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Bertan > Corsarios y piratas > Versión en Inglés: The ships

THE SHIPS

Naval Construction

Naval construction on the Basque coast dates back to the moment when the Basques started working as fishermen and merchants.
But it was the presence of Vikings and Norsemen in the Adour Estuary which motivated the early development of Basque ships into a war fleet. The first "cogs" appeared in the 11th century, strengthening the principles of the art of navigation, which were followed by the building of all kinds of vessels.
During this first period, and until the mid-16th century, the builders were the shipowners themselves. It was only later that the Basque naval construction industry developes, reaching its height in the 16th century, due to converging factors such as the abundance of oak and beech forests, a maritime tradition, excellent craftsmanship, the existence of ports and the presence of an enterprising middle-class, and the discovery of America, which moved trade towards the Atlantic. Moreover, the Crown adopted a protectionist policy, as can be seen in the regulation made in 1500, where the Catholic Kings state that..."no goods or objects can be loaded on a foreign ship when one of our own ships is available...".
A forest of beechtrees
19. A forest of beechtrees. © Joseba Urretabizkaia
Tools for the caulking and confection of sails. Tools for the caulking and confection of sails.
20. Tools for the caulking and confection of sails.
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
Due to all of this, the Basques were the most highly sought shipowners and, by the 16th century, their shipyards were supplying not only the Basque provinces but the whole state. They made ships for the Crown, for America, for international trade, for hunting and fishing in Newfoundland and for coasting along the Gulf of Biscay.
At the end of the 16th century, there was a slight decrease in the quality of their ships, almost certainly due to the fact that the ships were made to order and that the people who built them were no longer the owners, meaning that they were perhaps less careful with the way they were made. As from this moment we can talk about a naval industry as such.
International circumstances, such as the defeat of the Invincible Armada, for which the King had ordered several Basque ships, had negative effects on this activity, and the 17th century meant a period of crisis for Gipuzkoa and Biscay. However, exactly the opposite was happening in Labourd, and the King's Naval Dockyard was located in Bayonne, where ships were built for the French Royal Army.
Antonio de Gaztañeta (1656-1728).
21. Antonio de Gaztañeta (1656-1728), from Mutriko, innovator and forerunner in the field of naval construction, changed the size and shape of the Spanish navy war ships of his time.
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
Carpentry and ironwork tools used for naval construction
22. Carpentry and ironwork tools used for naval construction. © Joseba Urretabizkaia
The evolution of navigation and naval architecture led to longer and more highly perfected ships being made in the 18th century, mostly by the inhabitant of Mutriku, Gaztañeta. Basque shipyards, and especially the Zorrotza Shipyard, recovered their leadership in the sector, and the 18th century meant a period of recovery with respect to quantity as well as to technical progress. It was at this favourable moment that the Real Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas started collaborating by promoting naval construction, mainly in Pasaia. At the end of the century there was a period of stagnancy and recession.
The natural form of trees was used to obtain the correct dimensions of the wooden parts making up the boat..
23. The natural form of trees was used to obtain the correct dimensions of the wooden parts making up the boat. © Joseba Urretabizkaia
Francisco Arrizabalaga, from the Bedua Txiki farmhouse.
24. Francisco Arrizabalaga, from the Bedua Txiki farmhouse, still has some tools from the old shipyard. © Joseba Urretabizkaia
Naval construction was a very diversified activity, since it gave rise to professions such as the carpenters, gunboat makers, ropemakers, blacksmiths, sailmakers, etc.
In naval construction, and especially corsair ships, the shipowner played a extremely important part as he would equip, furnish and exploit the ship. Often the shipowners were of important lineage and it was the local nobility, such as Alonso de Idiaquez, superintendent in the Northern Fleet during the 16th century, who would use the letter of marque. But most of them belonged to the lowest strata of nobility, with medium-sized fortunes, and they would build small or medium-sized ships. They normally came from the Basque ports or nearby areas. Donostia-San Sebastian had professional foreign shipowners and, in Bilbao, the shipowners were traders, whether they were foreign or not.

