A Pirate's Guide to Famous Ships around the World

Around the world, ships have played an important role in history. They have been used to transport everything from people to goods. Historically, they were used for exploration. This allowed people to voyage across the sea to discover new lands and to change the fate of civilizations, for better or worse. In addition, ships have traditionally been a method of fighting battles during times of war. There are some ships that stand out from the rest, however. These ships are famous either for great accomplishments, tragedy, or for their role during historic battles.


The Nao Victoria, also known as the Victoria, was one of the five ships that Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan commanded during his expedition to find a new, westward path to the Spice Islands. The other ships of the fleet were the Concepcion, San Antonio, Santiago, and the Trinidad. The Victoria, first launched in 1519, was a carrack, a ship designed for long voyages across rough seas. It measured 70 feet in length, displaced 85 tons, and carried 42 sailors. The Victoria eventually sailed around the world, becoming the first ship ever known to do so, although Ferdinand Magellan died before the ship returned home, where it was decommissioned in 1522. A replica of the ship exists in the form of a museum in the city of Punta Arenas, which lies along the Magellan Strait.


The RMS Lusitania was the world's largest luxury liner when it was launched in June of 1906. It was owned by the Cunard Line, a company which also owned the RMS Titanic and the RMS Carpathia. The Lusitania measured 787 feet in length, 87 feet wide and 61 feet in height. The luxury liner could carry a total of nearly 2200 passengers plus 850 crew, and its maximum speed was 25 knots. Its construction was supported by Great Britain in exchange for its potential use as a military transport. The Lusitania made 200 voyages across the Atlantic, but on May 7 of 1915, on the 201st crossing, the ship was attacked by a German submarine and struck by a torpedo. The ship suffered a secondary explosion of unknown origin and sank 18 minutes later near Ireland's southern coast. The disaster cost 1,195 lives and led to the entry of the United States into World War I.


A Dutch cargo ship called the Mayflower was famous for carrying a group of religious dissidents known as Pilgrims from Plymouth, England, to North America. The vessel, commanded by Christopher Jones, was a carrack-class ship that measured 100 feet long and 25 feet wide. Its journey began with 102 passengers and 30 crew, and ended in 1620 when it arrived at Cape Cod. Two years after the Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod, the ship was dismantled. A replica of the ship was made in 1956, when the Pilgrims' voyage was recreated, and it remains moored in Plymouth, Massachusetts.


When Christopher Columbus launched his expedition to find India via a westward route, he commissioned three ships for the journey. They were called the Pinta, Santa Maria, and La Niña. La Niña, or “The Girl” in Spanish, was named after the ship's owner, Juan Niño. The ship, a caravel, was designed for speed and measured 50 feet long by 16 feet wide. La Niña is famous for having been the first known ship to reach North America from Europe. It sailed over 25,000 miles during its life, until it disappeared in 1501. A replica was made of the ship in 1988 and continues to sail to this day.


Dubbed the “unsinkable” vessel, the RMS Titanic was another ship of the Cunard Line family of luxury liners. The ship was constructed in 1912, and at the time it was the largest ship ever made, having succeeded previous vessels such as the Lusitania. It measured 882 feet in length by 92 feet wide, and carried a maximum capacity of 2,435 passengers and 892 crew. The Titanic was on its maiden voyage when the ship struck an iceberg in the frigid North Atlantic near midnight on April 14 of 1912 and sank less than three hours later. Partially because the ship's 20 lifeboats only had room for half the passengers, over 1,514 passengers died. The Titanic is not only famous for its sinking, but also because of the “women and children first” rule. Of the 1,514 passengers who died, 1,352 of them were men. 710 survivors were saved by the RMS Carpathia, another ship built by the Cunard Line. The Titanic's tragic end sparked a major overhaul of maritime safety procedures, including the use of more lifeboats and safety drills.

USS Arizona

Designated by the United States Navy as BB-39 and launched in June of 1915, the USS Arizona was a battleship of the Pennsylvania-class of “super dreadnoughts”. The Arizona measured 608 feet long by 97 feet wide, and reached a maximum speed of 21 knots. The ship's crew included 860 sailors and 55 officers, and its weapons included four sets of triple-turret 14 inch main guns, 5-inch guns, anti-aircraft guns, plus torpedoes. While the Arizona didn't serve in World War I, it served as a training vessel and also sailed to various places around the world to project American power. The ship was attacked and partially sunk on December 7 of 1941 during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona Memorial was built in its place in 1962 to commemorate the attack.

USS Constitution

Also called, “Old Ironsides”, the heavy frigate known as the USS Constitution is the oldest ship still commissioned by the United States Navy. First launched on October 21 of 1797, the USS Constitution has three sail masts, measures 204 feet in length by 43 feet in width, and is armed with 44 cannons. The vessel primarily served in the War of 1812, where it defeated several British warships. When shots from the enemy ship HMS Guerriere's cannons bounced off the ship's wooden hull, sailors commented that the ship's sides were made of iron, thus the nickname “Old Ironsides” was born. After numerous restorations and 116 years of inactivity, the USS Constitution was ultimately set sail again on July 20th of 1997. The ship's crew of 60 are active duty sailors and officers of the United States Navy, and is open to visitors where it is berthed at the Charleston Navy Yard.


Commissioned on August 24th of 1940 at the onset of World War II, the German Kriegsmarine battleship Bismarck was named after Otto Van Bismarck, a Chancellor who united all of Germany in 1871. Measuring 793 feet by 118 feet and wielding 8 sets of 15-inch guns, the Bismarck was one of the two the largest warships in the German Navy. It was one of two ships of its class, the other being the Tirpitz. Its crew included 1,962 sailors and 103 officers. The Bismarck engaged in one major campaign during its short life, in which it sank the British warship HMS Hood. In 1941 it was crippled by a sustained attack from aircraft before it was ultimately sunk with 2,000 sailors on board.


Built and launched during World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato was and remains the biggest warship ever made. At 839 feet long and 127 feet wide, it is one of the longest ships, and at 68,200 tons it was also the heaviest. The Yamato's arsenal was the most impressive in World War II, including nine sets of three 18-inch guns, the largest ever used by a warship. Despite its size and armament, it was destroyed by carrier aircraft from the United States. Of its 2,700 sailors and officers, nearly 2,500 died when the ship sank on April 7 of 1945. The sinking of the Yamato signaled the end of Japanese sea power and the Empire's decline toward its final defeat.