The caravel (Portuguese: caravela, IPA: [kɐɾɐˈvɛlɐ]) was a small, highly maneuverable sailing ship developed in the 15th century by the Portuguese to explore along the West African coast and into the Atlantic Ocean. The lateen sails gave it speed and the capacity for sailing windward (beating). Caravels were used by the Portuguese and Castilians (Spain) for the oceanic exploration voyages during the 15th and 16th centuries in the Age of Discovery.
Prince Henry, Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, and Bartolomeu Dias all used caravels. The volunteers on the caravel "Matthew of Bristol", which is a replica of John Cabot's ship of 1497 which discovered North America, have done some research on this subject and traced the origin of the name 'caravel' to the Portuguese word for a 'beetle' which is 'escaravalho'. The smooth appearance of the ship's hull which is the result of the carvel construction is similar to the shell of a beetle.