Dutch shipwrights in the early 1600s – still recognised as some of the finest of their time – didn’t commit any plans to paper. Rather, they built ships ‘by eye’ and according to a proven formula of proportions. This presented a considerable, but not insurmountable, challenge for the Duyfken 1606 Replica Foundation when working out the original ship’s design.
The Foundation commissioned a researcher – nautical archaeologist Nick Burningham – to provide the project with an interpretation that would match historical records of the original Duyfken’s performance.
Creating a design for the replica became a process of experimental archaeology. Broadly speaking, this firstly involves using historical research to create a plausible hypothesis about the way an archaeological artefact was designed or produced. That hypothesis is then tested by trying to replicate the design or production method.
History and computers
to the rescue
The process of creating a feasible design was informed by:
- log books and other documents that revealed the ship’s performance
- ship builders’ contracts, which specified sizes and types of timbers used
- the shipwrecked remains of Dutch ships of the era
- artwork of the era that depicted sailing ships and
- computer modelling of a draft design to ascertain likely performance and stability.
The initial design draft was informed by shipwrecks of Dutch vessels of the original Duyfken’s era.
While these shipwrecks provided strong clues about typical hull design of the era, no known structures at the time were complete.
Artwork of Dutch ships of the early 1600s also helped determine the typical style of ships of the original Duyfken’s era. The images were treated by researchers as subjective evidence that could not be treated as scaled drawings. To determine feasible scaling and proportions, measurements and proportions of ships in each image were then taken and analysed using computer software.
Researchers were surprised to notice that some proportions of ships in the early 1600 images consistently indicated a hull form that was different from known ship plans that existed later in the 1600s.
Clues in the images pointed towards a hull design that was wide but with sharp bow and stern, providing both speed and stability.
What we know about
the original Duyfken
Documents – such as ship logs and journals – uncovered valuable information about the original Duyfken’s performance:
- The original maintained good average speeds even in light conditions and was very versatile.
- It could be used as a ship of war, which was fast and agile for its time and able to outrun and outmanoeuvre larger ships.
- It had a shallow draught, which allowed it to be used for exploration close to unknown shores.
- It was also used as a cargo vessel with a carrying capacity of 45-55 tonnes.
An initial design was tentatively created from research and sent for review by experts working confidentially on a circa 1590 Dutch shipwreck in the Netherlands.
Feedback revealed that the Western Australian design bore strong similarities to the shipwreck – long and relatively sharp bow and stern and evidence for an unexpectedly sharp cross-section shape of the garboards (the first range of planks laid next to a ship’s keel).
The draft design was then computer modelled to predict likely performance.
The results were encouraging, showing a broad but sleek design that offered good stability and would be able to maintain good average speeds in light winds, as indicated in historical documentation.
Once a highly plausible design was created, it was time to begin the construction stage. Once completed, the performance of the ship would be tested to see if it matched the performance of the original Duyfken, as recorded in historical documentation.