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Want a virtual tour through a 17th century Dutch ship?


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At previous occasions on this and other forums I explained that real trustworthy information about the shape and construction of Dutch 17th century ships is scarce. (http://www.papermodelers.com/forum/ships-watercraft/35441-17th-century-dutch-fluit-14.html, #post-153834,

The Amsterdam diplomat, lawyer, collector and lord-mayor of Amsterdam Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717) was the first to write a book on the subject of Dutch shipbuilding, Aeloude en Hedendaegse Scheepsbouw en Bestier (Old and Modern Shipbuilding and Managing) 1671. To illustrate his story he described the building of an average ship of his days, an armed trader called a 'pinas'. Three masts, 134 feet long, 24 guns, sailed by a hundred man. It took me 6 years to process his data about the ship into working drawings and to build the model.

The knowledge I gained during the work opened the way for me to another career: head of the restoration department for navy models in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. In 2006, after having published about Witsen and his pinas I started to work the material around into 3D. I got help from a Belgian gentleman, called Rene Hendrickx, who proved to be an expert on the free downloadable shipbuilding program Delftship. Over three years we worked together to turn every single part of the ship Witsen mentioned into 3D shapes. In the end thousands of files formed together the unquestionable image of a 17th century average ship.

The Cultural Heritage Agency, part of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science commissioned Tijdlab, a young firm that makes historical 3D representations, to use our results for a program that made the pinas accessible for the public on an internet site: https://witsenscheepsbouw.nl.

 

To say that it has grown into a heavy program is an understatement. It takes time to download the various parts. Therefore the (Microsoft)user gets the opportunity to download the entire program, both the Dutch and the English version, at once on to his own harddisk. That saves a lot of time if you want to access it more than once (which I warmly recommend). Mac users are for the time being convicted to use the online version, preferably through Chrome, which is just a little bit lower in quality, but still very worthwhile visiting.

After opening the site you get three choices:

  1. Interactively you can watch 14 stages of construction of the ship. This is especially useful to watch the shell-first building method that was applied in those days in Holland, in which the outside planks are placed before any frame part.

1277949928_Knipsel1kopie.PNG.eeb079b3c63f6e784b9267a317e85ab4.PNG

2. Here you can 'walk' through the ship, using the w, a, s and d keys of your keyboard. In the next update you can ask the name of any part of the ship you see.

1844148061_Knipsel3.thumb.JPG.1a4bd6646ebed8b31b3830675d196c1e.JPG

3. Those names can be looked up in the Encyclopedia, where the location of the part in the ship is shown, as well as all the data Witsen provided about that part in his book. Of course it can be viewed from close-by, moving and turning the part any way you want.

1293223648_Knipsel(2).PNG.524ad760079afd44fa52cdf79c5e767f.PNG

On a forum for ship modelers it would be an omission not to make available the construction plans of the ship, the only 17th century avarage ship we know. There are also links to the online version of Witsen's book, together with another 17th century author about the subject, Cornelis van Yk with his book De Nederlandse Scheeps-bouw-konst open-gestelt (Dutch Shipbuilding Unveiled) from 1697.

 

Because this is the beta version (we hope to update very soon with more info presented within the program) we invite anyone who has remarks or questions to react and share his thoughts so we can serve the user even better.

 

Please have a look there!

Ab

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The ship Nicolaes Witsen presents is not an 'average' ship, certainly not according to the general ratios and rules Witsen presents himself in his book. You could even argue the presented ship, Nicolaes' example ship 'by gedachten gebouwt' (built in mind),  isn't a pinas at all but another type of ship.

Edited by Philemon1948
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The two books, written by Nicolaes Witsen about shipbuilding in his time raises many questions. The core of both books consists of a ship Nicolaes calls a ‘pinas’, a type of ship built in the Dutch Republic as a merchant ship. A ship with a square stern and three masts. And Nicolaes mentions this ship to be ‘by gedachten gebouwt’, built in mind. Is this a virtual ship, a complete imaginary ship, purely made up by Nicolaes, assembled with bits and pieces of information he could get hold on, or is it a description of a ship that really existed?