The shipyards

Common shipyards were simple and normally provisional installations, located on the coast or riverbanks. Royal shipyards, however, were more complex and much bigger.
The country’s main shipyards were located around the Adour and the Nervion, and we know that the following existed in Gipuzkoa:
In Zarauz, ships were manufactured in different places, amongst others in Gurarte and in the town’s shipyards, next to Zarauz Palace, which were later sold in Seville for the Indies’ trade.
In Lezo, Pasaia and Renteria there were shipyards where galleons were built for His Majesty’s Fleet. The Royal Pasaia Shipyard was founded in 1597. This is where the "Capitana Real" was built, weighing one thousand five hundred tons.
There were master carpenters in Arcaiza, near Astigarraga, by the stream running past the house of Arámburu, in the so-called "old shipyard".
Donostia-San Sebastian had two shipyards, one on the beach and another in Anoeta.
Apart from these were the long-standing shipyards of Mapil in Usurbil, of Santa María in Motrico, and those of Hondarribia.
Present state of the Bedua shipyard (Zumaia)
25. Present state of the Bedua shipyard (Zumaia), which was still working up untill a few years ago.
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
Puerto Guipuzcoano. Zarautz.
26. Guipuzcoan port. Zarautz.
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
Engraving of Donostia-San Sebastian in 1560
27. Engraving of Donostia-San Sebastian in 1560, made by Hoefnagle, which shows the shipyard on the Concha beach. © Joseba Urretabizkaia

Kinds of Ships

The ships which were built in the shipyards along our coasts and which were used at some time by Basque corsairs were mostly the following:

- Cogs. Single-masted vessels, of Nordic origin, widely used in the 14th century, which already had a sternpost rudder, and which were used for both fighting and trading.
Nao “Victoria”, siglo XVI.
28. The ship "Victoria", 16th century.
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
14th century cog. Transept of Bayonne Cathedral. Zarautz.
29. 14th century cog. Transept of Bayonne Cathedral. Zarautz.© Joseba Urretabizkaia
- Hookers. Wide vessels of Dutch origin, with a great loading capacity, generally used for transporting and trading.

- Carracks and Caravels. Long, slim vessels, with two or three masts and a maintop, lateen sails which later became square, a single deck and prow ram. Ideal for expeditions, they were mostly used during the 15th and 16th centuries.

- Masted sailing vessels. An evolution of the carrack, with two or three masts, a high deck, great capacity and strength for confronting storms and enemies.

- Galleons. Large tonnage sailing vessels from the 16tn and 17th centuries, sporting a maximum of four masts and a bowsprit with several bridges, extremely well suited to ocean navigation, to which lines and tackle were adapted that would later lead to their evolution. These galleons would race to the Indies and were equal to the galley with respect to gracefulness and agility, once they had adopted round sails.
Lintel from a house in Orio. 16th century vessel
30. Lintel from a house in Orio. 16th century vessel. © Joseba Urretabizkaia
Frigate from the 18th century.
31. Frigate from the 18th century
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
- Tenders, pinnaces, lateen-rigged vessels, etc. were smaller landing craft, for liaison between ships or patrolling the Fleet, the names of which spread and were given to other small tonnage vessels. Old ships on our coasts were called tenders, and they were used for coastal navigation or other tasks.

- Frigates and clippers. These vessels became quite developed, and were of great size and displacement.

Ships were not built specifically for privateering. Moreover, no great difference was made between war and trading ships until the 17th century. The law only stated that corsair ships, should be "ships of less than three hundred tons", and they almost always were, since it was more practical to navigate along the French coast in smaller vessels. Corsair ships could be bought, but they could never be sold to foreigners.
Brigantine from the 18th century.
32. Brigantine from the 18th century.
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
Lintel from Pasai Donibane.
33. Lintel from Pasai Donibane. (Facsimile).
© Joseba Urretabizkaia
34.	The layout of the Basque-French coast meant that it was advisable to navigate in boats with not too high a tonnage.
34. The layout of the Basque-French coast meant that it was advisable to navigate in boats with not too high a tonnage. © Joseba Urretabizkaia


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