Discrepancies with the Devis

If La Belle's final construction was based on a kit, then certainly some if not all of the timbers of the surmarked frames were prepared beforehand. Therefore, if the devis (Figure 17) represents an original list of design measurements, then some of the discrepancies with the archaeological evidence must be accounted for by changes made at the time of the kit's preparation. For example, the 15 ft versus 14 ft maximum beam and the 7½ versus 9 ft four inch floor measurements would have been established when cutting timbers for the kit. From dendrochronological analysis it is known that the main keel timber was cut from a tree felled in 1683 (Carrell 2003:296). This dating of the keel timber provides additional evidence that La Belle was built no earlier than 1683. Thus when La Belle's spine timbers were shaped, most likely in the spring of 1684, the rake measurements were laid out differently than the common usage of the terminology in the devis would suggest.

Glen Grieco, from his experience building two research models of La Belle based on the archaeological remains, concluded that some of the measurements in the devis could represent dimensions taken off the completed vessel (Grieco 2003:50–56). For example, he proposes that the 51 ft in the devis is the length between the rabbets taken at the height of the deck, and the 14-ft beam was measured between the internal faces of the bulwark planking. These measurements were then mistakenly listed as design dimensions in the devis.

Glen Grieco's interpretation basically corresponds with the shape and structure reconstructed for La Belle's as-built hull in Part I of this essay (Figures 21, 27, 29). However, the ratios of the measurements in the devis are consistent with those for design measurements. The 4 ft 6 inch stem rake is 1/10 the 45-ft keel length. The 1 ft 6 inch sternpost rake is 1/3 the stem rake. The design keel length plus these two rakes does equal the length of 51 ft listed in the devis. Similarly, the 9 ft 4 inch floor width given in the devis is 2/3 the listed 14-ft maximum breadth. If 14 ft represents the internal width between the bulwarks, then not only was it listed in the devis using incorrect terminology, but also the related floor measurement was subsequently derived using an incorrect ratio.

At the beginning of the devis, it is clearly written that La Belle was built in May and June of 1684. Yet for some unknown reason, shipwrights and administrators signed this document on December 15 of that year even though it did not account for any changes to or discrepancies with the dimensions of the kit or the completed vessel. In this case, La Belle's small size may have meant that assuring its devis accuracy was relatively unimportant, and mistakes could have been easily ignored or overlooked. NEXT