Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595)Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595) - John Hawkins is not nearly as well known as his second cousin, Francis Drake; nevertheless, he played a vital role in the Battle of the Spanish Armada.  One that helped tip the odds in England's favor.  He was a sailor, merchant and shipbuilder.  On a negative note, he was also a slave trader; one of the first to transport slaves to the New World.  But it was his work as a shipbuilder that most significantly impacted the battle with Spain.  On one of his trips to the New World, his small fleet was attacked by a Spanish squadron at the port of San Juan de Ulloa.  Of his five ships, three were destroyed and two managed to escape; the two smallest.  This convinced Hawkins that bigger is not always better.  He observed that the higher sidewalls (known as the freeboard) particularly the forecastle (in front of the foremast) made the ship more cumbersome and thus less maneuverable.  Upon returning to England he immediately began work on a new ship design.  Up until then the great European powers had based their designs on the Spanish and Portuguese carracks.  As they had ruled the seas for the previous century, it seemed logical that their design was superior.  But Hawkins went in a different direction; reducing the size of the hull and placing it lower in the water.  This also had the added benefit of making the ship more difficult to hit in battle.  He then sold the navy on the design and all new warships were built to the new specifications.  Even many of the ships already in service were rebuilt with a smaller hull.  And it is this smaller design which is most recognized as the determining factor in England's victory over Spain in the Battle of the Spanish Armada.  Hawkins himself participated in the battle as a vice-admiral and helped establish a naval blockade that intercepted Spanish ships.  After the battle he was knighted for his efforts.