Design Marks and Location Labels

During the cleaning and recording of La Belle's; timbers, it was discovered that some of the framing timbers had distinct angled lines carved across their vertical faces (Figure 2a). Early on in the reconstruction process, it became apparent that these lines are design marks commonly referred to in English as surmarks (Barker 1988:549–550; 1991:65–67; Rieth 1996:155, 2003a).

For discussing the locations of these marks and other features along the length of the hull, the original labeling system used by La Belle's shipwrights will be used for reference. In addition to the surmarks, La Belle's shipwrights carved an extensive series of location labels on the hull timbers (Figures 1, 2, 3). Along the longitudinal centerline, the labels for the frame positions (frame stations) appear on the port side of the keel (Figures 1, 8). These labels follow a very logical pattern based on frame positions relative to the widest point in the hull (Figure 8). The starting point of the numbering sequences is the midship frame position, which is marked by a star representing the number "0." In total there are 29 additional frames preserved, 12 frames before and 17 frames abaft the midship frame. Together these represent all the frame positions for La Belle's design other than that of the fashion pieces of the transom at location 18 aft, which were not preserved (Figure 10). All the frame stations before and abaft the midship station are consecutively numbered with Roman numerals moving away from amidships. In addition, these numbers are accompanied with a letter designating forward or aft in French; A for avant and D for derrière. Thus the frame stations forward are labeled XIIA, XIA, XA, VIIIIA, VIIIAIA up to the midship station and ID, IID, IIID, IIIID, VDXVIID away from amidships. All the Roman numerals are additive; e.g., IIIID is used instead of IVD.

The surmarks appear only on the midship frame and every third frame forward and aft (Figures 1, 3) (Bruseth and Turner 2005:76; Pevny 1999). They have been documented on frames IIIA, VIA, and VIIIIA forward and IIID, VID, VIIIID, and XIID aft. On La Belle's better-preserved starboard side, almost all the frames listed above have two surmarks—one on the lower and one on the upper bilge (Figure 3). Within the limits of preservation, there is only one surmark missing: the upper mark on frame VIIIID. Given the fact that some of the marks are quite lightly carved into the timbers, it is possible that this mark faded over time as the surface degraded, although the shipwrights may have simply forgotten to carve it.

On the port side, there is only enough preservation for the lower bilge surmark to have survived on the midship frame, and at stations IIIA, VIA, VIIIIA, and IIID. NEXT