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Making ship drawings in the seventeenth century Dutch Republic.

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On this forum Ab Hoving declares that in the seventeenth century Dutch Republic drawings weren’t used to the end of building a ship. In his own words: “Draughts were not made in those days, as you know. The '134 feet long pinas' by Witsen is only described in words and sketches in his book”.

Is this true? Were drawings not used before they started building a ship in the seventeenth century?

Let’s first have a closer look at the statement from Ab. First of all he mentions the ship Witsen describes in his book is designated as a pinas. In my first string of post I showed there is a fair ground for reasonable doubt that Witsen describes a pinas in his book. The data indicate the type of ship tends to be more like a flute like vessel. But the identification of the ship Witsen describes in his book is not my subject now.

Ab’s statement is a negative one. So, from a strictly logical point of view, this statement is completely useless. You can’t prove a negative statement. Much more fruitful is the question if evidence can be found they did make drawings in the seventeenth century. Is there? Yes there is.

I would like to present two pieces of evidence which directly point to the fact they indeed made technical drawings.

The first piece of evidence is a quote from the book of Cornelis van Yk (1697). He states at page 117: “Why the Master Shipwright, to prevent making a mistake, be very cautious and makes a drawing of his whole ship with an open side, and positions all the adequate ship-parts like masts, capstans, stepmasts, bulkheads, hatches, pumps, galley, bottling plant, stairs, gates &c. and gives them their respective places”.

What Cornelis describes here is nothing less than a complete design of the interior of a ship. If you want to put every part Cornelis mentions at the right place, you need to know the exact place and number of the beams of the decks. Placing these beams happens quite early in the building process and certainly before anything else is put in place. So you will have to know the exact position of these beams before you can make and place them. And Cornelis urgently advises to make a drawing to that end.

Cornelis van Yk makes many more remarks indicating they made use of drawings, but these remarks can not be considered direct evidence, contrary to the above mentioned quote.


The second piece of evidence is a drawing in itself. Is can be found in the book from Åke Rålamb, entitled Skeps Byggerij, published in 1691. This is a very interesting little book, mainly a collection of plates, entirely devoted to shipbuilding.L1040949.thumb.JPG.a1d402c2d99c9ea672978ae4ec4c2170.JPG

The drawing shows several drawing instruments especially designed to make technical drawings. Very interesting are the adjustable pieces allowing you to draw fair lines with different profiles. If they used these instruments in Sweden, they certainly used them in the Dutch Republic.

An interesting thing to think about is how drawings were integrated in the building process of a ship in those days? How is information transferred to the building site? And at what moment by what means? Last but not least, I am told that three Dutch seventeenth century ship drawings are kept in the ‘Scheepvaart Museum Amsterdam’. I have never seen them but I am very curious what they show. And what they can tell us about the process they were intended for. Is there anybody who is familiair with these drawings?

Edited by Philemon1948
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Hello Philemon,


Very interesting topic. Let me add to your remarks my three cents.


By the time the Swedish subject Ake Rålamb wrote his illustrated booklet in 1691, various shipbuilding methods were used or known in Sweden, i.e. skeleton methods (frame-first and frame-led) and shell method (or perhaps more precisely: bottom-first). From about the middle of the 17th century, the Swedish king’s ships (men-of-war) were being increasingly designed and built using skeleton methods by English “imported” shipwrights (mainly Sheldon family). These English shipwrights certainly used scale-drawings in the construction process. Most importantly, such drawings strictly defined the body shape of the ship’s hull.


My current understanding is that scale diagrams or sketches made with the only intention of just defining the layout of internal devices or structures could be made in all these methods, but such diagrams are of secondary importance, as they do not define the most important conceptual features of the ship (i.e. hull shape). In fact, it is hard to imagine the marriage of scale design/conceptual drawings with the bottom-first method as described by Witsen. Such drawings would be neither of much use in the frame-led method as described by van Yk. They could be even dispensed with in many of the known frame-first methods, as described in the Mediterranean or Atlantic sources, just full-scale tracing on the shipyard floor was clearly considered enough.



Edited by Waldemar
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Hi Philemon,


what surprises me is that in all the builders-contracts there seems to be no reference to any drawings, nor to the approval of such drawings before the work commences. One of the members here (Werner) has spent literaly weeks in the Dutch archives and nowhere seems to be anything that points at such drawings or the use of them. Only from almost a century later (Pieter Zwijdrecht), there seems to be a number of linedrawings that were used in shipdesign (and I assume, also the building of those ships).

Any thoughts on that?


The drawings in the scheepvaartmuseum are three drawings that are available in the web: a longitudinal section of a threedecked ship, attributed to Sturckenburg, and two technical looking drawings of a smallfrigate (most Berlin-reconsteuctions are based on those drawings).

A coupke of years ago Ab Hoving published a review of these drawings, suggesting a more in depth research of these drawings: He notices some problems with the drawings. They are made on paper that has a watermark that is (or seems) newer than the date on the drawing, there are technical terms in the drawings that do not match the terminology in the builders contracts, the construction/frames do not match what we know of building practice in that period, They have no provenance and they came in possession of the museum in a period that there was a huge demand for 'stuff from the golden age'.


I will look for a web-link.



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Side view and waterlines of a small frigateIMG_1214.JPG.3ac485036a5c940a12d4e18723105068.JPG

 Section drawn by Sturckenburg (I could only find the redrawn version of Otte Blom)



Could only find a book-copy of the third drawing




I never heard of any other drawings at the Maritime miseum, nor did I see any pictures of such drawings. Would be very interesting to know whether there exist any other drawings.



Edited by amateur
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11 hours ago, Philemon1948 said:

in the seventeenth century Dutch Republic drawings weren’t used to the end of building a ship. In his own words: “Draughts were not made in those days,

I think a great deal of misunderstanding can be avoided if the terms in use on this subject have precise and agreed upon definitions.

I suspect that I am not alone in having tunnel vision.  What I mean is that while it is nice to have plans of the internal parts and all, the only plans of real significance for historical authenticity   are hull shape lines plans.

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Hello Waldemar,


Thank you for your comment. I can only give a short and incomplete reaction.


According to one of the major plates in Rålamb’s book different types of shipbuilding methods were common in Sweden in the seventeenth century. So this seems to confirm your statement. The second remark is also true I think. To be able to build a ship you don’t need a complete drawing. And here it gets complicated. And interesting. So, my remarks are in no way complete nor can they ever be. I will just make a few remarks about the things I have encountered so far. The first remark is about the drawings made in the eighteenth century Dutch Republic. I am convinced most of these drawings were not made to be able to build a ship, they were made during or after building a ship. I have several arguments to back up this claim. One of them is they used to establish the layout of the decks during he building proces as is recorded by the secretary of the Rotterdam Admiralty. This means they could never have made a longitudinal section with a complete layout including the place of all the structures like capstans, galley etc.. This is confirmed by the provision in the specifications for these ships. So, the question is then: what do you need to be able to build a ship from a considerable size? What is the information they used, how did that came about and how was the information translated to the building site? The problem is, there is not one single piece of paper published or written, that I know of, about the actual building practice in the eighteenth century Dutch Republic.


The first building stage of a ship concerns the establishment of the hull shape. That is alltogether something different compared to designing the layout of the decks as you rightly point out. So, you need information to be able to do that. Did they make a line plan on scale? I can’t go into detail here but I think they did make a plan on scale, after which the whole shape was translated to a full-scale layout. One of the major problems was: the design methods in the eighteenth century had a serious flaw: they couldn’t use this method to design the bow and stern of a ship. These shapes had to be found by trial and error. The question is, did they find this solution on scale or full-scale?