It is interesting to examine and compare the information Nicolaes gives about his ‘example ship’ with the more general information he gives about the ratio’s and measurements of this type of ship, and with the information of specific ship types Nicolaes presents. If you do so, one thing starts to emerge: the significant difference between the measurements of his so called 'pinas', his ‘example ship’, and the general information of this same ship type, he presents.

Edited by Philemon1948
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In the following posts I will give a few examples of the strange inconsistencies and/or omissions in the books of Nicolaes Witsen. The first one can be found on plate 42 from the edition of 1671. Here Nicolaes presents a longitudinal section of his example ship. He states the following about this plate: “Dit zyn de meest voorname Scheeps-deelen, die men byzonder op 't papier vertoonen kan. D'overige zullen best bekent worden, wanneer men haar in het Schip zelve aanwyst; waar toe ik het voorgestelde Schip in gedachten, doorgesneden in verscheide gestalten, ten toon stel, als hier volght”. (These are the most prominent ship-parts, which one can show in particular on paper. The other are best known by showing them in the ship itself, to which end I show the presented ship in mind, cut in several shapes as follows.)

The first sentence clearly indicates that drawings were made in the seventeenth century Dutch Republic. The second sentence refers amongst others to the longitudinal section at the bottom of this plate. After this sentence Nicolaes starts to mention the ship parts indicated by the different letters. One of the most intriguing parts in this longitudinal section are the main mast and the keel. About this keel Nicolaes states: “Dusdanige kiel van drie stukken wort sterker gehouden dan of men die van twee stukken maakte, dewyle in een kiel van drie stukken de lasschen voor en achter zyn, en in het midden, alwaar de kiel de meeste last heeft te lyden, van wegen de groote mast, geheel zonder lasschen komt te blyven; 't geen zeer goet is, en het Schip stevig maakt, dewyle het spoor van de groote mast gemeenlyk omtrent of in het midden van de kiel gestelt wort”. (A keel made from three parts is thought to be stronger than one made of two parts, because a keel made of three parts has joints fore and aft, while in the middle, where the keel is most heavily burdened, because of the main mast, remains without joints, which is very good and makes the ship strong, while the stepmast of the main mast usually is positioned around halfway the keel.) If this plate depicts Nicolaes’ example ship and Nicolaes states that it is better to make a keel out of three parts instead of two, then why present a picture with a keel made of two parts? If this is an imaginary ship, Nicolaes could have made the drawing exactly to his own wishes and recommendations. But he doesn’t. The keel is made of two parts and the main mast is standing exactly on top of the joint of the two keelparts. About this joint Nicolas states something else: “deeze lasschen moeten wel over malkanderen heen schieten; d’onder lasschen moeten altydt naar het achterste deel van ‘t Schip strekken”. (these joints should cover each other, the lower parts of these joints always point to the part of the ship aft.) In other words, the oblique surface of the joint has to have a direction downwards from fore to aft, so the second keelpart should rest on the first, but at this plate it is the other way round. Apart from the reason why the oblique surface of the joint should have this direction, Nicolaes makes a very specific statement about this direction but makes a drawing where he shows exactly the opposite. This deviaton cannot be explained by the fact the drawing of Nicolaes appears mirrored when copied in copper and subsequently printed.

The keel made of two parts, the main mast exactly positioned on the joint of the two keel parts and the lower part of the joint pointing forwards instead of backwards. Why? Why did Nicolaes made a drawing which shows exactly the opposite from what he describes in his text? I can’t explain this unless this drawing is made up from information Nicolaes had which leads to the conclusion the ship he describes wasn’t an imaginary ship but a real existing one, which had, for some reason, the features shown on plate 42. Still, if so, why doesn’t Nicolaes mentions this? Again, you can’t imagine he wouldn’t have spotted these inconsistencies. He made this drawing himself and he presumably wrote the text himself.

Plaat 42.jpg

Edited by Philemon1948
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Interesting points you raise although it is certainly not unusual for older books to have inconsistencies. We are probably reading them with a scrutiny that is unusual for those times and where these inconsistencies were not considered sufficient to update a far more elaborate publishing process. Particularly if a book is written over many years, earlier contributions (e.g. drawings) may become outdated before the book is actually published. It would certainly make sense that a keel is split in three as he describes and it is indeed funny to see that he then shows a drawing where that is not done. I'm sure they must have found out the hard way that it is better to not place the mast on a joint!

