The Sao Gabriel was a Portuguese and built specifically for the expedition
The São Gabriel was a Portuguese “nau” (carrack) that, like its sister ship, the São Rafael, was built specifically for the expedition; both exhibited similar construction. There are no known contemporary pictures of the ships; the earliest are from about fifty years later.
The São Rafael: The sister ship of the São Gabriel, built by the same builder at the same time for the same purpose. It was of similar dimensions as the São Gabriel. Paulo da Gama, Vasco’s brother, was the captain, other people include João de Coimbra, pilot, and João de Sá, clerk.
The Bérrio, also known as the São Miguel: This caravel was named after its former owner. Only carrying lateen sails, it was the smallest and swiftest of the convoy with a tonnage of 50t-90t. Key people were: Nicolau Coelho, captain, Pedro Escobar pilot, and Álvaro de Braga, clerk.
A supply ship, name São Miguel: The ship was a carrack of about 110 or 200 tons with Gonçalo Nunes as captain.
The ship was constructed under the supervision of Bartolomeu Dias, who having reached Cape Hope before, knew what type of vessel would be suited for the voyage. The timber was cut in the crown woods of Leiria and Alcácer do Sal. The size of the vessel given by contemporary describers was between 90-120 t, but modern estimates tend to be higher. It has been estimated that the overall length was 25.7 meters, the width 8.5 m, the draft of 2.3 m and fully loaded weight about 178 t. To enter estuaries the draft was kept shallow.
The vessel carried three masts, including a 110-foot (measured from the keel) mainmast, with a crow’s nest at 70 feet (21 m). The ship could fly six sails; a bowsprit, foresail, mizzen, spritsail, and two topsails. As a carrack, the sails of the fore and mainmast were cut square, while the mizzenmast sail was triangular. The total sail area was 4,000 square feet (370 m2). The blood-red cross of the Order of Christ was painted on the sails. Carracks tended to be slower and less able to sail against the wind than the caravel, but were steadier and safer, and more comfortable for the crew.
The carrack was equipped by Fernão Lourenço. The ship was protected by the fore- and aftcastles that also housed the officers, the captain had his quarters in the top of the aftcastle. Carrying 20 guns, 6 were placed in the 2 castles, and 8 on the lower quarterdeck it was well-armed. In the forward hold requisites were kept including spare sails and spare anchor, midships water, and in the aft ammunition and arms. The ship was equipped with the latest scientific astronomical and nautical instruments. Navigational instruments and training were provided by the astronomer Abraham Zacut.
Key personnel of the São Gabriel were Vasco da Gama, captain-major, Pêro de Alenquer, pilot, Gonçalo Álvares, master, and Diogo Dias, clerk. The ship held about 60 men.