Did they make a scale drawing of the hull in the seventeenth century Dutch Republic? I don’t think so. Just as you say, full-scale tracing on a floor is sufficient to produce the moulds you need to make the parts you need. And the mould was the way they transfered information to the building site. But what was the origin of this full-scale tracing? What was the information they used and how did they construct it?

In this matter you see a tremendous gap emerge between the books of Nicolaes Witsen and van Cornelis van Yk. Witsen was 29 or 30 when he published his book. The fact he didn’t know the trade from within is reflected throughout his book. I think in most cases he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. That is to say, Nicolaes was unaware of the actual process of building a ship, and he certainly had no idea what was important and was not. In a sense this makes his book very valuable from a point of view of information: Witsen just tried to record as much as possible without being able to make a distinction of what is important and what is not. But is is information recorded by an outsider.

Cornelis van Yk’s book is a completely different matter. Cornelis was probably about 50 years old when he wrote his book and is mainly concerned with the main issues. His descriptions can be categorized mainly in two types. The first are ratio’s. If the ship has a certain length, the keel has a width and height derived from this length. And so on. The second are procedures. And here it gets interesting. The procedures are responsible for shaping the hull. Some of them are revealed, some of them not. But the essence is they used measurements which were known beforehand in a procedure to produce a shape. One of the most striking examples of this is the rabbet in keel, stem- and sternpost. Cornelis pays a lot of attention to this rabbet as it is in essence the beginning of shaping the hull. For comparison, Nicolaes barely mentions the rabbet.

So, establishing the hull shape was mainly done by following certain procedures using certain measurements which were known beforehand. The question is, how did these measurements come about? Did they make drawings to retrieve these measurements from? Or was this done another way?

Edited by Philemon1948
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Hello amateur,


Thanks for your remarks and thanks for the drawings! I will try to give a proper reply to your remarks.

One of the most striking features of the Dutch seventeenth century is that it was a turbulent age with lots of developments who were not recorded as we would do it now or not recorded at all. The way things were done are also often quite different from the way we do things today. So I am very weary of making firm statements or draw conclusions on the basis of information which is almost by definition incomplete.

The books written by Nicolaes Witsen and Cornelis van Yk were the first of their kind in those days. But I think they represent a phase in a more general development. The social structures where knowledge and craft was passed on from generation to generation, the guilds, were lost in the ever growing industrialisation of the Dutch Republic. So the need arose for other ways of transferring knowledge. The invention of the printing press could meet that need. Nicolaes and Cornelis both mention their motivation of writing their book: to record what never has been recorded before (in the Dutch Republic). And that is the crucial understanding I think. Many things are not recorded. And I think this is reflected in the way Nicolaes and Cornelis wrote their respective books. Often you can find statements done by Nicolaes and Cornelis where they say something is done without explaining why. Also definitions or more strict descriptions of certain used understandings often lack. The books of Nicolaes and Cornelis are in that sense representatives of a certain development.

This is in a sense also true for the drawings of Pieter van Zwijndregt. The drawings are there, the manuscripts with the design theory and method of Pieter are there but a connection with the actual practice of building a ship lacks. Only in the so-called ‘provisions’, attached to the specifications for a ship to build, you can find some of this information.

So, I think most of the assets used on a shipyard to be able to build a ship are lost and so is the knowledge. In the former string of posts I tried to give some examples of this. Concerning Cornelis I try an indirect approach in an attempt to retrieve some of the procedures by trying to regard the whole description of Cornelis as a consistent coherent whole.


I am not familiair with this article of Ab Hoving about the seventeenth century drawings. In general I am not impressed by the analytical capabilities of Ab. You mention watermarks. I examined the watermarks in many drawings of Pieter van Zwijndregt (1711-1790) and tried to find some information about these watermarks. I am not an expert, far from it, but what I found is that much information about these watermarks lack, especially in the seventeenth century. What makes watermarks extremely difficult to attribute to a certain era or even producer is the fact many of the producers of this upcoming industry of paper making changed their watermarks, used several watermarks at the same time and were often taken over by competitors who in their own way reused the watermarks or introduced new ones. Even older watermarks were reused again. And I don’t regard Ab Hoving to be an expert on paper.

I made a survey on ‘Maritiem Digitaal’ for the seventeenth century drawings but this site functions so badly that its is, for me, often very difficult if not impossible to find what I am looking for, alas. So thanks for the pictures!

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Published works in the most major European languages on designing (or shaping) the hull bodies in the early modern era, be it graphical or non-graphical, are already abundant, and it is simply not possible to repeat their content here. It is neither practical to list all or even most of them.


However, one of the best quite detailed modern summaries on this theme, which you may try, are provided by Jean Boudriot in the chapter “Méthodes de conception” in his book “Les vaisseaux de 50 et 64 canons” and in the paper “La conception des vaisseaux royaux sous l’Ancien Régime” (Neptunia 169, 1988). There are many, many other available sources, works and evidence, and there is no doubt that ships of all sizes, built to the skeleton method principle, could be created using non-graphical methods, i.e. without scale line plans made before the actual construction.


And in the shell method of construction, as described by Witsen, even trying to work to any such prepared line plans would be no-go. In other words, shell method of construction and scale line plans are simply not compatible. Hence the importance of the shape of the rabbet, which governed the run of the planks. To some extent the shape of the rabbet was also important in the frame-led method described by van Yk, as there were too few pre-erected frames to govern the run of the garboard strakes properly.


The most enlightening work on the actual building practices in the early modern era is perhaps the manual by Edmund Bushnell, “The Compleat Ship-Wright”, published in 1664. While partly graphical method for defining the hull body is presented in this manual (meaning the author applies only some elements of scale line plans), with some ingenuity and known at the time transformation tools/procedures, the described method of shaping the actual wooden moulds and frame parts can be also implemented to the non-graphical methods, directly on the shipyard ground.




Edited by Waldemar
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Good Morning Gentlemen;


Not being any kind of expert in Dutch ship design and building, I do not feel qualified to comment on the various points of view put forward above. I can say, though, for those who have not seen it, that Ab's claim that the drawings in question are forgeries was published in an article in the NRJ for Spring 2020, p.33. I will also add that, to my personal knowledge, several very notable persons in the world of research were extremely sceptical of the reasoning used in the said article, and remain so. The matter should certainly not be regarded as closed.


An important point to consider is that as Ab has nailed his colours to the mast, so to speak, by stating categorically that technical drawings were not used in 17th century Dutch shipbuilding, it then becomes an absolute necessity that any and all evidence which might indicate the contrary should be discredited.  


All the best,


Mark P



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Good afternoon Mark,


This is quite a fundamental statement indeed. In my opinion negative absolute statements in science are impossible. You cannot prove a negative statement and absolute statements makes a sound and thorough discussion impossible. For me, the very basis of science is a non judgemental approach to the question what the reality around us consists of. And absolute statements are not part of that approach.

You state it correctly, an absolute statement provokes an absolute necessity, which makes every discussion superfluous.

I think I have shown that there are reasons to suppose, beyond reasonable doubt, technical drawings were made in the seventeenth century Dutch Republic.

And it doesn’t matter if you make a distinction between drawings showing the hull shape or the layout of the interior of the ship. A technical drawing is a technical drawing.


