A dispatch, from the 16th of January, 1684, informs us that of the four corvettes (a vessel type like La Belle) at Rochefort, only two were able to be used, and they were committed to duty elsewhere (AN 1684a:Marine B2–50 fol.4; 1684c:Marine B2–51 fol.35). In fact, the marginal note mentioned above states that work on the vessel should continue for this [La Salle's] use or that of the port [Rochefort] that is in need [of it] (BN 1684:21330 fol.78). The subsequent completion/assembly and outfitting of the kit ship conforms well with La Belle's official building period from May to June 1684, as given at the top of its devis (AR 1684a:1L3-19 fol.88v–89r).
Preparing timbers for such a kit necessitates being able to define their shapes prior to the final assembly of the vessel. Since the surviving correspondence makes it clear that this kit was not based on timbers from an older vessel, the preparation of such a kit would have provided an ideal opportunity for applying a newly developed graphic method of ship design. Thus La Belle, having been built from a kit, in no way masks the study of its design method. Quite the contrary, if this accounts for the clear location labels and design marks, it is quite fortuitous, and it may be the reason La Belle serves so well as an exemplar of design.
La Belle's timbers provide evidence of a onetime assembly sequence in which the shapes of its filler frames were determined during construction, thus it is possible that the original kit only included the essential mould frame timbers. Including only these essential timbers would make sense for practically transporting a kit ship somewhere distant for future assembly. Additional timbers to finish the hull could be acquired at the place of assembly while avoiding the major difficulties of defining the hull shape. Bernard Allaire located a document from April 5, 1680, that mentions shipping over only the frames for barque longues in bundles (en fagot) and acquiring the planking timber in the West Indies (Allaire 2001; AN 1680:Marine B2–42; Bruseth and Turner 2005:73).
It is also possible that the preparation of such a kit involved the preliminary raising of the frames, montage à blanc, with the use of temporary fasteners, clous à demi enfoncé. René Burlet and José-Paul Verne discuss the documentary evidence for such procedures in an article on the prefabrication of three frigates and a galley in 1678–1679 at four French naval dockyards, including Rochefort, and the mass building of 15 galleys at Rochefort between 1689 and 1690 (Burlet and Verne 1997:64–68). Based on the available sources, it is not possible to determine how much of the barque kit was prepared before the shipwrights shifted to the permanent construction of La Belle. The extensive labeling on both La Belle's mould and filler frames may indicate that their primary shapes were defined in a trial run of the frame assembly. NEXT
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