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Near the middle of the eighteenth century, a warn, 100-foot-long merchant ship was installed for pier cribbing off Manhattan Island's East River shore, in New York City. IN 1982, the substantially intact ship was uncovered by archaeologists conducting a building site survey at 175 Water Street. The excavators removed approximately the first 8 feet of the vessel's bow and its associated structure, the knee of the head.
The recovered timbers demonstrate both the specifics of constructing a bow and the major structural features characteristic of the vessel as a whole. The ship's bow was built by first installing a stempost and apron (each consisting of two pieces) on a keel. The frames, pre-assembled from a floor timber and double rows of futtocks arranged to form a nearly solid structure, were erected both vertically and perpendicularly to the keel. they were reinforced longitudinally with a main wale belt, three strakes wide, inboard of which was a heavy deck clamp. Into the clamp wee dovetailed the ends of the gently-arched main deck beams. The beams were additionally secured with lodging knees, bolted to both the beams and the sides of the vessel. Large breast hooks bolted across the stem effectively tied the halves of the bow together. The hull planking was attached to the frames with a combination of iron and wooden fastenings, and protected from marine boring organisms with a sheathing of boards nailed over a layer of hair and pitch. The ship's thickest planking, the decking, was double-layered around structures piercing it, and attached to the deck supports with square-shafted iron nails.
The Water Street merchant ship is a rare example of the eighteenth-century shipwrights' art. As such, it aids us in interpreting the scant record of their construction techniques, and casts new light on one type of vessel that met our transoceanic requirements during the colonial period.
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