I am a shipwright and I approach the books of Nicolaes Witsen and Cornelis van Yk from a practical perspective. If I can deliver a description of what is described in those books in a general, understandable and verifiable manner, than that is science for me. To that end I use Hitchens’s razor. According to Wikipedia:


“Hitchens's razor is an epistemological razor (a general rule for rejecting certain knowledge claims) that states "what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.The razor was created by and named after author and journalist Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011). It implies that the burden of proof regarding the truthfulness of a claim lies with the one who makes the claim; if this burden is not met, then the claim is unfounded, and its opponents need not argue further in order to dismiss it. Hitchens used this phrase specifically in the context of refuting religious belief”.

Absolute statements tend to cling to religious belief. Can you take someone serious who makes these kind of absolute statements in a scientific debate? Well, I don’t.

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Well, I think such a steadfast attitude of Ab Hoving is quite justified provided it concerns conceptual aspects of ship design (hull shape). Let me remind that Ab's main focus is on the shell (bottom-first) method described in Witsen's work, often referred to as the Dutch method (an obvious mental abbreviation, as different techniques were used in the south of the Netherlands - i.e. quasi skeleton methods; furthermore, shell methods could be also developed and used in other parts of the continent, notably in northern Germany – see, for example, cog's construction).


But back to the point. The very nature of the shell method actually precludes the use of theoretical line plans. I would propose an experiment here (and experiments are inherent part of science) – an attempt to build a ship (or a model of a ship) using the shell method, conforming to the theoretical hull lines made beforehand and within acceptable accuracy. I would not believe it is possible until I see the opposite.


Still in the second half of the 17th century, there was much consternation among shipwrights in the French service, including those of Dutch origin, when asked by the authorities the first time for design draughts.


This is an example of what was then produced:




Firstly, it may be connected with the frame-led method as described by van Yk, rather than with the shell method. Secondly, is this drawing strictly defining the whole hull shape? The answer is no, especially if considering that location of both tail frames could be adjusted along the keel during actual building. Thirdly, were such rudimentary sketches really necessary for experienced shipwrights? Don't think so.



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Regarding "absolutes" in science... I remember my physics professor made a statement that I remember well.  "There are no absolutes... now is the speed of light being the fastest possible speed in space?".  The answer was "At this time, yes.  But maybe not in the future if someone discovers how to go faster.".   

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Hello Waldemar,


You bring about quite a lot of stuff in one article. I would like to take one of your remarks and try to say something about that. You state: Firstly, it may be connected with the frame-led method as described by van Yk, rather than with the shell method.

Working for years now on the books written by Cornelis van Yk and Nicolaes Witsen I began to wonder if the two ‘methods’ described in both books really are that different?

I try to describe each step in the building process by imagining how things are done. Can I come closer to understanding this by trying to describe that? And does this description fit in a greater understanding about the whole building process?

I would like to propose first that we try to make a description from the actual activities when building a ship according to the two methods. When I started thinking about that I had the idea not to describe the process from the perspective of the sequence but from the perspective of the procedure. And that is fairing. If you do that, looking at the whole building process from the perspective of fairing, things look quite different.

Using the phrases ‘bottom first’ and ‘skeleton first’ over and over again creates some sort of situation as if everybody exactly knows what this means and that everybody agrees these methods are very different from each other. But I am not so sure about this.

I am very careful about stating this because I know, or at least suspect, that saying this undermines long-held views and propositions. Which always raises resistance.

But I would propose to start with one of the authors, if you can agree with this?

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There is really not much risk of being battered by stating that many or even most methods of building ships in the early modern era had more or less common features, as this is already a long, firmly established view among notable experts. I heartily agree with this conclusion and have never said that all "these methods are very different from each other". I am very sorry my words were over-interpreted.


On the contrary – reading more and more on various shipbuilding methods it becomes quite clear that beside any differences, they share many similarities, (be it features, approaches, procedures or structural details), and in many ways. This is why it is always beneficial to see any particular case in a wider context, not just through the content of any one book, however comprehensive.


The frame-led method as described by van Yk (also called "elementary method" by Jean Boudriot) is a perfect case in point. Personally, I regard this method as an elaboration of the "pure" shell method and, at the same time, an important step in developing more advanced, already graphical methods of designing ship's hulls.


For a number of reasons I have elected not to explain the very basic terms like "bottom-first" or "frame-first", nor to enter the construction/building details, as these are already quite competently explained in existing works. You, and perhaps other readers, may be interested in consulting works such as (and this is only a small selection):


– A. Hoving, A. Lemmers, In tekening gebracht. De achttiende-eeuwse scheepsbouwers en hun ontwerpmetoden, 2001,
– B. Ollivier, D. Roberts (ed. and trans.), 18th Century Shipbuilding. Remarks on the Navies of the English & the Dutch from Observations made at their Dockyards in 1737, 1992,
– A. Hoving, Nicolaes Witsen and Shipbuilding in the Dutch Golden Age, 2012.


From the conceptual point of view, the most enlightening works, devoted to the frame-led method (in effect, the same or very similar to that described by van Yk), are two papers by the top authority on the subject:


– E. Rieth, Une autre méthode de conception des «anciens constructeurs», celle du maître-gabarit, du couple des estains et des lisses, Neptunia 298, and
– E. Rieth, Une autre méthode de conception des «anciens constructeurs», à l'aide d'un maître-gabarit, de gabarits des couples de balancement et des lisses de construction, Neptunia 299.


Here only the translation of two short fragments taken form these papers: „[Besides,] two other methods not based on the use of plans are mentioned by two authors representative of the 18th century scientific thinking on nautical matters: Spanish Jorge Juan and Frenchman Pierre Bouguer [...]", and "In effect, that was in the shipyard, during actual construction, that the geometry of the [hull] shape was defined".


Nevertheless, if you prefer to consult the original sources, here their titles:


– G. Juan, Examen maritime théoretique et practique, ou traité de mécanique appliqué à la construction et à la manoeuvre des vaisseaux et autres bâtiments, 1783 (French translation),
– P. Bouguer, Traité du navire, de sa construction et de ses mouvements, 1746.


Below is an illustration taken from the work by Pierre Bouguer, depicting the principal elements of the frame-led ("elementary") method, employed also by van Yk.







Edited by Waldemar
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  • 3 weeks later...

Hello Waldemar,


It took some time to reflect on your last post. I will dive into the last mentioned sources. But I am not very enthusiastic about the books of Ab Hoving. I will explain why.


In 2009 I started writing about wooden shipbuilding. My first aim was to write down the experience and knowledge I had gained in a project concerning the reconstruction of a Dutch eighteenth century warship. But, as it happened, I realised very soon that, if you want to say something about shipbuilding methods in the Dutch eighteenth century, you encounter a problem: there is not one single word published about shipbuilding practice in the eighteenth century Dutch Republic. Not in that age, nor since.

So, if you are researching the connection between the information that is available about eighteenth century shipbuilding in the Dutch republic and the actual practice in that same age, you end up in the seventeenth century. Two seventeenth century Dutch authors have left their mark in this field: Nicolaes Witsen and Cornelis van Yk. Both wrote books about the subject what the shipbuilding practice looked like in their days.

Because the book Cornelis van Yk has written hasn’t been scrutinized and critically approached yet, I thought that would be a good start. I assumed, making this decision, someone else had scrutinized the books of Nicolaes Witsen. Ab Hoving published in 1994 a book about Nicolaes Witsens’s books about shipbuilding and in 2012 a translation of Witsen’s work in English.

So, I assumed, if I had some difficulties understanding Cornelis van Yk, I could consult the work of Ab.

Gradually I started to discover, not one single question I ask myself, is answered by Ab. At first I couldn’t believe this. How is it possible that the writings of someone who is regarded by many as an expert in this field, are so shallow and meaningless?


