re
not going to list them all, but we can learn the most important ones.
For example, in a sailing ship, sails are tied to the masts, and each one of the
masts has a different name:
• Mainmast: it’s a sailing ship principal mast.
• Foremast: It’s the mast nearest the bow of a ship
• Mizenmast: It’s the mast nearest the stern of a ship
At full sail! Museu Marítim de Barcelona 5
Sails come in a great variety of shapes and sizes, but they can be divided into these
• Triangular sails (also known as lateen sails)
• Quadrangular sails (also known as square rig: when the wind blows, sails
inflate and adopt a round shape, similar to that of a hot-air balloon).
• Trapezoidal sails (also known as jiggers), and topsails (triangular or trape-
zoidal sails fitted over jiggers)
• Jibs (small triangular sails hoisted in front of the foremast).
Quadrangular sail (square
Triangular sail (lateen sail)
At full sail! Museu Marítim de Barcelona 6
Quite probably, the first thing human beings used to cross a water surface was a
tree trunk; and it’s very likely that those first sailors took advantage of their hands
to propel their boats. But the needed effort was exhausting, and they rapidly came
up with new methods to drive their boats.
The pole: When there’s not much depth
and the bank or the shore is near, a per-
son standing on the boat can use a pole
to sail. The sailor pushes the pole against
the bottom with his/her hands so the
boat can move forward.
The oar: When there is a short distance to cov-
er, the oar is an ideal propulsion system for a
boat. With the oars, sailors push against the wa-
ter, not the bottom of the sea/river.
Sails: Sailing ships where the kings of the
seas until the invention of the steam engine.
In pushing against the sailcloth, the ship takes
profit from the wind force and moves forward.
There are basically two types of sails: triangu-
lar sails, also known as lateen sails, typical of
the Mediterranean fishing boats; and quadran-
gular sails, those typical of great sailboats.
Engines: During the 19th
Century sails were
gradually substituted by paddlewheels, in the
first instance, and by screws soon after, both of
them propelled by steam engines, turbines, nu-
At full sail! Museu Marítim de Barcelona 7
The development of ships as the main worldwide means of transport has run paral-
lel to the development of ports.
But, what is a port? A port is a place where ships may take refuge from storms,
and/or a place where ships load or unload their cargo.
There are natural ports or harbours, taking profit of the coastline profile, and artifi-
A natural port is a place on the coastline with a strategic situation and a set of
features (protection against wind force, easy access to land…) which make the ideal
place of it for ships to reach land and to load and download their cargo without any
further intervention over its physical profile. That is, people who make use of these
ports don’t have the need to build any port structures in order to undertake any
kind of maritime commerce operation.
When natural shape of the coastline makes it difficult to carry out commercial activi-
ties but the need of a port in that place is imperative, specific structures like docks
need to be built. These kinds of ports built by people are called artificial ports.
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There are several types of ports. Here we are some examples:
Fishing port. It displays the infrastructures
and buildings needed for fishing practice: fish
market, docks, garages…
Naval bases. A naval base is a port where warships may take refuge and, moreo-
ver, it displays everything needed for maintenance purposes: ammunition dump,
Commercial ports. They’re the
biggest and most relevant ports
nowadays, and offer plenty of
space to store ships’ cargo: con-
tainer port, cars port, grain
Yachting harbours. There are lots of yachting
harbours in the Catalan coastline, because many
seaside villages have built these kinds of ports in
order to attract people who like to spend their lei-
sure time on board of a leisure boat. These ports
are smaller and they usually incorporate fun
Some ports are so big that they are divided into different areas, each one dedicated
to one of these purposes. This is the case of the port of Barcelona.
Containers unload inside a com-
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THE SPECIALIZATION OF SHIPS
Basic function of a boat has always and everywhere
been letting people cross water surfaces. But objectives
rapidly started to be more complicated, and so were
ships’ shapes and sizes. The features of a ship are de-
termined by its function.
For example, warships carry weaponry and several
There are lots of types of merchant ships, because
trade is its main purpose nowadays. Merchant ships
have to offer a great load capacity (big holds to store
goods) and need to be economic.
