However, before attributing any perceived consistencies or patterns in the archaeologically preserved dimensions or curves of La Belle's hull to the vessel's designer, I deemed it essential to determine how they could be accounted for in a reconstructed design sequence. I found it useful to periodically remind myself that the designer of a hull begins with a blank sheet of paper or uncut timbers, while the archaeologist begins with the remains of the finished product.

The rest of Part I presents in as linear a manner as possible the logic of La Belle's design method from the designer's point of view (Figure 20a–h, i–p, q–x). In reality, the design reconstruction was a continual back-and-forth process of conducting a geometrical analysis of the preserved timber shapes, formulating hypothetical design steps based on historical procedures, graphically investigating these steps within the parameters of the archaeological data, and repeating this process until it spiraled down toward the most plausible design reconstruction. While guided by contemporary treatises that offer corroborating evidence for French drafting practices, the reconstructed design method strictly adheres to the archaeological evidence, such as the preserved timber shapes, fastening patterns, and surmark locations.

Any progress in uncovering the original design logic for a vessel can greatly aid in reliably reconstructing the original shape of the preserved hull remains as well as in reconstructing with greater confidence the hull beyond the level of preservation. In fact, deciphering the original design method aids the archaeologist reconstructing the original hull shape similarly to how the design method originally helped the shipwright define that shape. Therefore, knowing how a vessel was designed is a critical part of understanding the shipbuilding process from conception to construction.

The reliability of the archaeological reconstruction of a vessel's design is greatly dependent on the quality of the documentation of the hull remains, both in terms of the individual timber shapes as well as specific construction features such as tool marks and fastenings. La Belle's articulated hull remains were systematically dismantled with recording of the hull by both electronic (total data station) and traditional plumb bob and tape measure methods. In addition, 1:1 recordings were made of the individual timbers, and these drawings were subsequently digitized. All this documentation provided a wealth of data for reconstructing the ship on paper and ultimately the reassembly of its remains in a purpose-built conservation vat at the Conservation Research Laboratory (CRL) at Texas A&M University.

Preliminary reconstruction work included generating lines drawings of the hull shape both in its as-found configuration and, after accounting for any deformation, generating a lines drawing of the hull remains in a hypothetical as-built configuration. NEXT