His book resembles a scrapbook. Ab takes an old book, tares it apart, put some of the parts together again and put some comments to the text. I can write a book like that with ease.

Most of the information Ab presents is just a copy of what Nicolaes Witsen already mentions and that is not what I consider to be a critical approach.

I started to wonder, for whom did Ab wrote this book? If you are a layman and seek some knowledge about the subject without the need for a deeper understanding, Ab’s book is perfect. The information supplied by Ab is very superficial and doesn’t explain anything. So there is nothing to think about.

I will mention a few oddities and omissions, some already mentioned in my previous posts.


The first one is the very strange difference between the general ratios Nicolaes mentions and the given measurements of his so called ‘example pinas’. There is just one measurement exactly the same: the height of the bilge. The rest deviates, and not with a small margin. This deviation starts with the main measurements. The ratio length:width is 4,62:1. Nicolaas's example ship is the narrowest of all but one mentioned in Nicolaes’s books. Only the flutes are narrower but they are described by Nicoales as “imaginary”.

Can someone explain to me why Nicolaes fails to mention these significant differences between the measurements of his “example ship” and the general ratios he gives? Can someone explain to me why Ab fails to recognize this?

Can someone explain to me what ‘imaginary” flutes are?

Can someone explain to me why the description Nicolaes presents doesn’t seem to be a pinas at all?


The second one is the fact the rabbet in the keel, stem- and sternpost is a vital understanding for shaping the hull. The rabbet is barely mentioned by Nicolaes and, correspondingly, nor by Ab.

One of the most difficult procedures in the process of building a wooden ship, which is connected to the rabbet, is fitting the garboard strakes. Nicolaes gives a very cryptic and incomprehensible description of how this is done, which is not explained by Ab. Instead Ab substitutes this very cryptic description with another cryptic description. This substitute given by Ab is also complete nonsense. Oldest trick in the book. This way Ab doesn’t explain anything, he only suggests he understands. But he doesn’t understand and explains anything.

Can someone explain to me what Nicolaes writes when he describes the fitting of the garboard strakes?


The third one is failing to mention how the sheer strake is made and attached to the ship. Also one of the most important understandings of the whole building process. This procedure is not mentioned by Nicolaes nor by Ab. But it is a very vital and ingenious procedure. The sheer strake is in fact a temporary hull plank which is marked and made in one plane and folded in place, so made spatial, to show the ships circumference. How the sheer strake is designed and mounted is not explained.

Can someone explain to me how the sheer strake is designed and made?

Can someone explain to me why the strange contradictions and omissions in Nicolaes Witsen’s books are completely overlooked by Ab?


I can give numerous examples besides these three. Let me try to give an answer to the last question, why the strange contradictions and omissions in Nicolaes Witsen’s books are completely overlooked by Ab. As Nicolaes Witsen was an outsider and had to rely for his information on third parties, his deeper understanding of the processes involved building a wooden ship, is very shallow. And the same thing is true for the books of Ab Hoving. As said, to my amazement, the books from Ab about Nicolaes are completely useless when you want a thorough answer to the simple question: what is meant by this writing?

Cornelis van Yk sheds some light on this matter. Cornelis starts his book with a dedication to the people in charge of the VOC chamber Delft. But he rewrites this dedication. The difference between these two dedications is significant. In the first version of this dedication he writes:


“Dog, staande, gelijk als, op het punct van ’t gezeide Werk by der Hand te vatten, wierdmy, door iemand mijner Vrienden, berigt, dat, zijn Ed: den zeer geleerden, en door naspeuren noit vermoeiden, Heer, en Amsterdams Burgemeester, Nicolaus Witsen, al voor eenige Jaaren, gelijk als niet konnende verdragen, dat aan zo groot Ligt de kandelaar langer zoude ontbreeken, en daar mede genoegsaam de nalatigheid van de respective Bouwmeesters, als met de Vinger, aanwijsende, een notabel, en deze Stoffe aangaande, zeer lofwaardig Boek, onder den Tijtel van Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw en Bestier, hadde in het ligt gegeven.”


"But, standing, as if, on the point of beginning the said work, it was reported to me by one of my friends that his noble, very learned, and never wearied by searching, Lord, and Amsterdam mayor , Nicolaus Witsen, already for some years, as he could not bear, that such great light would be missing any longer, and with that showing the negligence of the respective master shipwrights, published a notable, and this matter concerning, a very praisworthy book, under the title of Dutch shipbuilding and management."


After this remark Cornelis writes extensively that Nicolaes’s book was sold out and he could no longer buy a copy. But Cornelis changed the first passage to this:


“Doch, staande gelijk als op het punct van ‘t gezeide Werk by der hand te vatten,wierd my, door iemand myner Vrienden berigt, dat zijn Ed: den zeer geleerden, en door na speuren nooit vermoeiden Heer, en Amsterdams Burgermeester, Nicolaas Witsen, al voor omtrent dartig Jaaren, een deese stoffe eenigsints aangaande, zeer lofwaardig Werk onder den Titul van, Aeloude en hedendaagse Scheeps=bouw en Bestier: hadde in ‘t licht gegeven.”


"But, standing, as if, on the point of beginning the said work, it was reported to me by one of my friends that his noble, very learned, and never wearied by searching, lord and Amsterdam mayor , Nicolaas Witsen, already for about thirty years, published a very praisworthy book, this matter somewhat concerning, under the title of Dutch shipbuilding and management."


A very intruiging difference between the two remarks is Cornelis changes "this matter concerning" to “this matter somewhat concerning”. It is not the only place in his book where Cornelis makes remarks in veiled terms about Nicolaes’s book. So, apparently Cornelis was able to, in the end, lay his hand on a copy of Nicolaes’s book. And he concluded the knowledge of Nicolaes was shallow and lacked insight in the fundamental processes concerning building a ship. This is unfortunately mirrored today by the books of Ab Hoving.

Edited by Philemon1948
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  • 3 weeks later...

The true identity of Nicolaes Witsen's pinas.


Cornelis van Yk comments on the flute ship in his book. At the time of the Dutch Republic's existence, the flute played an important role in its economic development. At the end of his comment, Cornelis draws a conclusion: that he has never heard a valid reason to prefer building a flute to building a pinas. The reasons Cornelis gives in his comment, on which he bases his rather striking conclusion, are in my view more than valid. Yet many of those flutes were built, given the role this ship played during the Republic's existence.

This comment by Cornelis on the flute has therefore always resonated in my head. Something weird is going on here, but so far I can't get my fingers behind it. What also strikes me is that almost everyone claims that the flute is usually a much narrower ship than the larger and wider East Indiamen. This means that the length:width ratio is different for a flute than for an East Indiaman. But this is not apparent at all from the main measurements of the few flutes that Cornelis gives in his book. The main measurements Cornelis gives for these flutes could be the main measurements for an East Indiaman, perhaps slightly narrower, but not convincingly much narrower. Since Cornelis only gives measurements for a few flutes, this provides too little information to base a conclusion on.

So I thought, what if you put the data of all the flutes that sailed for the VOC in a spreadsheet? Then you have some more basis to make a more thorough analysis. This information can be found in the VOC database on the internet. Once that job was done and I did some juggling with this data, the result was revealing.


