The Caravel With Four Fine Masts and Lateen Sails

Caravel Chalkboard Drawing, October 2009
Click on image for larger view.

For weeks I've been adrift in the fears, follies, and dreams of the European age of exploration (roughly 1400-1600).* After tasking my 7th/8th grade class to develop a sailing vessel that could harness the wind** from multiple directions and carry 2000 grams of cargo on stormy seas I followed up our days of damp tests in a plastic wading pool with this chalkboard illustration. The class hardly needed explanations of the intent behind the keel, rudder, or lateen sail after all of the trial-and-error work that they'd poured into their own boats, but I felt it important to illustrate a caravel as it figured so prominently in many of the biographies I was sharing with them.

* * * * *

It is odd how your mind can drift away, even when you are called upon to be most present: this little song by Joanna Newsom*** has been in my head ever since I spent an hour embedding the above illustration on the 8' expanse of darkness that dominates my room.

Bridges and Balloons (excerpt) by Joanna Newsom

We sailed away on a winter's day
with fate as malleable as clay;
but ships are fallible, I say,
and the nautical, like all things, fades

And I can recall our caravel:
a little wicker beetle shell
with four fine masts and lateen sails,
its bearings on Cair Paravel

O my love,
O it was a funny little thing
to be the ones to've seen.

*Unless, of course, you start with Marco Polo, as I do when beginning this course of study. In that case you can tack on another 150 years at the outset.

**conveniently produced with a box fan

***who I swore was a former Waldorf student after seeing this video for Sprout and the Bean

And for those of you who are up for a challenge: How many nautical puns are part of this post?

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