Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 4-1 (October 2012)Joep Verweij; Wouter Waldus; André van Holk: Continuity and change in Dutch shipbuilding in the Early Modern period. The case of VAL7 and the watership in general.

9 Impact from international trends in shipbuilding

The economic boom of the sixteenth century is reflected in the development of the local maritime infrastructure in North-Holland. There was a strong tendency toward concentration and specialisation of shipyards on a large scale, resulting in five clusters i.e. Haarlem, Amsterdam, Hoorn, Enkhuizen and Edam (Boschma-Aarnoudse 2003, 125-127). Concurrently the maritime infrastructure was quickly growing with a large diversity of specialised trades like storage facilities, timber yards, ropeyards, sail makers, smoke houses, salt factories, cooperies and packers. Although initially waterships must have been built with funds from local families of skippers and sailors in small rural settlements, most of them are built with funds of ship owners in one of these specialised clusters by the time that the sixteenth century has arrived (de Vries & Van der Woude 2005, 294-295). There is solid evidence of waterships being built in Edam and Amsterdam in archival records (Boschma-Aarnoudse 2003, 330-355). Edam, having 21 shipwrights at work in 1462, is harbouring 68 shipyards in 1595 producing small and larger ship types for ship owners. In 1565 Edam launches in three months 47 ships of which 17 are waterships. The evidence for watership construction in Haarlem, Hoorn and Enkhuizen is not conclusive yet, but there is enough indication to make it very likely. So if the watership was included in the dynamic process of a rapidly growing local maritime infrastructure, the question arises whether or not this impacted its design. Was the transition from a lap-strake to a flush hull somehow related to shipbuilding developments on a larger scale?

From the fifteenth century onwards a new technology in shipbuilding increasingly dominates shipbuilding practices in the European Atlantic and Baltic communities, at least at the level of ocean-going ships. It is called the carvel method of ship construction. The associated processes of change in shipbuilding can be correlated with socio-political developments in society, characterized by such keywords as exploration, colonial expansion and state building. In evolutionist and diffusionist models it is argued that improved technologies, like the carvel shipbuilding technology, tend to spread to areas where economic developments accelerate (Gould 2000, 199). According to the chronicler Johan Reygersbergh, shipwrights from the south built the first carvel ships in Zeeland and Holland in 1459 (Haalmeijer & Vuik 2007, 10). In Hoorn the first carvel ships were built around 1460 according to the chronicler Velius, and carvel ships were also being built in Haarlem around 1530. (Boschma-Aarnoudse 2003, 231-232).

The carvel technology is initially associated with the Iberian method of ship construction where strakes were laid flush onto the frame timbers and were fastened to the frames and not to each other. Each frame in this ship design was built up from interlocking pieces and put transversely on the keel. Next the resulting skeleton of frames was planked on the outside to form a watertight hull. The frame pieces were heavy and the skeleton as a whole gave the ship its primary strength. The strength philosophy is therefore skeleton based or synonymously frame first built (Maarleveld 1992, 157-162). This frame first method of shipbuilding was the first one to employ a predictive basis for its design. This set the design process apart from the assembly process.

If carvel ships were already built in fifteenth century Holland, was then also a predictive method used for the design of the hull shape? The answer must be no, as geometric methods were not introduced in Dutch shipbuilding until the eighteenth century. In Holland the Dutch flush style was employed, based on a shell first collection sequence as opposed to a frame first collection sequence. However in both cases a flush hull resulted, which may have contributed to a definition problem.[6] There are arguments that in comparison with the frame first assembly sequence the Dutch flush collection sequence is fast, which is an economic advantage to Dutch shipyards (Maarleveld 1992). The shipwright gains tremendous freedom in timber selection and timber conversion when allowed to define the hull shape in the process, and when not restricted by the requirement to build a rigidly applied framing system. The conclusion has even been drawn that the Dutch flush style of shipbuilding was in part responsible for the success of the Dutch economy resulting in the economic and cultural boom known as the Golden Age. Unger refers to the period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Holland as one in which Dutch shipbuilding is efficient and leading in Europe (Unger 1978, 79).