But interesting as it may be, the above is not the reason I am writing this. When I was typing the data of these flutes into the computer, I followed the list as presented on that VOC site: alphabetically. I soon came across the following ship in that list: the 'Diemermeer'. The Diemermeer is a flute ship that was built for the VOC Chamber Amsterdam in 1659. The ship was in service with the VOC from 1660 until it sank on June 28, 1670 at Banda, Indonesia. But what struck me as by lightning were the main measurements given for this ship: 134 feet long, 29 feet wide, 13 feet high. These are exactly the same main measurements given by Nicolaes Witsen for his 'example pinas'. I immediately thought, this can’t be true? That Nicolaes' 'example pinas' is actually a flute?


I am already convinced that the example ship of Nicolaes is not a pinas. The specified sizes differ too much the general ratios Nicolaes provides. But if it's not a pinas, then what is it? And what arguments can you put forward for that position?


There is only one author, to my knowledge, who also realizes that the ship Nicolaes describes cannot be a pinas. This author is Mr. Kamer who makes a proposal to name the type of ship that Nicolaes describes. He does so in his book 'Ships on Scale' where he concludes, among other things, that it concerns a ship that Nicolaes did not see or has known during his life. The type of ship characterizes Mr. Kamer as a ‘hekboot’, built below as a Noordsvaarder (a type of flute ship) and rigged as a pinas. I can neither confirm nor deny nor investigate this assertion because Mr. Kamer provides no substantiation for it. To my great disappointment. Nor do I know whether such hybrid craft were built in the Republic. But the main measurements of Nicolaes' example pinas certainly make one think of a flute. The ship Nicolaes describes is narrow, the narrowest ship he describes in his book except one. These main measurements are certainly not standard sizes for a pinas or East Indiaman.


What is the argument for or against the proposition that the Diemermeer is the ship that Nicolaes describes in his book? The Diemermeer was built in 1659. At that time Nicolaes was about eighteen years old. So he may have known or seen the ship. That argues against the claim. Nicolaes describes a ship with a transom construction which is missing from a flute. He must have been able to make that distinction clear when he wrote his book. But it is certainly possible that the ship was built during his lifetime but that he has neither known nor seen it.

Approached slightly different: is it a coincidence that exactly the same main measurements are given for the Diemermeer as Nicolaes gives for his example pinas? If the Diemermeer is a flute that was built for the VOC in Zeeland or Noord-Holland, I would say yes. But that the Diemermeer is a ship with exactly the same main dimensions, main dimensions that do not appear twice in the list presented by the VOC site, and was built in Amsterdam during Nicolaes' lifetime, I say: no. This is a little too coincidental.


That raises a lot of questions. Before I came across the Diemermeer, my main question was how it is possible that Nicolaes does not notice the enormous discrepancy between the proportions for ships to be built, which he himself states, and the concrete dimensions that he gives for his example pinas? Now the question is, if the Diemermeer is indeed the ship Nicolaes describes, how is it possible that Nicolaes could mistake a flute for a pinas?


For now, I don't have a clear answer to that.


But I now 'officially' include the statement that Nicolaes Witsen's 'example pinas' was an actual existing ship. The type of ship is a flute with the name 'Diemermeer', built in Amsterdam in 1659. If this statement is true, it will have rather far-reaching consequences for the substantive approach of Nicolaes' book. To prove this statement I will have to come up with clearer evidence than I present now. Literal proof will probably be difficult but it should be possible to make it very plausible. That is to say, I will not provide direct evidence but rather circumstantial evidence. I will explain that in a 'to be continued'.


Edited by Philemon1948
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Nicolaes Witsen’s 'example ship'.


Is it plausible the Diemermeer, a flute ship, built for the VOC chamber Amsterdam in 1659, is the ship that Nicolaes Witsen focuses on in his book? While Nicolaes Witsen himself states that he is presenting a pinas. I need a large chapter to describe that fully substantiated. And I can’t do that here, unfortunately. But I can mention a few main points.


In the first place by looking critically at Nicolaes Witsen himself and his book on shipbuilding in his time. The main question is, how reliable are the data Nicolaes provides? Formally speaking, you can't judge this for the simple reason that Nicolaes's book is one of a kind. The chapters on shipbuilding are not only a technical subject, but also a historical one. And in order to verify historical facts, there must be at least two sources that corroborate each other. Some things such as names of ships and main dimensions can easily be checked, but the description of the building process cannot. You can also look at the book written by Cornelis van Yk, but that is a completely different book in terms of content. The only way you have to check whether the data are reliable is to look at their interrelationships. Are these data consistent or do they contradict each other?


Unfortunately, Nicolaes's book is not very consistent. And it doesn’t take long to find the reason for that. Nicolaes was born on May 8, 1641. His book was published in 1671. So he wrote his book in his twenties. You can rightly call it a youth work. And it's not all he's done in that time. You can ask yourself all kinds of things about Nicolaes' book. How did it come about, was it his own idea and did Nicolaes wrote it all himself? But that will probably always remain speculation. What you can take as a fact is that Nicolaes tried to tackle a subject of which he lacked a deeper understanding of the construction process. This immediately explains the fragmentary nature of his book and the inconsistency of much of the data that Nicolaes provides. Nicolaes, due to his status, will have had little or no practical experience with regard to the subject he describes. It is precisely this experience that you need to be able to penetrate more deeply into the process that is going on at the yard.


Nicolaes must have been almost completely dependent on third parties for the shipbuilding information he presents in his book. And because of his position, it would not have been difficult to gather this information. What then happens is, Nicolaes puts all the information together as best he can, without real insight into what is actually being described and, above all, without insight into how the parts are related to each other. That is why ship-parts show up at different places while it would be better to describe them in one place. While you also find strange omissions and contradictions. And it is also the reason that some very essential concepts are hardly mentioned because Nicolaes cannot judge how essential these concepts are. In other words, the consequence of a lack of deeper insight into the building process, means that you cannot process information received from others and subsequently write your own story because you cannot properly assess this information. You cannot adequately describe what you do not understand.

This fact makes it interesting to take a good look at Nicolaes' text and see if you can define and/or recognize specific parts. I will come back to this shortly.

The biggest mystery is the ship that Nicolaes calls his 'model ship'. In short: in chapter nine, Cornelis starts with giving general proportions for a 100-foot pinas and subsequently gives the concrete measurements for a 134 foot pinas. And those concrete measurements differ significantly from the proportions given by Nicolaes. This has been a big mystery to me for years: not only the fact and how it is presented, but also how it is possible that hardly anyone has questioned this? Especially if you pretend to have seriously examined Nicolaes Witsen's books. However, one person has made some comments to this but I have the impression that this man is being ridiculed and suppressed a bit.


On the basis of the concrete data provided by Nicolaes, I have drawn the conclusion that the 'example ship' that Nicolaes presents as a pinas cannot have been a pinas, nor is it an imaginary ship but an actual existing ship. No one can come up with all these details, especially Nicolaes can’t. The question what the identity of this example ship was remained open for years until I recently came across the data from the Diemermeer.


Here the perspective turns half a turn and it is possible to look at data outside Nicolaes' book. It is very strange to see Nicolaes touting the main measurements of his example pinas, 134 feet long, 29 feet wide and 13 feet high, as the sizes of an average pinas, because that is what he says, literally. However, his ship is much narrower than an average pinas. A pinas has a length-width ratio approximately between 4.1-4.3:1, with Nicolaes it is 4.62:1.

When suddenly a flute ship slides into my field of view, with exactly the same main measurements as Nicolaes gives for his pinas, this is a big surprise. In itself, independent of Nicolaes' book, the dimensions of the Diemermeer are already special. This is evident from the data from the VOC site.

Of the 224 ships for which a length has been given, 75 are 130 feet in length. That means 33.5% of the flutes for which data are known were 130 feet long. 130 feet length was a standard measurement for the flute, established by the ‘Heren XVII’ of the VOC.

