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Naval Architecture Applied to the Reconstruction of an Early 17th Century Portuguese Nau

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The Portuguese sailed yearly on the India Route for more than two centuries, between the early 16th and the 17th centuries. Most ships employed in this route belonged to the Nau type and were among the largest and strongest ships of their time. Although extremely interesting, there is presently very little knowledge about the technical characteristics of these ships. The reason is that they were built in a preindustrial era when technical design and documentation procedures almost did not exist. The method that is presently being applied by the authors to investigate the technical characteristics of these ancient ships combines the analysis of archaeological remains, the interpretation of contemporary texts on shipbuilding, and modern naval architecture techniques. The paper starts by describing the shipwreck discovered recently at the mouth of the Tagus River, known as the Pepper Wreck, which was identified as the Portuguese ship Nossa Senhora dos Mártires, lost on its return voyage from Cochim, India, on September 14, 1606. This is the first significant shipwreck of a Portuguese Nau comprehensively excavated and analyzed by Nautical Archeologists, and in fact the resulting data made possible the study presented here. Based on the analysis of the archaeological remains and on contemporary texts, including Portuguese shipbuilding treatises, a reconstruction of the lines plan and rigging is proposed, as well as the lightweight and cargo distribution on board. The cargo spaces resulting from the reconstruction of the hull are evaluated using ancient tonnage measurement techniques and modern naval architecture techniques to evaluate the cargo capacity of the ship. The intact floatability and stability of the ship are also investigated and compared with modern stability criterion appropriate for large sailing vessels.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-10-01

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