Passenger ships need to be comfortable (full
equipped cabins, dinner rooms…); they have to offer
leisure activities for passengers to enjoy a funny trip;
but above all, these ships must guarantee a high secu-
rity level for all passengers.
When talking of leisure related to the sea, we find a
great variety of options. Cruise ships to spend the holi-
days, yachts and even sports boats: dinghy sailing, ca-
Fishing boats vary depending on the kind of fish they
are designed to catch. In the Catalan coast we can find
encesa boats (with fishing lights to fish at night), bot-
tom-trawling boats (a fishing technique which consist in
trawling the net by the bottom of the sea), purse-seine
boats (they set the net in a circle and catch fishes from
the boats); but we also find big modern fishing ships
capable of spending several months in the open sea.
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It’s a long a time since the ship has become the most important means of transport.
And for a long time ships were also the fastest, safest and most profitable means of
Ground routes used to be dangerous and in bad conditions, whereas sea routes let
traders transport bigger amounts of goods at a cheaper cost.
On the 20th
Century, the airplane climbed to the top of the ranks as the fastest
means of transport, but nowadays no other means can compete with ships regard-
ing to goods volume and respect for the environment. In fact, maritime transport
represents 80% of world transport at present. 20% left is represented by ground
In ancient times, the same boats were used for several
purposes: fishing, trading, traveling, war… There were no
significant differences between ships.
But from the 19th
Century on, ships started to specialize
depending on their use; that’s why their shapes and sizes started being designed
according to their function.
Fishing boats, commercial ships, warships...; each one of them was different to the
rest and adapted to its function. Nevertheless, the biggest worldwide revolution in
maritime transport (and also in ground transport) came with the invention of the
The container is the perfect solution for one of the main problems of maritime
transport: cargo load and unload. For centuries,
load and unload were manually carried on, with
the resulting waste of time and money. All goods
were stored in sacks and loaded or downloaded
to or from carts or lorries manually, or with the
help of small cranes.
Coca, a typical merchant ship from
the Middle Ages
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American truck driver Malcom McLean found a solution to the problem: instead of
taking the cargo out from a lorry to load it in the ship afterwards , he thought it
would be a great idea to load the whole back part of the lorry directly into the ship.
And he got down to business.
He bought two T4 tank ships (similar to oil tankers) and ordered some metal boxes
the same size of his trucks, but without the rolling system. The two ships could
store 58 of these big metal boxes, which he called containers, taking into account
that they could be stacked up.
At present, the biggest container ship can carry up to 18.000 containers; just in one
trip it can transport 111 million pairs of snickers. It has a length of 400 meters, a
beam of 59 meters and a draught of 15 meters.
This simple invention shook up the world of transports. The speed of cargo loading
and downloading directly from the ship to trains and trucks, ready to distribute all
goods throughout the land, was a complete revolution, comparable to the invention
of the wheel, the steam engine,
the internal combustion engine
or the microchip.
On its first trip, on April 1965,
both ships carried 58 containers
from New York to Houston. In
2002, container ships moved
9,200 million tons of goods
The advantages of this transport system are more than evident: loads arrive on
destiny without being manipulated; it is very easy to pass from one means of
transport (ship) to the next (truck/train), due to the standard sizes of containers;
and ports have become fast pass places, contrary to what it used to be in the past.
But all along the 20th
Century maritime transport sector lived a fast process of spe-
cialization, resulting in the conception of lots of ship types: oil and gas tankers;
reefer ships; ro-ro ships; bulk carriers…
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Rowing is the most ancient maritime propulsion system, and it was used in small
boats as well as in big ships with dozens of oarsmen.
An oar is a long pole with a broad, wide blade at one end used as a lever against
water for moving a boat. Oars and sails combined together in ships with a mixed
propulsion system for centuries: these boats took profit of wind force as an auxiliary
Rowing boats’ benefits were evident: maneuvers like starting, turning, braking…
were made with ease. That’s why these kinds of boats were ideal when entering or
leaving ports, or even in case of naval battles. To achieve the same effect with a
sailing boat a greater forecast of time and space was needed.
At present, oars have been left for lesser boats used for auxiliary tasks, small fishing
and leisure and sport boats.