There are deviations from that standard size. In itself it is intriguing that they exist, because why do you deviate from a standard that was often applied? And there are still quite a few, both down and up. Certain sizes stand out, for example 128 feet and 136 feet. Intriguing about some deviations is why it’s so small? What benefit can you gain from building a ship 128 feet instead of 130? That becomes all the more interesting if these measurements occur several times. The only reason I can think of for a deviating size that occurs once is that there must have been something with the sizes of the available wood, which meant that a desired length cannot be achieved or can be exceeded. But that does not apply if this deviating size occurs significantly more often.


The sizes of Nicolaes' 'example pinas' are 134 feet long, 29 feet wide, 13 feet high and these measurements only appears once in the list of VOC flute ships.

If Nicolaes himself invented the ship he presents, choosing such a size makes no sense. If you want to present an 'average ship', you choose a standard size, based on a length of 100 or 130 feet. And these sizes apply to both flute ships and pinases. Strikingly enough, Nicolaes also choose a standard size when he mentions the proportions that a 'normal' ship must meet. He gives those proportions and sizes based on the length of a pinas of 100 feet long, which also makes calculations a lot easier. Then suddenly, he switches to a 134 feet pinas, where Nicolaes gives completely different proportions and corresponding measurements.


In summary: Nicolaes' example ship has exactly the same main dimensions as appearing only for one flute ship that sailed for the VOC. Nicolaes' example pinas deviates significantly from the proportions for an average ship, proportions that Nicolaes also specifies.

From this I conclude that Nicolaes presents a ship that actually existed and that can be identified as the 'Diemermeer', a flute that was built for the Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC in 1659.


What should I think of all this now? I find it strange that I have to be the first to make this connection. Some 350 years after the publication of Nicolaes' book. The emphasis of my research is not with Nicolaes Witsen. If it had, I probably would have seen it much sooner because I noticed the mentioned discrepancy between the 100 and 134 foot pinas years ago. The mentioned information doesn’t require an in-depth understanding of the building process. It just takes some skill with a spreadsheet and asking some very basic questions about the basics of shipbuilding at the time. And that starts with the main measurements.

The consequences are also significant. Suddenly, the central question is now how it is possible that Nicolaes mistook a flute for a pinas? With that question in mind, I can look much more specifically for clues to this question. One approach is, for example, looking at the structural differences between a flute and a pinas and how this is presented in Nicolaes' text. The stern construction is a good example of this. This construction does occur with a pinas but not with a flute. How does Nicolaes solve that? That means analyzing Nicolaes' text, and in particular, how and what, where is presented. And, last but not least, does the text indicate what Nicolaes himself was aware of?



Edited by Philemon1948
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I've been following this thread and to be honest, I have no knowledge of Dutch practices but I find it interesting to say the least.  It seems that there's a difference in "definition" which might be localized by shipyards/designers.  Is size and number of guns?  Or is it usage?  


For example, the USS Constellation of 1854 is formally a "sloop of war" yet it's also called a "frigate".  Thus, the class of ship can be rather nebulous.  The two authors you cite... did they know of each other?  Live in the same time period or same location?  It's possible that what one yard call a flute another called it a pina.  Also, the question of size, history tells us that, again I'll reference frigates.... frigiates came in all sizes and the number of guns.  Even today, the term is somewhat vague as to "what is a modern frigate"? 


Given this, I can understand why these two authors have differences. Are there any other contemporary works that might shed light on this?

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Hello mtaylor,


Nicolaes Witsen describes both the pinas and the flute(ship) and so does Cornelis van Yk. Nicolaes gives two pictures, attached to this post.










The first is a representation of a pinas, in two parts, the second shows a galjoot and a flute seen from three different angles.








The flute and the pinas represent two different ship types although they tend to have many features in common. The main difference in the seventeenth century was the stern construction. Nicolaes Witsen also mentions ‘hybrid’ combinations are possible between the different ship types in use in his days. But it is specifically the stern construction which can be considered as the main difference between the two ship types. Cornelis van Yk literally states he cannot think of a reason why one should prefer to build a flute instead of a pinas and he mentions the stern construction as one of the main disadvantages of the flute. So there is not much reason to argue about the fact these two ship types actually existed and what their features were. The two ship types are often pictured in many drawings and paintings of the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

There are a few books who especially describe the flute, but they are, unfortunately written in the Dutch language. But standardisation and the description of the difference between features are always moot points in arguments about different ship types during the ages.

Edited by Philemon1948
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Understandings that have disappeared from our language.



There is at least one major advantage of Nicolaes Witsen being an outsider with regard to shipbuilding in his time. The vast amount of information Nicolaes presents seems to be a compensation for not being able to describe the trade from within. This information includes a glossarium at the end of his book where many understandings and proverbs are gathered, many of which have disappeared today. There is a striking example of an understanding which has disappeared today but is vital for understanding something Nicolaes mentions in his book. It is also a good example that a translation is also always an interpretation.

Nicolaes states: “Het Kolzem is breeder als de kiel, (…..)het werdt met bouts aan de kiel vast geklonken: het dient tot stevigheit van 't geheele Schip, en magh te recht een binne-kiel genaamt worden”

How do you translate this sentence and in particular the word ‘geklonken’? ‘Geklonken’ is a conjugation of the verb ‘klinken’ and is a Dutch word which, in the shipbuilding trade, usually translates as ‘to rivet’. If you use this translation the sentence translates to: ‘The kelson is wider than the keel, it is riveted with bolts to the keel: its purpose is to strengthen the whole ship, and may be rightly called an inner-keel.’

At first glance you think the kelson is mounted in the ship with bolts who are riveted at one side. Bit this is highly unlikely if not impossible. If you take for example a ship with a keel of about 2 feet square, the bolts, who are going through the kelson, which has a height that matches that of the keel, first futtocks, keel and shoe, must have been more than a meter long. These bolts can only be applied from within. There is no way you can hammer a bolt about one meter long from the underside of the ship as it is rest on stocks with just a limited amount of space underneath the keel. If these bolts are to be riveted, the top of the bolt is made red hot and hammered through the kelson, futtocks, keel and shoe to be riveted under the keel at the other end. That doesn’t make any sense. First you try to make a watertight seal with cowhair and tar between keel and shoe as Cornelis van Yk describes and subsequently you hammer a bolt through all that. Besides, riveting underneath the keel of bolts of that size is nearly impossible. Furthermore the underside of the shoe should be completely flat without protruding heads of bolts, to prevent trouble during the launch of the ship. But Nicolaes specifically states: “geklonken”.


The answer to this riddle is, in the seventeenth century Dutch language, ‘klinken’ can have more than one meaning according to Nicolaes.

In his glossary he gives these meanings:


“Klink. Het krom omgeslagen eindt van een spyker, of bout.”

‘Klink. The hammered bent end of a nail or bolt’


“Klinken. Stukken hout aan een slaan. De einden der spykers om slaan. Iets buiten boort toe dryven”,

‘Klinken. To beat two peaces of wood together. To hammer and bent the tip of nails. To force something outboard.’


“Klink-werk. Hout-werk, van 't welke de planken, of balken, met hun kant op

elkander leggen.”

‘Klink-werk. Putting wood, wether planks or beams, on eithers sides.’


It is apparent the meaning of ‘klinken’ in the mentioned passage about the kelson cannot be translated by the understanding ‘to rivet’. What Nicolaes is saying can be better described by ‘to beat two peaces of wood together’ or ‘putting wood, wether planks or beams, on eithers sides’. This meaning has disappeared from the Dutch language today.