It is pointed out by Adams that there are many nuances in the degree to which the hull shape is predicted before actually building a ship (Adams 2003, 190-195). From several cases of archaeological research he infers that in fact most of the carvel shipbuilding outside Holland in the sixteenth and seventeenth century was not completely skeleton first. Iberian cases show that frames and strakes were alternately erected using ribbands for control. Even in Holland there was a difference in shipbuilding practice between Amsterdam, as first codified by Witsen,[7] and Rotterdam as first codified by Van Yk.[8] (Hoving 1988). Amsterdam used clamps to shape the hull as you go, in the same way as was observed in the VAL7 watership. Rotterdam used ribbands to pre-shape the hull. As opposed to building the ships bottom shell first, the process starts with fixing four floor timbers on the keel, subsequently followed by tracing the shape of the hull with ribbands. Then the other frame timbers are built up and strakes are positioned where possible in the process. For this basic method of pre-shaping the hull a pre-design stage was not required and frame pieces were not interlocked as in the frame first assembly method.

In summary it is very likely that trade offs were made by local shipwrights between efficiency demands and performance, space and weight requirements, with a variety of possible outcomes. Each variation and nuance to shipbuilding practice was driven by local socio-political and socio-economic pressures. The shipwright of the sixteenth century had to survive in a tough competitive environment. For example shipyards in Amsterdam still produced only lap-strake ships while Hoorn and Haarlem already built carvel ships (Van Nierop 1955/1956, 28-29). The city was not able to develop a competing infrastructure of shipyards until late in the century, when an infrastructure was developed for the East Indies Company and the Admiralty. Ship owners in Amsterdam even procured ships from shipyards in Danzig for economic reasons.

So was the watership design impacted by trends in shipbuilding developments? The answer must be yes, but not for functional or technological reasons. The ship type transitioned from a lap-strake hull to a flush hull, because specialized shipyards in Holland adopted a Dutch flush style of assembling ships. The influence of the Nordic tradition diminished in Europe, because the ever increasing demand for resources, and not in the least construction wood for ships, put much strain on the economic aspects of shipbuilding. In addition for ocean going ships the lap-strake technique was not the optimum answer to the ocean environment in which the aspirations of maritime nations had to be met. The watership however could have easily retained its lap-strake hull if not local economic circumstances dictated otherwise.

The demand for ships was high after a century of naval battles and colonial expansion. (Adams 180 & 196). By the end of the seventeenth century the steady decline in the availability and quality of timber is dramatic. This forced shipyards to change their procedures in the use of timber which in turn is reflected in the design of ships. An example is that shipwrights increasingly incorporated iron construction elements in their design. Attempts were also made to offset the increasing costs of timber by processes of industrialization and standardization. A good example is the industrialization process of the Zaanstreek in North Holland. In the second quarter of the seventeenth century Amsterdam is losing the ability to build competitive ships to a quickly growing industrial complex in the rural region around Zaandam called the Zaanstreek, despite protective measures taken by the city council (Van Nierop 1955/1956, 28-29). At the basis of its success is a new invention in windmill technology that allows rotary movement via a crankshaft to be converted into the vertical movement of long saw blades. The advantage of receiving uninterrupted wind for the sawmills in the open rural landscape, the availability of free space in a waterlogged environment, and the low costs of workers not united in guilds, make the difference. The Zaanstreek is able to produce a large and richly assorted supply of planks and beams in such a short time that it allows for additional standardisation and industrialisation of the ship building process (de Vries & Van der Woude 2005, 352-353). Ships are built in a serialized manner even before being contracted. The majority of hulls under construction are flutes, but also waterships are mentioned in the assortment.

It would be intriguing to know what happened to the watership design in the eighteenth century. Unfortunately there is no archaeological or archival evidence so far revealing the design of a watership built in the Zaanstreek, but it is not difficult to imagine that the construction had a more regular planking arrangement than before and that the use of standardised beams and planking sizes may have altered or at least refined the design. A construction drawing made in 1802 of a watership built in the Navy yard in Amsterdam gives some hints to that effect (fig. 14). The keel beam and frame timbers are heavier than their counterparts in any of the measured watership wrecks before. The distance between the frame timbers is double that of VAL7 and quite different from the other watership wrecks analysed. A caveat to this observation is that the drawing may be a simplified version of the reality, even if it indeed was a construction drawing.

[ *image not found: m0401a03:FIG14 ]