Occasionally the archaeological ship reconstructor is fortunate enough to encounter the remains of a vessel on which shipwrights' design marks have been preserved. La Belle (1684) has the most extensive and complete set of such marks documented to date. The distinguishing features of the distribution, number, and placement of La Belle's surmarks associate it with a graphic design system of "geometric fairing with diagonals," which was in use in French shipbuilding in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Part I of this essay presents the archaeological and documentary evidence that supports the conclusion that a graphic design system of "geometric fairing with diagonals" was used in La Belle's construction. It also discusses how and which specific measurements were applied to the reconstructed design procedures to regenerate La Belle's archaeologically documented hull shape.

Part II examines whether La Belle's design system was a completely new invention or whether it was developed from existing concepts of ship design. It will be argued that this system actually expanded on the basic concepts of Mediterranean moulding—a non-graphic design system of geometric fairing that was in use in European shipbuilding for centuries prior to La Belle's construction—in the process of adapting them to the methods of orthographic drawing. GO TO PAGE 1

• Site navigation recommendations


This essay is a pre-print version of a chapter in the upcoming (2015) Texas Historical Commission (THC) final publication of the La Salle Shipwreck Project technical reports. It is presented here with the permission of the Texas Historical Commission that retains all its rights to the submitted text. The author would like to gratefully acknowledge the review comments & support of Jim Bruseth, the project head, the work of the rest of the editorial staff, and the valuable insights of Frederick Hocker—the outside reviewer.

In addition, as will be reflected over time in the essay's P-Notes, this work has greatly benefited from the input of the following readers: Richard Barker, Paul Bloesch, Mauro Bondioli, & Eric Rieth. Richard Barker's correspondence has provided invaluable inspiration for the preparation of this on-line essay and its format.

Critical to the research underlying this essay was the support and collaboration of all the staff at the Conservation Research Lab at Texas A&M University and specifically Peter Fix, Donny Hamilton, Peter Hitchcock, & Jim Jobling. In addition, numerous chats over the years with Glen Grieco, who researched & built several models of La Belle, Kroum Batchvarov, Filipe Castro and Peter Fix were informative as well as motivational.



• Design Marks and Location Labels
• Surmarked Frames Raised First
• Frame-First Design?
• Diagonals
• Insights from Documentary Sources
• Design Reconstruction Methodology
• Two-Dimensional Design

• The Centerline Profile
• The Midship Frame
The Upper Midship Frame

• Three-Dimensional Design

• The Floor Diagonal
• Frame Spacing
• Design Planes and Framing Timbers
• Beveling
• Diagonal Planes and Curve Offsets
• Scaling Triangles
• Subdividing the Diagonals
• La Belle's Mother Offset Sequence
• All the After Diagonals
• Drawing the Frame Shapes
• The Forward Diagonals
• Lofting
• Mould and Filler Frames

La Belle's Building Environment
• Ship Kit

• Discrepancies with the Devis

• Rebuilt Ship with Reused Timbers?
La Belle's Design Method: Invention or Expansion?

• Mediterranean Moulding
• Templates
• Tail Frames
• Narrowing
• Framing Patterns and Templates
• Rising of the Templates
• Diagonals in Mediterranean Moulding
• Defining Longitudinal Runs: A Broad Perspective
• Upper Narrowing and Rising

• Conclusions


Essay 1 P-Note 1 (27·IV·2014)

Taras Pevny

Richard Barker brought to my attention another potentially early example of a draft with design diagonals that was reproduced in The Mariner's Mirror in 1942 (P-Note Figs.1, 2) (Anderson 1942:Plate 1). Preserved in the Danish Admiralty archives, it is a copy of a French draft of the three deck 112-gun Royal Louis of 1692 built by François Coulomb in Toulon…