But ‘klinken’ in the Dutch language today still means ‘to sound’ or ‘to clink’. The last word indicates the relationship between the two languages English and Dutch.

So what Nicolaes describes is that the bolts with which the kelson is attached to the keel are driven through the layers of wood but not completely through the keel.

Nicolaes states this at another place in his book:


“Ondertusschen maakt men het Kolsem (…..). Men slaat door elk of om 't ander Buik-stuk een bout met een Italiaans hooft, tot door het Kolsem, en op 11⁄2 duim na door de Kiel.”


‘Meanwhile one makes the kelson (…..). One hammers through each or alternating futtock a bolt with an Italian head, through the kelson, and through the keel but for 1,5 inches.


So the bolt does not leave the keel, the hole for the bolt stops 1,5 inches above the bottom of the keel. Nicolaes unfortunately doesn’t explain what an ‘Italian head’ exactly is. Cornelis van Yk describes the mounting of the kelson to futtocks and keel the very same way, with a bolt that stops above the bottom of the keel.


If Nicolaes did not make a note of these different meanings of the word ‘klink’ and ‘klinken’, there is no way of establishing what he could have meant. The translation of the Dutch word 'klinken' by ‘to rivet’ would have been made all too easy, leaving you with the question, how on earth did they pull that off?

Edited by Philemon1948
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It seems that "klinken" could be "clench" in English.  Several ways to clench a rod/bolt especially if it's not threaded for nuts.  Bending over the end and hammering it was common before bolts were mass produced.  The word "rivet" implies (to me anyway) that the end is hammered such that it's flat and not bent and done in past with the metal being hot.  


I may be wrong but that's what it sounds like.  Words do change over the centuries and as technology improves.  

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Hello mtaylor,


You state:

"The word "rivet" implies that the end is hammered such that it's flat and not bent and done in past with the metal being hot".

That is exactly what I was thinking reading he descriptions of Nicolaes Witsen. A rivet implies an extrusion of material in all directions over a plate or a surface. That is not the definition of a 'bent end' as we would describe it today. This rather looks like an uncertainty between what they understood als a 'klink' in general and what we understand today as a 'clink'. So it is a matter of definition and these uncertainties are present with regard to much more understandings, for instance in the case of a 'joint' between two wooden construction pieces.

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Drawing A.0149(0860) from the Amsterdam Maritime Museum.


The drawing below is in the collection of the Amsterdam Maritime Museum with collection number A.0149(0860). The drawing is dated around 1650 and slightly worked up in contrast.


I believe I have heard rumours that this drawing is a forgery. I'm not going to assume that for now. I approach this document in exactly the same way as I approach the books by Cornelis van Yk and Nicolaes Witsen. These books, like this drawing, are one of a kind and if there are no sources to shed light on their origin, you can only do one thing: try to establish the content consistency. Is the information presented in these documents mutually consistent, are there inconsistencies and/or omissions? In this case this means: is it possible to link the information that the drawing seems to give to what Nicolaes and Cornelis report?


The main question is what was this drawing for? Was it made prior to construction, during or after construction? Many drawings have survived from the eighteenth century Dutch Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and almost all of these drawings were made during or after construction. I can prove that too, although I'm not going to do that here now. What concerns me is that I think this also applies to this seventeenth-century drawing from the Amsterdam Maritime Museum. I believe that this drawing was also made during or after construction and not directly for the purpose of construction but indirectly. This means that the geometry of the ship was not determined with this drawing, and no measurements were taken from this drawing.

Then the following question arises: what did the building process look like and how can this drawing be part of it? In other words, what information do you need to determine the shape of the hull, especially of a large ship?


I will go through this process briefly and try to make clear where in this process this drawing could play a role.

Before I do that, I want to highlight one characteristic of this drawing and draw a conclusion from it. It seems that the drawing emphasizes profiles of some parts. It is striking that the profile of the stem is given on the inside. Cornelis van Yk does that too. He first determines the inner profile of the stem and then works outwards. Nicolaes Witsen does not give a clear description of this but in his case the total length of the ship is constituted from the rakes of stem and stern and the length of the keel, whereby the rake of the stem is measured from the front of he stem to the front of the keel. Cornelis van Yk doesn’t do this, he determines the rake of the stem from a certain point, the node, to the inner top of the stem. For this reason I think that this drawing can be related to the building method that was in vogue in the southern part of the Dutch Republic, the surroundings of Rotterdam and Zeeland. Cornelis van Yk is the one who describes this construction method.

What does Cornelis van Yk describe? The keel and sterns are made, the keel is placed on stocks, and the sterns set. Then the garboard strakes, the first planks of the hull on both sides of the keel, are applied. The garboard strakes determine the course of the bottom of the ship and the direction in which these garboard strakes leave the keel is determined by the rabbet in the keel. That is why the profile of this rabbet is such an important factor when shaping the hull. Then two middle or main frames are placed on the keel. Subsequently the sheer strake is set. The shape of the sheer strake is determined in a flat plane and then folded to form the perimeter of the ship. There is nothing that you can deduce or measure from when determining the sheer strake. These measurements must have been known in advance.


That to me is a very intriguing fact, together with the fact the sheer strake is a plank, comparable to an outer hull plank, which is located at a height of seven to eight meters and weighs 600 to 800 kilos, while there is nothing to see at all in terms of structure except two main frames and the stem and stern. You will need to make a heavy load-bearing structure to be able to attach this sheer strake at this height as well as scaffolding at that height to be able to work and fair the sheer strake.

How and why was this done? Why are you putting on so much work to install this sheer strake? Apparently placing this sheer strake was of great importance for the further construction process. I can't think of anything other than that the sheer strake mainly serves as a reference in the process afterwards. I will come back to this in a moment.


The profile of the main frame indicates the direction of the bottom midships. According to the profiles that Cornelis gives, the bottom is completely flat. Battens are set together with the components of the frames, the futtocks. These battens show the way, as it were, how the entire construction develops. The battens are too thin to be able to build up tension by themselves and will therefore always have to be supported by the futtocks. The scaffolding grows along with the growth of the number of futtocks.

In order to be able to determine how the hullshape develops, the sheer strake comes into view. Together with lines that are strung in the ship's median longitudinal plane, the sheer strake is the reference to see how the ship should develop in width at each point in the longitudinal direction. This is done with perpendiculars that indicate exactly how far the futtocks have approached the widest point of the ship, which is the sheer strake, at each height. When setting the timbers, you pay attention to how much the futtocks overlap. Finally, all the futtocks are made beneath the sheer strake and the last fairing round can begin, whereby the ship is faired to its final fairness of bevel with a chalk line, while simultaneously determining the boundaries of the hull planks.


The use of the drawing comes into view with the construction of the futtocks from keel to sheer strake. How did they determine the shape and bevel of the various futtocks? That must have been a combination of looking very carefully while following the course of the battens. A drawing that gives you a reasonable idea of the development of the shape of the hull can help. The determination of that hull shape is always done by estimating at each point, what the direction of the relevant part will be and the resulting shape. This is done in conjunction with the battens and the sheer strake. So you keep moving back and forth from the place where you are working to the bigger picture. You don't have to work terribly accurately because you know that at the end of making the futtocks there will be a last process that definitively determines the final fairness of bevel of the ship.


In one sentence: for keel, stem and stern, sheer strake and main frames, dimensions are required that must be known in advance, for the subsequent process of determining the shape of the hull, the basis is an estimate of the shape within the margin offered by keel, stem and stern, main frames and sheer strake.