 

I am not sure why his 'imaginary' ship can not be a real ship anyway (a conclusion you draw from the inconsistency). It is always difficult to interpret 17th century language, particularly when then translated in English. When I read 'in gedachten' (in mind, imaginary?) then I interpret that as that he was not building the ship in reality (we know he was not a shipbuilder). However, that does not necessarily mean that what he describes is a complete figure of his imagination and that it does not reflect a real ship. How well it describes a real ship may be difficult to assess, considering that the ship designs evolved rather fast at the time. In that respect it is interesting to see how difficult it proves to determine ship types and how new finds often discredit earlier views. A bit similar as with determining the history of humans.

 

Anyway, it is a nice consequence of this hobby to dive into the history!

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Hello PietFriet,

 

Thanks for your reaction. You present  a slight but very interesting change in perspective for me. Nicolaes Witsen wasn't a shipwright. So with the phrase 'by gedachten gebouwt', built in mind, Nicolaes can never have meant he built or helped building this ship in reality let alone the stature of the man. That is quite an interesting way to interpret this phrase. When you look at the amount of information Nicolaes presents, this must have been an existing ship, at least that is what I think. For what I now understand of what Nicolaes wrote he isn't capable either of fully understanding the building process. So he makes use of information of a ship that has been built and builds, for himself and the reader, this ship again, hence the phrase 'built in mind'. There are some more considerations possible about this plate 42 as to the actual performance and geometry i.e. it might be possible they had, back then, considerations which resulted in an execution like this. But there are more inconsistencies in Nicolaes Witsen's work which have a much more severe consequence. I will try to say more about that in the next post.

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For me, the most striking enigma Nicolaes Witsen presents in his two books is the geometry of his pinas. In chapter nine Nicolaes starts with giving general ratios according to which a good ship should be built. To demonstrate how to derive the desired measurements, Nicolaes calculates these measurements using these ratio’s using a pinas with a length of 100 feet as an example. He goes on doing this about seven pages long. After that Nicolaes starts giving the mere measurements of his example ship he calls a pinas, measuring 134 feet over stem and stern. The striking thing is that all given measurements for this pinas differ from the ratio’s according to which Nicolaes states a ship should be built. All but one: the height of the bilge. And the difference is quite substantial, some measurement deviate more than 100 percent. Even the main measurements of this 134 feet pinas deviate significantly from the initial given ratio’s. The ratio of length to width for Nicolaes’ 134 feet pinas is 4,62 : 1, while the general ratio Nicolaes gives is 4 : 1. The same ratio of 4 : 1 is also given in Grebber’s table, a table of measurements for different parts of a ship for varying given lengths which is included in Nicolaes’ books. If you compare all the given main measurements for all the ships Nicolaes presents in his book, about 63 ships (edition 1671), the ratio length to width has an average of 4,18 : 1. Cornelis van Yk gives in his book the main measurements for 52 ships with an average of 4,24 : 1. The ‘fluitschepen’ or flutes in Witsen’ book have an average ratio of 4,89 : 1 although Witsen speaks of these flutes as ‘imaginary’ ships. The flutes presented by Cornelis van Yk are much wider. But the striking fact is the ratio of Nicolaes’ example pinas has a ratio of 4,62 : 1 which is by far the narrowest ship Nicolaes presents apart from the imaginary flutes. When we disregard these imaginary flutes, Nicolaes 134 feet pinas is the narrowest ship but one who has a ratio of 4,75 : 1. To make the enigma complete Nicolaes states: “Het schip hier in gedachten gebouwt is noch van de wydste noch van de naauwste slagh; welke maat met voordacht is genoomen, om zoo wel een Oorlogh-als een Koopvaardy-schip te vertoonen”. (The ship built here in mind is nor the widest nor the narrowest kind; which size is chosen deliberately, to be able to represent a warship as well as a merchant ship.)

