All About Model Galleons


Model galleons are replicas of large multi-deck (primarily European) sailing ships used from the 16th to the 18th century. What you probably think of as a pirate ship is a galleon. The English man of war was a galleon designed specifically for battle.

The predecessor of the galleon was the war galley of the Middle Ages. Galleys were propelled by oarsmen, although some also had sails to make use of the wind. Some galleys were equipped with as many as 80 oars. In addition to being used in battle, they were also used for exploration. The ships used during the crusades were likely galleys. 

Types of Model Galleons - Carracks

Nao Victoria 1519Nao Victoria 1519

A closer predecessor of the galleon is the carrack. Only an expert can distinguish the differences between the two types of ships. The carrack had a higher forecastle and a shorter hull. Although the carracks were used extensively by Portuguese and Spanish explorers during the 15th and 16th centuries, they were less stable than the galleon-design. 

The “new” design reduced the wind resistance at the front of the vessel, which allowed for faster speeds and greater maneuverability. The galleon also weighed less. A Portuguese carrack could weigh over 1000 tons (not counting passengers or supplies), while a typical galleon weighed less than 500 tons, although much heavier ones were built.

Because of all of these changes, trips from Europe to the Americas could be made in a much shorter time using a galleon than had been possible during the days of the early explorers who travelled by carrack.

Spanish Galleons

Spanish GalleonSpanish Galleon

Today’s galleons are often replicas of the Spanish design, although the Dutch and English designs can also be found. Many of the models are unnamed, meant to be general representations of the historical designs, as creating a scale model of a specific ship can be difficult. The design specifications may have been lost over the years or they may have never been recorded at all. 

Some of the more famous ships of the galleon design include the Triumph, the Sao Martinho and the Golden Hind. You can safely say that one of the model galleons available for hobbyists or collectors is similar to one of those ships. While some collectors are only interested in the ship’s appearance, others are interested in the ship’s story.

The English Triumph 

The Triumph was an English galleon that became the flagship of Vice-Admiral Martin Frobisher during the battle with the Spanish Armada in 1588. She was 100 feet in length. Her beam was 40 feet tall and the depth of her hold was 19 feet. She was a full-rigged sailing ship equipped with an armament of 55 guns. Getting the details of the ship right can be difficult for anyone wanting to make a replica.

Galleons can also be similar to the Sao Martinho, a Portuguese galleon and flagship of Duke of Medina Sidonia, the commander-in-chief of the Spanish Armada. These ships are usually painted with their sails fully extended. Many models are also designed to replicate this by using a stiff material that can be curved easily. Some sails come pre-curved. The hobbyist need only attach them to the mast.

The Golden Hind is one of the named model galleons that you are most likely to see. The ship was used by Sir Francis Drake in his trip around the world. There are two large-scale replicas in existence. One sits in London at St. Mary Overie Dock. Although a hero in England, Drake was thought of as a pirate in Spain, as he was commissioned by the English government to attack any ships or towns flying the Spanish flag.

Model galleons are beautiful, whether they are exact replicas of an original or not. They are fun to put together and make great conversation pieces when they are done.

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