In other words: to get an impression of the shape you want, this drawing is a tool, not a prescription. It is not inconceivable that very simple moulds were made based on the profiles that can be seen in the drawing. In that case, the drawing is used more directly to be able to determine the shape of the futtocks, but even then there is still no question of direct dimensioning. In any case, the ship's carpenters at that time must have had a very well-developed sense of form to make this method possible.

At least, in my, not so humble, opinion.

Edited by Philemon1948
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This post is actually a kind of appendix to the previous one that dealt with the use of drawings in the seventeenth century building process in the Republic. As an introduction I use a quote by Cornel Bierens from his book 'The hand-sawn soul', with the subtitle 'On the return of craftsmanship in art and surroundings'. Cornel starts with a quote from the sociologist Richard Sennet.


“In 1926, after he thought he had solved all the problems of philosophy and spent some time as a teacher and gardener, the 37-year-old Ludwig Wittgenstein began a new career as an architect. He designed and built a house in Vienna for his sister Gretl, which was to immediately become 'the foundation of all conceivable buildings'. Thanks to the excessive wealth of the Wittgenstein family, the ambitions were not subject to any material limitations and the building came in exactly the sizes and proportions that the designer had envisioned. When he discovered to his horror just before completion that the ceiling of a large salon was three centimeters too low, he had it raised after all. After that huge surgery, he showed himself satisfied. Still, something kept gnawing, and eventually he understood what it was all about. In a note to himself, he wrote that while the house had “good manners” it also had “failed health.” It lacked 'original life’.


The American sociologist Richard Sennet tells this story in The Craftsman (2008) and fully agrees with Wittgenstein's self-criticism. He compares him as an architect to Adolf Loos, who also built a house in Vienna (Villa Moller) at the same time. The difference is not that Loos had less strict starting points (he did not, for example, deal with ornaments, he considered them signs of primitivism), but that, unlike Wittgenstein, he always continued to look and act like a craftsman. For example, he spent a lot of time on the construction site and continuously sketched how the light fell at different times of the day. Wittgenstein, on the other hand, did not like sketches and was especially obsessed with exact proportions.

Sennet lists a number of characteristics of craftsmanship, all of which are the opposite of what Wittgenstein did: determining in advance what he wanted to achieve, not deviating from his rules, seeing unforeseen difficulties as a hindrance, striving for perfection and erasing all traces of the creative process. Loos took a much more playful approach, kept his plans flexible, saw setbacks as new opportunities, improvised continuously and created a rhythmic, organic building in the process. He allowed thinking and execution to flow into each other, which is why he is a craftsman. Because he not only thinks with the head, like Wittgenstein, but also with the executive hand.

That thinking, executing hand is the pivot around which Sennet's book revolves. “Every good craftsman conducts a dialogue between concrete actions and thinking,” he writes. And also: “All skills, even the most abstract ones, begin as physical exercise.”

Craftsmanship is making something for the sake of making it, focused on the thing itself, on standards set by itself. It is not a phase in human production history that can be overcome by clever engineering. It is a 'sustainable, basic human drive'. Of all time.


Except for the twentieth century, which believed that craftsmanship could be overcome. Progressive thinking was the norm, rationalisation the key word. Everything would become more efficient, even eating, and it wouldn't be long before we would just as easily take all those nutrients through pills. Our hands wouldn't have to make anything anymore and our teeth to chew anymore. Poor futurologists. We are now short of hands and there is no higher art than cooking.”


Thus the quote from Cornel. If you set yourself the task of describing the building process of a ship in the seventeenth century Republic, you cannot ignore this notion. Its great difficulty is that you cannot recover the attitude of the craftsmen at that time. I have made statements about this before, also with regard to the so often used word 'authentic' and what we should understand by it. For the time being it is impossible to transfer the mentality of the seventeenth-century craftsman to a present-day one. The question is, is it necessary? In a lecture I once gave about what I had in mind for the reconstruction of the ‘Delft’, an eighteenth century warship in Rotterdam, this sentence can be read: “Doing something while you are closely connected to what you do is the key aspect”. That's why I think that if you want to understand the books of Nicolaes Witsen and especially Cornelis van Yk well, you have to know a craft from the inside. That doesn't necessarily have to be the carpentry trade, but that certainly helps. In essence, it is about recognising the way of working, as can be read in the quote by Cornel Bierens and Richard Sennet. My proposal to view drawings such as those in the shipping museum in Amsterdam in this way fits seamlessly into such a process. In other words, a drawing is not regarded as Wittgenstein would, and what we do nowadays, as a geometric representation from which no millimeter may be deviated, but as a kind of sketch or intention within a given geometric frame.

Moving back and forth and to and from the object you are working on, is also an essential factor. I also do this while writing, I zoom in, continue to distance myself, look at other things and look at how everything relates to each other. And do something else in the meantime. Writing is also a craft.

Recently, an analogy occurred to me for this process that does not quite cover it, but comes pretty close: Emmenthaler cheese.


While reasoning and writing you try to visualize your subject. That's the cheese. The better you do that, the better you can see where there is no cheese: the holes. It's not quite right because knowledge is also more or less fluid. Things can shift and sometimes a different coherence arises when you discover something new that makes you look at things differently.

This is far from vague whining. It stands in a tradition as old as humanity itself. “It is a 'sustainable, basic human drive'. Of all time."

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  • 2 months later...

After reading with much interest, this has been very educational.




"Is this true? Were drawings not used before they started building a ship in the seventeenth century?"

The Dutch were well known for not putting anything on paper.  The master shipwright had it all in his head and they taught the younger shipwright and he taught it to the next on and so on. Nothing on paper so when you read through books lets say the book "17th Century Dutch Merchant Ships by Ab Hoving and Cor Emke" , drawings/plans are from paintings, edgings, maritime archeological excavations and contracts from Witsen and other authors.  Nothing like "we got plans from this and that.  Unlike other Western European nations that put everything on paper and some of this has survived to this day.


This makes it more difficult for the present model ship builder to built a model because it never is exact. Reading through these 2 books I have mastered the art of reading and understanding contracts.  It did take several years and help from Ab Hoving.


– A. Hoving, A. Lemmers, In tekening gebracht. De achttiende-eeuwse scheepsbouwers en hun ontwerpmetoden, 2001,
– A. Hoving, Nicolaes Witsen and Shipbuilding in the Dutch Golden Age, 2012.


I figured if I master understanding contracts I can built any Dutch Ship.



"The flute and the pinas represent two different ship types although they tend to have many features in common".

On the site of De VOCsite : Scheepstypen van de VOC  it discusses a "Hekboot", which is the best of both worlds. The bottom part of the ship is a Fluit and the top part is a Pinas.  Dutch quote "Het is een soort mengvorm met als onderschip de kenmerken van een fluit en de bovenbouw van een pinas".


Just my 2 cents.


Edited by flying_dutchman2
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A bit off topic but not so much

Recent research on materials used for a number of drawings kept in the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam show these drawings were made in the second half of the seventeenth century. That means that besides these, to my knowledge, 12 drawings made by an unknown author, together with the drawings made by Jacobus Storck and Johannes Sturckenburgh, are made in this century.

This is interesting news.

I can prove most of the drawings made in the eightheenth century Dutch Republic are not made to facilitate building but are made during and/or after construction.

So, what was the purpose of making drawings in the eighteenth century? And what was the purpose of making drawings in the seventeenth century? What was the relation of these drawings with the building process? How do they fit in? What do these drawings show and why? These questions could be the start of an interesting discussion.

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