A warship has a ratio length to width around 4 : 1 or a bit wider. A merchant ship has an average ratio around 4,2 : 1 as we have seen. So this statement from Nicolaes is far from the truth. How is that possible? The first thought that came to my mind is that you can hardly believe Nicolaes didn’t notice this very significant deviation and subsequently made this statement. In this respect it is interesting to compare the two editions of Nicolaes’ book. The second edition of 1690 is completely rewritten (!) and supplemented with much more information. You could suppose Nicolaes corrects mistakes and errors in this second copy of his book and he does. In both books for instance, Nicolaes gives a ‘kostencerter’ a cost overview for building a ship. In the 1671 edition he added the costs to a total amount which is wrong. This number is corrected in the edition of 1690. If you go to such great lengths to be as precise and complete as possible, one may assume Nicolaes didn’t regard the deviations of his example pinas as significant while all the information we can gather about his ship shows something completely different. Nicolaes didn’t change the information and comments about his 134 pinas in the second edition of his book. I don’t have an explanation for this. The most important thing it implies in my view is that this 134 pinas certainly wasn’t an imaginary or virtual ship but really existed. If you want to present a virtual ship you don’t make up all these measurements who differ so significantly from your own general rules and ratio’s. The ratio length : width also gives room for the thougt this ship wasn’t a pinas at all but more a flute like vessel. But of what kind? And is there a way to establish this?

Edited by Philemon1948
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The content of Nicolaes’ books raises more questions. The following example is a plate with a very peculiar omission. It concerns plate 49 from the edition of 1671. (Attachment 1). This plate shows the completed stern construction seen from the front. Nicolaes states about this plate: “Model van de Spiegel aen de binnekant te zien by L. (Model of the stern construction at the inside visible at L.).

Very peculiar are the missing gunports. In the Dutch seventeenth century, the bigger square sterned ships usually have two gunports, one at port and one starboard just below the wing transom. Even more curious is the fact the jambs making the vertical limitation of these ports are also missing in Nicolaes’ text. These jambs are in Dutch called ’tuimelaars’, tumblers. As far as I know there is no clear English term for these construction pieces. Nicolaes doesn’t mention them anywhere in his book. Even though these tumblers are visible at many other plates Nicolaes presents. Like plate 32 shows for instance. (Attachment 2). This is a picture of the complete stern construction seen from behind. Beneath the superstructure the lower stern construction can be seen with clearly two vertical tumblers in between the wing transom and the first transom. The large plate showing the completed ship at sea also clearly shows a gunport at port beside the sternpost. (Attachment 3). Attached is a cutout of this plate showing this gunport. Why are these tumblers missing in the overall drawing of the stern construction and why aren’t they mentioned in Nicolaes’ texts? These tumblers play a significant role in the stern construction and in the overall appearance of the large VOC and warships in the seventeenth century. How is it possible Nicolaes omitted these tumblers in this drawing and in his text while other pictures in his books show they were there? One could argue it is possible these tumblers disappeared in the transfer from drawing to copper plate. But if we look at the plates in the 1690 edition this stern construction appears exactly the same way. (Attachment 4). The construction pieces shown on this plate from the 1690 edition are copied from the edition of 1671 as most of these construction pieces, concerning the construction of Nicolaes’ example ship, are copied from the 1671 edition, hence the mirrored appearance of these construction parts. But Nicolaes corrects nothing in his second edition, the tumblers are still missing in the stern construction. If the text would mention them the omission at the plates could be explained as an error made by the engraver. But the tumblers are also absent in Nicolaes’ text in both editions which makes this the more strange. How reliable are these pictures Nicolaes presents? And did he really made these pictures himself? In the 1690 edition the caption: ’N. Witsen delin’, visible beneath all plates concerning the building of his example ship, disappears. You could say this is formally correct because the basis of the pictures in the 1690 edition are the engravings in the 1671 edition. Another question is why Nicolaes reorganised his plates concerning the building of his example ship? Nicolaes is able to cram the first seven of his original plates of his 1671 edition in one plate of his 1690 edition with considerable loss in quality, while twenty-four construction parts, shown in the first edition of his book, do not return in the second edition. One explanation can be Nicolaes developed a serious argument with Romeyn de Hooghe, whose studio made the engravings for the 1671 edition. Maybe Nicolaes did not posses the original copper plates and when he decided to publish a second edition of his book, was forced to make new plates using the pictures from his first edition. He apparently made use of this situation to reduce the number of plates considerably. But that can’t provide an explanation for the absence of the tumblers in his overall drawing of the stern construction and its subsequent description. The next post highlights an even more puzzling omission.

