Rebuilt Ship with Reused Timbers?

Since La Belle is an important example of developments in French ship design and construction in the last decades of the seventeenth century, any ambiguity as to the temporal or geographic provenance of its design must be thoroughly addressed. Preliminary dendrochronological analysis, based on 26 samples from various timber types from La Belle, indicates that most of the sampled timbers were felled at least 20 years and some a century or more prior La Belle's construction (Bruseth and Turner 2005:79–80; Carrell 2003:295–297).

Toni Carrell, who was in charge of hull analysis for the La Belle project (Carrell 2003:iv), has proposed a completely different interpretation of La Belle's design and construction than is presented in this essay (Carrell 2003). Carrell concluded that these dendrochronological dates are consistent with an extensively rebuilt ship that was designed using "older" methods. In order to avoid misrepresentation, the following are some of Carrell's conclusions in her own words.

… the ship that they eventually called La Belle was nearly complete and was not, in fact, the boat in pieces… Thus, they substituted La Belle, a ship nearing completion in the yard and originally projected for the Intendant, for the still to be completed little barque en fagot that was first requested. (Carrell 2003:73)

The surprising results of the dendrochronological analysis… and detailed examination of individual timbers introduced the potential for reuse of many of its components. (Carrell 2003:108)

The differences in the fastening patterns, the results of the dendrochronological dating, and the varying sided dimensions of the timbers, all point to a ship that was not a built-from-scratch or "new" ship made to order for the expedition. Rather, it may have been a ship so extensively rebuilt that it was considered a new ship in the French system. (Carrell 2003:216)

From a technical standpoint, the French practice of assembling frames with bolts meant that when breaking a ship apart the frames held their shape. In a rebuild, no matter how extensive even to the point of shifting frames into a completely different ship, their shape was not altered, nor would they require disassembly and reassembly, only some dubbing and slight adjusting to fit. That would account for the differences in the sided dimensions of the forward timbers. (Carrell 2003:218)

…, a ship with an existing older method of hull design, …, is more likely to be easily blended with new timbers in a ship that is being extensively rebuilt. (Carrell 2003:220) NEXT