This video is part of a series of 12 animated maps.

View series: The Portuguese and Spanish Empires

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Convoys of Spanish ships to the Indies

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of The Portuguese and Spanish Empires.

Merchant ships sailing between Seville and the Americas were in danger of attacks from pirates, and it was therefore decided to make them travel in convoys.

Beginning in the mid-16th century, two convoys were organized each year: one to Veracruz in New Spain, and the other to Cartagena and Nombre de Dios.

Their passage was divided into three phases:

First, the ships left Seville for the Canary Islands, a journey taking about two weeks.

Then they crossed the Atlantic.  Taking advantage of the trade winds, the Spanish ships reached the Antilles about 40 days after their departure from Seville.

Finally, the convoys separated once they arrived in the Caribbean. Ships for New Spain reached Veracruz about two and a half months after leaving Spain. The journey to Cartagena and Nombre de Dios was shorter, barely two months in all.

After unloading their merchandise from Spain and reloading with produce from the New World, the ships left Cartagena and Veracruz and met up in Havana. From there, the convoys began their journey back to Europe.

On the passage home, they sailed along the coast of Florida and, on reaching the latitude of the Azores Islands, they turned due east. It took them just two weeks to sail from the Azores to Seville.

The first convoys were made up of some twenty ships but, by the early 17th century, when trade between Spain and the New World was at its peak, there could be as many as 75 ships in a convoy.