 

379689422_Plaat49.thumb.jpg.8fa55a095de6088a487b8ea0a6293ce1.jpg2146171314_Plaat32.thumb.jpg.2345700213f60e1a5f5666c6ae666820.jpg869579419_Plaat45.thumb.jpg.14d345142c57b1ad7578e4dd75102299.jpg1994196290_36.Pag161166pag_167.thumb.jpg.7f51d7559ee4f721be94a63bda74a044.jpg

Edited by Philemon1948
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Another, quite serious omission that can be found in Nicolaes’ books is the lack of trim by the stern when determining the height of the sternpost. Nicolaes is not very accurate in mentioning all the factors involved in constituting this height. He states: “Tot de lengte van de achter-steven brengt t'zaam, of addeert, de holte, het opzetten, en dat daar boven is” (For the length of the sternpost bring together or add the height (of the ship), the rising of the deck and what is above that.) Nicolaes mentions two specific measurements, the height of the ship, one of the three main measurements and the rising of the deck towards aft. The phrase ‘what is above that’ is less obvious but seems to refer to a measurement which comes on top the rising of the deck, so a structure aft. Cornelis van Yk also states in his book from 1697 how to establish the height of the sternpost: “De regte langte dan vande Agter-Steeven is, Vooreerst het Stuurlastig gaan van t Schip, daar voor datmen op yder 50 Voeten, Schips Langte, een Voet, of wat meerder mag stellen. Ten tweeden Schips Holte onder sijn Overloop. Ten derden de Hoogte van t Dek op de groote Hals, alwaar gemeenlijk dese tusschen Ruimte, in drie gelyke Deelen voor de Geschut Poorten verdeeld werd. Ten Vierden, zo veel als den Overloop agter behoord op te rysen, daar voor datmen voor yder 10 Voeten Schips Langte, 2 Duimen mag reekenen, meer of minder, na believen. Te weten, als het Schip in t water leid. En eindelijk de Breedte vande Heckbalk, alle dese getallen nu tsamen geteld, geven Steevens waare Langte.” (The straight length of the sternpost is, first the trim by the stern, for which one may take one foot, or a bit more, for every fifty feet ships length. Second, the height of the ship beneath the lower deck. Third, the height of the deck at the ‘groote Hals’ (the place where the height of the ship is also measured), where usually this height is divided in three parts for the gunports. Fourth, the rise of the lower deck towards aft, for which one may count two inches for every ten feet ships length, more or less as desired. To be established when the ship is lying in the water. And finally the width of the wing-transom, all these figures added give the sternposts true length.)

The list of measurements to determine the length of the sternpost is incomplete in Nicolaes’ books or so it seems. The most striking measurement missing, is trim by the stern. Here we encounter something quite fundamental. Nicolaes Witsen and Cornelis van Yk both wrote books about the practice of shipbuilding in the seventeenth century Dutch Republic. If you want to understand something of what they wrote, we have to interpret the text i.e., interpret the given descriptons, plates and measurements. Thus viewing them in their context as was the case with the tumblers in de sternconstruction. The descriptions, plates and measurements are interdependent and by examining and compare them, you are able to make an interpretation or at least an educated guess. To be able to do that I choose the perspective of a shipwright. The overall question is: do these books contain enough information to be able to build a traditional wooden ship? To answer that question you need to know what you need to know. If a group of shipwrights want to build a traditional wooden ship, what do they have to know and what skills do they need? I came up with five understandings. First, material. What it is made of? Second, size, or measurement. How big is it? Third, shape. What does it look like? Four, sequence. What do you do first? Five, procedure. How do you do things? I compare the books from Cornelis and Nicolaes according to these five understandings. Together these understandings constitute a recipe. I couldn’t find a trade or craft which couldn’t be described by these five understandings. In this particular case, building a wooden ship,  the understanding ‘size’ needs to be connected to two more understandings which are vital in interpreting and/or using the measurements Cornelis and Nicolaes give: where to measure to, and, the direction in which to measure. These understandings will prove to be vital. For instance to answer the question if Nicolaes really forgot to mention trim by the stern when determining the length of the sternpost or that he negotiated this measurement in the measurements he does mention. In general it is very interesting to compare the books of Cornelis and Nicolaes on the basis of these five understandings, very interesting and very revealing.