At full sail! Museu Marítim de Barcelona 13
Sailing ships were the kings of the seas until the invention of the steam engine. In
pushing against the sailcloth, the ship takes profit from the wind force and moves
The type of sailing ship was determined by the combination of sails and masts (also
known as rig).
Capacity: 400-700 tons
Three square-rigged masts vessel, although there were
some with four, five and even six masts. Each mast was
divided into three pieces.
Capacity: 300-500 tons
Three masts vessel; square-rigged foremast and
mainmast divided into two pieces, mizenmast divided
into two pieces with spanker sails.
Capacity: 200-300 tons
Two square-rigged masts vessel. Each mast was divid-
ed into three pieces.
Capacity: 200-250 tons
Two square-rigged masts vessel. Each mast was di-
vided into two pieces.
Capacity: 200 tons
Two or three masts vessel. Each mast was divided into two pieces, with spanker
Capacity: 200-300 tons
Two masts vessel, square-rigged on the foremast and
fore-an-aft rigged on the main mast.
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Merchant and passenger ships
For centuries, passengers and goods
travelled on board the same ships. In
fact, until the great migration period to
America on the 20th
Century, people who
travelled were few. The introduction of
the steam engine and the steal hull and
the need of improving passengers’ re-
ception resulted in the proliferation of
big ocean liners, where passengers and
load share the same ship.
People have travelled all around the world on board of ships since ancient times,
but the amount of trips was massive during the great migrations to America. Also
during this period wealthy people started doing pleasure or business trips; they
crossed the Atlantic sea taking profit of the comfort offered by the great ocean lin-
ers for the first time. These ships became a showcase of each nation power and
wealth, and its maximum exponent is the Titanic.
Long sea trips were left aside after the irruption of aviation, and passenger ships
started specializing in short trips (from the Iberian Peninsula to the Balearic Islands,
for example) and pleasure trips on board of cruise ships, where the journey itself
becomes the leisure option.
Leisure boats are another kind of passenger boats typical of ports, rivers and lakes,
like the Golondrinas in Barcelona or Bateau Mouche in Paris.
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Ever since the beginning of navigation ships have been used for military purposes.
When artillery didn’t exist, sea battles were resolved by boarding, fighting hand to
hand on board the assaulted ship. The galley was the main Mediterranean warship,
descendant of Roman bireme and trireme. Ships of the line came later on, loaded
with cannons on both sides that were shot when “in line” (hence their name) with
coastal villages or enemy ships.
At present warships are equipped with the most advanced military technology and
tough structures to make front to the powerful enemy projectiles.
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Until the development of aviation, ships were employed for coastal navigation in or-
der to draw the outline of islands and continents for navigation charts.
Marco Polo was one of the first men who left graphical evidence of western lands
beyond the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, the most profitable period took place dur-
ing the Age of Discoveries, in the 15th
Centuries, when Portuguese and
Spanish expeditions added the outline of Africa (just the northern coastline of that
continent was known at that time) and the recently discovered American lands to
maps. They as well circumnavigated the Earth, this way demonstrating its round-
One of the reasons that helped explorers venturing in discovery trips was the devel-
opment of new vessels, especially the caravel: it was a light (small tonnage), fast
(thanks to its narrow and sharp shape) and maneuverable ship with a great re-
sistance against inclement weather.
The caravel served their Portuguese designers not only to sail down the eastern Af-
rican coast, but also to sail up the western part, an impossible challenge for other
types of ships which explains the unsuccessful end of many expeditions. Christopher
Columbus also made use of caravels in his 1492 expedition which ended with the
discovery of a new world.
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Pleasure sailing as a hobby led to the organization of the first regatta (boat races).
On a first instance, each participant competed with his or her own boat, whether it
was a fishing, leisure or transport boat. The first classifications of sport boat types
were made in the USA during the 1940’s; since then, it is compulsory to sail in a de-
termined kind of sport boat to participate in a regatta.
Leisure rowing and sailing became gradually popular and in the middle 1950’s many
Catalan coastal villages started to have their own yacht clubs with the intention to
promote sailing sports amongst their population. Nevertheless, some of them, like
the Real Club Nàutic de Barcelona, were funded several years before.
