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Agile and maneuverable, the caravel was a small sailing ship with three or four masts, a broad bow, and a high, narrow stern. Though often used as a light warship, the caravel could also carry just over 100 metric tons of cargo. The Spanish and the Portuguese used caravels for both commerce and exploration. Christopher Columbus' three ships, the "Nina," "Pinta," and "Santa Maria," were caravels that risked the hazards of an ocean crossing.

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