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It is interesting to say a few more things about the mentioned five understandings, material, size, shape, sequence and procedure. If you are an outsider, which one of these understandings would be hard to describe? In other words, which understandings can be described by a spectator and which ones are hard to describe by a spectator? Material is not so very hard. Size might look quite innocent but isnt. If you take into account the two understandings that accompany size, where to measure to, and, in what direction, it is clear that you have to describe how a measurement is taken. Many sizes are mentioned in the books of Nicolaes Witsen and Cornelis van Yk and for many of them we almost automatically assume how they were taken. First of all the unit of measurement is important. In both books this is the Amsterdam foot, 0,2831 meter, divided in 11 inches, which is used for the construction of the parts of the hull. So this unit will not cause misunderstandings. But not knowing in which direction a measurement is taken can cause serious misunderstandings. Lets have a look, for instance, at the joint of the keel. In most cases this joint would be a plated scarf. (Attachment 1)

When the length of this joint is mentioned there is no explanation how this measurement is taken, not by Nicolaes, nor Cornelis. We automatically assume it is taken parallel to the axis of the keel or, in more practical terms, along one of the sides of the keel. But it is also possible to measure the length of this joint along the oblique surface of this joint. Because this conception, the length of a keel joint is measured parallel to the axis of the keel, is regarded as so obvious, makes it practically impossible to question this. Everybody thinks so and any other perspective is immediately rejected. Well, I am not interested in what everybody says, I am interested in what is stated in the books of Nicolaes and Cornelis. In this case the two measurements will not deviate too much. But there are cases where this is not the case. A shipwright will ask such questions and it is by no means certain the length of a keel joint is measured alongside the axis unless this is clearly stated.

In general, it doesnt matter how you measure, as long as you are consistent. And thats the tricky part. In our time we are so used to the Cartesian way of taking measurements that it is almost impossible to imagine that in the largest part of our history this Cartesian way of taking measurements wasnt there. The approach of an object to be built was, concerning sizing, different in the seventeenth century compared to what we do now. And thinking they would have done it the same way in the seventeenth century as we do it now is one of the most dangerous attitudes you can have towards describing a craft from a historic period. An example of  shifting definitions concerning the understanding size is the following.

Cornelis van Yk mentions the two sizes of a cross section of the middle of the wing transom like this: Haare Breedte, op en neer, is met de Dikte van de Kiel gelijk, en derselver dikte, langs Scheeps, is een vijvde minder dan haare Breedte. (Her width, up and down, is equal to the thickness of the keel, en its thickness, longitudinal, is one fifth of her width). (Attachment 2).

Cornelis van Yk refers in this case to the width a vertical measurement and to the thickness as a longitudinal measurement. When Cornelis describes the wrangen or first futtocks, this is exactly the other way round. Here the thickness is referred to as the diepte, or depth, up and down as a vertical measurement and to the width as a longitudinal measurement. Cornelis mentions the direction of these understandings thickness and width in most cases because he knows, being a shipwright, how important this is. But he doesnt always mention it, which can be puzzling. This mentioning of the direction in which to measure, constitutes the first clear difference between the texts of Nicolaes and Cornelis. Nicolaes also mentions the size of the wing transom as dick, thick, and breet, wide. But he doesnt refer to the direction of this thickness and width. In Nicolaess case most of the measurements he gives for the wing transom indicate the cross section in the middle is almost a square or a square while in Cornelis case the cross section of the middle of the wing transom is per definition a standing rectangle. Although Nicolaes mentions the two sizes apart, he doesnt mention what the direction of each measurement is. In many more cases Nicolaes doesnt  mention this.

Measurements like the head end or the cross section of a beam constitute relatively simple ways of measuring. Much more complex is the way bevels are marked or measured and the way measurements are taken to fit one part on the other, which can sometimes be very complex, like is the case with fitting the garboard strakes in the rabbet of the keel. But a shipwright will always ask how a measurement is taken or how to line or mark out a measurement because a shipwright is well aware of the importance of this. Since Nicolaes is not a man of the trade he often forgets to make a note of this. It is not the only way you can tell Nicolaes isnt a shipwright. There is a much more striking example of an understanding of the mentioned five where Cornelis outflanks Nicolaes: the procedure.

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