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Traditional Catalan fishing boats had some particular characteristics: bulgy hull, a
length of between 3 and 12 meters and one or two masts with lateen (triangular)
sails, typical of the Mediterranean Sea.
They were versatile boats prepared to work with different fishing gears, given that
the kind of fish to catch was different depending on the time of the year.
There are basically three types of fishing gears:
• Bottom-trawling fishing consists in towing a fishing net along the sea floor.
When it was carried out by two trawlers (that’s the name of the fishing boats
dedicated to this gear) fishing cooperatively, it was called pair trawling.
• Purse seining technique involves laying a long open ended net in the water in
circular fashion an then carefully closing the bottom end of the net trapping
the fish in the net.
• Gillnetting: gill nets are vertical panels of netting normally set in a straight line,
where fishes are caught by. The gear can be set anchored to the bottom or
left drifting, free or connected with the vessel.
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In spite of ocean’s vastness, ships always take the same routes in an effort to make
the journey the shortest as possible.
Depending on the geographical origin of goods, routes have changed over the
During the 17th
example, almost all maritime trade
routes crossed the Atlantic Ocean in or-
der to communicate Europe with its
overseas possessions. Maybe one of the
most frequent routes was that of the tri-
angular trade: ships travelled from Eu-
rope to Africa packed with manufactured
goods; in Africa ships were loaded with
slaves who were then taken to America,
where traders bought raw materials that
were loaded back to Europe. Then pro-
cess started again.
Nowadays, the origin of goods has changed:
America and Africa are no longer the produc-
ers, but Asia. Ships depart from the two main
worldwide producers, China and Korea, and distribute all kinds of goods to Europe
and North America. They cross the Pacific Ocean, but also the Indian Ocean, cross-
ing the Indonesian Malacca strait, a place with incredible high levels of naval traffic.
From that point, they can cross the Egyptian Suez Canal in order to reach the
southern part of Europe, but they can also sail round the African continent and go
up the Atlantic Ocean to reach the North of Europe.
Eastern countries are producers and Western countries are consumers.
At this point it’s important to note that most of these routes over the equator are
possible thanks to two big manmade
structures: the Panama Canal and the
Suez Canal. Before their construction,
all ships had to go round South America
Spices were the driving force of mariti-
me trade for centuries
A container ship sailing through the
At full sail! Museu Marítim de Barcelona 20
Nevertheless, there’s a shortest route between Europe and Asia: the Arctic Ocean.
Taking global warming into account, it is thought that in 2020 Russian northern wa-
ters will be navigable for a few months every year and ships will take profit of a
route thousands of miles shorter.
Using the current route, there are 13,000 miles from Rotterdam to Shanghai,
20,000 Km. which could be reduced to 8,450 miles through this new route. The list
of advantages is quite impressive: shorter sailing distance, fewer transport costs,
shorter travel times, fewer fuel expenses, greater amount of orders per year… More
profits, in one word.
The sea highways are also a new concept consisting in stablished routes between
ports which distribute goods in a quick and easy way. It’s the best way to take prof-
it of maritime transport speed with an agile inland distribution of goods. But in order
to achieve that ports have to be provided with a series of indispensable infrastruc-
tures: accessible warehouses, railway and highway connections…
A ferry boat sailing through one of the
Mediterranean sea highways
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Write down the part of the boat where it matches
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♦ Match each boat with its propulsion system
When a boat sails by means
of a mechanical force, it
When a boat sails by means
of the wind force,
When a boat sails by means
of human force,
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♦ Match each profession with the type of boat and the corre-
1. You wouldn’t eat sardines,
hake or sole if it weren’t for me.
2. I carry in my ship what your
car needs to run.
3. My load directly goes to the
lorry by means of a crane.
4. When there’s a conflict at sea
our captain orders us to prepare
5. I love serving sodas to the
kids who are enjoying their time
at the deck pool.
6. If I win this regatta the gold
medal is mine!
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There are different types of ports: fishing ports, naval bases, passenger harbours,
commercial ports… Commercial ports have got several terminals, each one adapted
to the kind of load ships are transporting. There are car terminals, grain terminals,
fuel terminals, container terminals…
Try to take each one of these boats to its particular port or terminal: