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A late 17th-century 'Double Dutch' construction in the North Frisian Wadden Sea: the case of the Hörnum Odde wreck on the island of Sylt, Germany

Authors:
  • State Archaeology Department of Schleswig-Holstein

Abstract and Figures

In October 2016 a previously unknown shipwreck emerged at the southern spit of the island of Sylt as a consequence of an ongoing coastal erosion process. Aside from its double-layered carvel planking, several other features reminiscent of 17th-century Dutch shell-first shipbuilding were observed. With a terminus post quem of 1690, this is the latest 'Double Dutch' construction hitherto known, casting doubt on the long-held belief that this peculiar method of construction was a fleeting phenomenon of the early 17th century. Due to tidal currents and erosion, the sea swiftly reclaimed the wreck shortly after the investigation.
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Daniel Zwick – A late 17th century ‘Double Dutch’ construction in the North Frisian Wadden Sea
203
a late 17th-Centurydouble dutCh
ConstruCtion in the north frisian
wadden sea: the Case of the hörnum
odde wreCK on the island of sylt,
germany
Daniel
ZwiCK
Abstract
In October 2016 a previously unknown shipwreck emerged at the
southern spit of the island of Sylt as a consequence of an ongoing
coastal erosion process. Aside from its double-layered carvel
planking, several other features reminiscent of 17th-century Dutch
shell-first shipbuilding were observed. With a terminus post quem
of 1690, this is the latest ‘Double Dutch’ construction hitherto
known, casting doubt on the long-held belief that this peculiar
method of construction was a fleeting phenomenon of the early
17th century. Due to tidal currents and erosion, the sea swiftly
reclaimed the wreck shortly after the investigation.
Keywords
Carvel, Double Dutch, Dutch flush, North Sea, 17th century
Résumé
En octobre 2016, une épave jusque-là inconnue est apparue à
la pointe sud de l’île de Sylt à la suite d’un processus d’érosion
côtière en cours. Mis à part son double bordé à clin, plusieurs
autres caractéristiques rappelant la construction navale néerlan-
daise du
xvii
esiècle ont été observées. Avec un terminus post quem
de 1690, il s’agit de la dernière construction « Double Dutch »
connue à ce jour, remettant en cause la croyance de longue date
que cette méthode de construction particulière aurait été un phé-
nomène éphémère du début du
xvii
esiècle. En raison des courants
de marée et de l’érosion, la mer a rapidement détruit l’épave peu
après son enregistrement.
Mots-clés
Carvel, Double Dutch, bordé de doublage, mer du Nord,
xvii
esiècle
On 3 October 2016, a local resident reported a previously
unknown shipwreck at Hörnum Odde on Sylt’s southern tip to the
State Archaeology Department of Schleswig-Holstein (ALSH).
The substantial hull remains came to light as a result of strong tidal
currents and an underlying erosion process. The site was located at
the outer extent of the intertidal zone and only accessible at low
tide in offshore winds. Thus, the location of the site imposed a spe-
cial challenge as its location in the surf zone permitted neither an
underwater survey, nor a proper terrestrial excavation. Therefore,
the recording method had to be extremely time-efcient in order to
gather as much data as possible within a very shorttimeframe.
1. METHODOLOGY
In view of the challenges described above, the rst investiga-
tion was scheduled for 6 October when low tide coincided with
offshore winds. This provided optimal working conditions, as the
wreck remains were clear of the water for about an hour. The
wreck’s outline was measured with a DGPS device on the basis of
SAPOS, a German nationwide satellite-based reference net-
worked service, which decreases the margin of error in real time
surveying, reducing deviations to a maximum of 10-20 cm for the
device used by the ALSH. Over 200 photos were taken, to be used
later for Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry. Several
test pits were dug to nd the keel, but to no avail. A number of
samples were taken from both the planks and the frames for later
dendrochronological analysis, and a piece of a plank was salvaged
for detailed ex situ documentation. The stormy season made it
difcult to nd an adequate date for a follow-up investigation in
which all prerequisites were met, i.e.low tide around midday, off-
shore winds and availability of eld staff. In the meantime the
ALSH received reports and photos of the wreck site from its
established local contacts. Based on this information it became
clear that the wreck site was subject to considerable mechanical
destruction whenever the site was turned into a surf zone with
each incoming tide. Thus, it was decided not to wait any longer for
optimum conditions and to visit the site again on 9 December,
when a different section of the wreck could be observed, while the
previously investigated section was no longer visible, having been
washed away. Due to unfavourable onshore winds, the wreck site
remained inundated at low tide and so photographic document-
ation suited for an SfM model was out of question. The wreck was
only accessible by wading into the water, which permitted only
SAPOS surveying and manual recording. Only two pieces of
timber could be sampled at this time. Although the circumstances
of the December investigation were very unfavourable, the effort
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was worthwhile, since by the New Year the entire wreck site was
reported missing. It was reclaimed by the sea as a result of coastal
erosion and winter storms.
The post-excavation involved georeferencing both wreck
sections with ArcGIS, drawing a wreck plan on the basis of the
SfM-generated orthophoto, observations from photo details as
well as the in situ manual recording of the inundated wreck
section. The desk-based assessment of the geomorphological
changes, the wreck’s construction details, the drawing of the
retrieved plank fragment, as well as research carried out to con-
textualise the wreck took up the greatest portion of the time. An
archival study of recorded historical strandings in search of the
vessel’s identity has yielded no match so far.
2. THE FIND LOCATION
Upon georeferencing the wreck site it came as something of
a surprise that the site was evidently situated in the middle of
the Hörnum Odde dune (g. 1). As it turned out, the fairly
recent update of the digital topographic map from 2014 was not
recent enough to keep up with the dramatic changes to Sylt’s
coastline. A comparison with a more recent aerial orthophoto
taken in July 2016 conrmed that the location of the wreck in
relation to the shoreline was indeed accurate and not the result
of a measuring error. By July the dune edge had advanced close
above the wreck site and by October it had moved already some
50 m further inland beyond the wreck site.
The great coastal erosion process on Sylt’s western shoreline
is not a new phenomenon. It is an ongoing process that has taken
place for centuries if compared to historical coastlines (Ahrendt,
Köster 1998, p. 39). The gradual erosion process along the
western coast goes hand in hand with a sedimentation process to
the south, forming a sandy spit –the Odde. When compared toa
long-term 30-year geomorphological model based on depth
measurements between the years 1982 and 2012, the erosion of
the western coastline has remained a constant feature with a
shift of the sedimentation process to the east. Between the years
2013 and 2016 some 30 to 60 m of coastline was lost annually
due to this process (LKN-SH), evidently reaching full peak in
2016 as the maximum annual value of 60 m corresponds to the
erosion of 10 m as evidenced by the gap between the two wreck
sections visited in a two month interval (g.2).
Fig.1: The find location of the Hörnum Odde wreck (red dot) in the regional context (top left) and georeferenced in the digital topographic map of 2014 (background).
As the historical coastline of 1793 (mean sea water level) and the dune edges of 1878, 1929, 1978, 2014 and 2016 indicate, Sylt’s Odde has been subject to erosion
along its western shore and sand aggradation at its southern spit for centuries. A shift towards a more southeasterly deposition of sediments in more recent times
is reflected by geomorphological data, as indicated by the different shades of blue (=erosion) and red (=sedimentation) for the period of 1982-2012 with the total
values of depth differences. This underlying process explains the rapid land loss at the wreck site itself. While the dune edge has advanced closely above the wreck
site by July 2016, it has moved considerably further inland at the time of the discovery of the wreck in early October of the same year, when the photo (bottom left)
was taken (graphics D. Zwick; photograph ALSH / DTK25-map LKN-SH; geomorpological data GDI-BSH).
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Fig. 2: The wreck site as recorded on 6 October and 9 December 2016. The dotted line indicates the position of the missing keel. An SfM model (bottom right)
was generated for wreck section 1, while wreck section 2 (inundated at the time of the in situ documentation) is based on a hand sketch, in which the treenail
arrangement was recorded for two exemplary segments. The locating surface may indicate the position of a bulkhead (graphics D. Zwick; photograph ALSH; SfM-
model J. Enzmann, F. Wilkes).
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The geomorphological process explains the location of the
wreck in the middle of the dune. Based on this data alone, one
could infer that the shipwreck could not have occurred much
later than 1793, providing a rough terminus ante quem.
3. DESCRIPTION AND CONSTRUCTION
ANALYSIS OF THE WRECK
The unearthed portion of the wreck covered an area of
circa 16 by 5 m (g.2). The wreck was situated in a north-
northeasterly direction, with loose hood ends observable in
the southern part (section 1) indicating one of the ship’s
extremities, tentatively addressed as the stern section. The
northern part (section2) corresponds to the midship section
and continued beneath the sandy beach. The full length of the
wreck site remains unknown.
3.1. GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
The oor timbers are not interconnected with futtocks and
are only fastened to the planks with wedged treenails of
35mm as the most common diameter. In the chine area, oor
timbers and futtocks form a parallel, alternating pattern. Some
of the observed futtocks display an articulated chamfered
edge shortly above the turn of the bilge, so these could be
more appropriately described as bilge futtocks, known by
Dutch shipbuilders as zitters (Hoving 2012, p. 64). The scant-
lings of the frames are quite modest, with moulded dimen-
sions of around 15cm and sided dimensions of around 30cm
in the amidships section (section 2), gradually decreasing to
20cm +/- 5 cm for the V-frames in the stern section (section1).
The modest scantlings are contrasted by the massive dimen-
sions of the oak planks, with widths between 24-35 cm and
thicknesses of 6-7 cm. Similarly, the ceiling planks of pine
have great widths of 35-38 cm and a regular thickness of 3 cm.
The planks of a strake were connected with at scarfs with
stopwaters. The retrieved plank fragment (sample 3, gs. 2-3)
contained a multitude of further diagnostic features. One was
the observation of rectangular wooden plugs of pine, which
were referred to as spijkerpennen by the contemporary
Cornelis van Yk (1697, p.41). Spijkerpennen are diagnostic for
the so-called ‘Dutch ush’ construction method, which occurs
in connection with the abovementioned irregular, modestly
dimensioned, non-interconnecte d framing system (Maa rleverld
1992, 2013). This method is a shell-rst construction method
with ush-laid planks: a ‘carvel’ in appearance only. The
ush-laid planking is temporarily held together by cleats
nailed onto the planks from both sides of the hull (g.4), only
to be removed later once the framing has been inserted, with
the nail holes eventually plugged with spijkerpennen. Similar
to clinker constructions, other devices were used to control the
run of the strakes, such as large planking tongs, referred to as
boeitang by Nicolaes Witsen (1671, p.169). The fact that there
Fig. 3: Drawing of a plank fragment (sample 3) retrieved from the garboard strake, with the tapering edge of the scarf visible. This piece features a number of
diagnostic characteristics like the spijkerpennen (blue), treenail holes, rectangular iron nail shafts (red) and nail head impressions (dotted line around the nail
shafts), and dowels (brown) in the patch, which was fastened with four iron nails. The plank sample was sawn through at the patch: its cross section revealed
that the inner recess had a conic plane, probably due to the difficulty in applying the tool horizontally in this restricted space. As indicated by the knot on the
interior, the insertion of the patch over the same on the exterior can be ascribed to an effort to make the vessel watertight. Moreover, residues of caulking
material were present on the exterior surface of the plank, fused in by an iron concretion. All measurements and diameters are provided in mm (graphic
D.Zwick; photograph ALSH).
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is no discrete term for this tong in a seafaring nation like
England, as reected by the circumscription “a sort of pincers
to join the planks” in a Dutch-English dictionary (Sewel, Buys
1766, p.127), highlights the uniqueness of this device in Dutch
shipbuilding. Further characteristics also point to a Dutch
construction, like what appears to be the charred inner surface
of a plank (g.2, S3) beneath the frames. Despite the massive
thickness of the oak planks, they had to be bent, and the pro-
cess of making planks more malleable by charring the surface
was also described by Nicolaes Witsen (Witsen 1671, p. 207;
Hoving 2012, p.23). Charring can also be seen as a typical
feature of Dutch17th-cent ury shipbuilding: it was later replaced
by steaming.
The choice of wood species is of particular interest. While
the framing timber and planks of the stern section are almost
entirely of oak, with the exception of the pine ceiling, the
frames in the amidships section are all of pine. This is a clear
indication that this is the wreck of a merchantman, since por-
tions of the hull which were under less stress were often
completed with a lighter coniferous species to reduce the dead-
weight of the hull, thereby increasing its cargo carrying capacity
(Hoving 2012, p. 22).
3.2. INDICATIONS OF ‘DOUBLE DUTCH’
The stern section features four strakes of planking that appear
to be doubled. Although this could be interpreted as a repair or
later addition, the impression of a vessel built with two layers of
planking was further corroborated by truncated treenails, which
were particularly apparent in the midship section (g.2, wreck
section 2). The reason for the truncation was described by Thijs
Maarleveld (1994, p. 153) in the context of the building sequence
of what he dubbed the ‘Double Dutch’ method: a rst row of
treenail holes was bored to connect the planks with the inserted
frames, then a second layer of planks added and fastened once
again with an additional set of treenails, now protruding through
all layers of the hull; the rst and the second layer of planks, the
frame and the ceiling planks. In several cases the new treenail
holes truncated the earlier treenail insertions. Another feature
of the ‘Double Dutch’ method is the ample use of waterproong
material applied broadly between the rst and the second layer
of planking (Maarleveld 1994, p. 153), which, according to a
contemporary Dutch source, contained wax and resinous matter
onto which a matting of animal hair was applied as lling mate-
rial before the second layer of planking was added (van Yk1697,
p.91). On the outer side of the retrieved plank (g.3), probably
the garboard of the rst layer of planking, were indeed traces of
waterproong material identied as animal hair, which sur-
vived thanks to an iron nail concretion. An effort to make the
inner planking watertight is also reected by a patch inserted
over aknot.
3.3. EVIDENCE OF SHIP SCRAPPING
In early December a local resident sent photos of the keelson
to the ALSH. A few days later, on 9 December, the keelson had
already gone missing, so all observations could only be inferred
from the photos. The keelson measured approximately 50 cm in
width and had an integrated mast step, with a carved diagonal
cross at its base with a protruding hole in the centre, probably a
drain. The position of the keelson and mast step could be recon-
structed precisely by a protruding treenail observed on
9 December and thus condently integrated into the general
plan (g.2). The mast step featured chop marks and the wreck
had evidently been scrapped. The scrapping of wrecks was a
welcome source of income for the local population and ducal
edicts specied shares and penalties to deter beachcombers and
illegal wreckers (Kühn 1999, p. 10-11, 29). According to the
Gottorsche Strandordnung, a ducal edict of 1712, stranded
crews had only three tides to get their vessel either aoat again
or to save their belongings before the wreck site was cleared for
scrapping and salvage (Englert 1997, p. 47-48).
4. DENDROCHRONOLOGICAL RESULTS
The following results are based on the analyses carried out
by Dr Karl-Uwe Heußner of the German Archaeological
Institute in Berlin. Two samples taken from oak oor timbers
(g.2, S1, S2) contained sapwood and date to 1684 and 1690.
Another two samples taken from oak planks (g.2, S3, S5)
without sapwood have the years 1647 and 1649 as last tree
rings, respectively. The chronological discrepancy can be
Fig. 4: Demonstration of the Dutch flush method, where the flush-laid shell was
assembled prior to the erection of the skeleton. Temporary cleats held the shell
together, which were removed once the frames were inserted and their nail
holes plugged with spijkerpennen. As Nicolaes Witsen demonstrated (top left),
not only cleats (l) were used but also boeitangs (e) and other aids (drawing
after Hoving 2012, fig.2.55 courtesy of G.A. de Weerdt; top left, after Witsen
1691, p. 168, modified D. Zwick).
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Archaeonautica 21 – 2021
208
explained by the absence of sapwood rings and waste of mate-
rial, which is common for planks due to their pre-specied
widths. Thus, 1690 is the terminus post quem, indicating a ship
construction date in the same year or shortly thereafter.
The framing timber originated from the central Havel or
Prignitz region in Brandenburg. Given that there are separate
reference curves for both regions, the modest t-value of 5.7
should not be underrated (Karl-Uwe Heußner, personal
communication). The planks correspond to timber chronologies
in northern Poland. The pine timber of the amidships section
was unfortunately not accessible for sampling, but it could be
surmised that it would have added a third discrete provenance.
The regional discrepancy of provenances is not surprising,
because different construction elements necessitated timber
products of various species, qualities and properties. These
were commonly imported by citizens of the Republic of the
Seven United Netherlands, which was almost entirely defores te d
and yet operated the largest merchant eet in the world at that
time. Framing timber from Brandenburg would have been
imported as ‘Hamburg timber’, since Hamburg was the point of
transshipment for oak timber cut in Brandenburg and oated
down the Havel and Elbe rivers. At that time, Hamburg was
known as one of the most important ports for acquiring com-
pass timber (Hoving 2012, p. 22), probably because ‘Hamburg
timber’ was appreciated as particularly resistant and durable
due to its high content of heartwood (Karl-Uwe Heußner, per-
sonal communication). The Dutch were amongst the main
importers of ‘Hamburg timber’ and became very engaged in
the oak timber trade in Brandenburg from 1650 (van
Tussenbroek 2006). The planks were most likely transshipped
via Danzig (Gdańsk), which remained one of the most important
Baltic Sea ports for timber exports next to Königsberg
(Kaliningrad) and Courland in the 17th century (Bonde et al.
1997, p. 203).
5. CONTEXTUALISING AND INTERPRETING
THE WRECK
Although the Hörnum Odde wreck has several construc-
tional features in common with other 17th-century wrecks from
the North Frisian Wadden Sea (Zwick, Klooß 2018, p.212-213),
which was an area under heavy Dutch inuence, its most
striking feature is the ‘Double Dutch’ construction. The earliest
known wreck featuring such construction is the Scheurrak SO1
of circa 1590 from the Netherlands, thus, with the Hörnum
Odde wreck of 1690, the longevity of the ‘Double Dutch’ phe-
nomenon can be attested for a century. Aside from the Scheurrak
SO1, most ‘Double Dutch’ wrecks hitherto identied were
owned by the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), or
Dutch East India Company, which usually had an additional
third layer of pine as sacricial planking. These wrecks are the
Mauritius (1594/1602), Batavia (1628), Avondster (circa 1641),
the Angra C wreck (17th century) and the B&W 2 wreck (1606);
the latter being a Dutch-built Danish East Indiaman (van
Duivenvoorde 2015a, p. 147). There can be no doubt that the
‘Double Dutch’ technique was ‘phenotypical’ for the VOC from
1602. This is reected in a 1643 letter addressed to the VOC
Chamber of Enkhuizen, which sought to reduce shipyard main-
tenance time in the colonies and therefore recommended an
addition of pine planks to protect oak planks from shipworm
(van Duivenvoorde 2012, p. 247).
Based on the comparative evidence, an interpretation of the
Hörnum Odde wreck as a VOC ship seems possible. Its nd
location is not problematic, as VOC ships often chose a detour
through the North Sea circumnavigating the British Isles as evi-
denced by VOC wrecks like the Kennemerland, sunk in 1664
off the Shetland Islands (Muckelroy 1976), or the Adelaar,
wrecked in 1728 off the Outer Hebrides (Martin 2005).
Particularly during the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697), in which
the Dutch Republic was part of an alliance against France,
VOC ships avoided the English Channel in fear of French priva-
teers. In 1690 alone, two returning VOC ships wrecked off the
Shetland Islands (Bruijn et al. 1979b, p.133). There is also a
historical record of a VOC uyt, which foundered off the coast
of Sylt, but its date does not match with that of the Hörnum
wreck. It was the VOC uyt Amstelland, built in 1750, set sail
from Texel on 7 September 1751, but ran ashore on Sylt 11days
later (Bruijn et al. 1979a, p.534).
However, a VOC association is not the only possible interpre-
tation, as a historical document of 1660 mentions that Dutch
whalers sailing to Spitsbergen also tted out their ships with
two layers of oak planking (van Duivenvoorde 2015b, p. 359).
An additional sheathing would have made sense not only
against marine borers, but also as structural reinforcement
against ice oes.
Last but not least, such reinforcement would have also been
benecial when beaching ships on a tidal shore to stevedore at low
tide, which was a common practice in the Wadden Sea area. On
the Danish west coast such vessels were called sandskuder and
were also often double-planked, but in contrast to ‘Double Dutch’
constructions, sandskuders received the second layer of planking
not from the beginning, but during a later rebuild after the hull
had worn out and become leaky (Gøthche 1985, p. 304). Dutch
shermen kept the practice of beaching ships alive well into the
19th century, and the process inspired the British painter Edward
William Cooke to numerous paintings in which the pincks of
Scheveningen served as a common motif. Thus, the Hörnum
wreck could also be interpreted in a very regional context and
may not even necessarily reect an accidentally stranded wreck,
but possibly a vessel that fell dry at low tide but could not get
aoat again due to a strong onshore gale, or the inuence of a neap
tide, while the hull was settling deeper into the sediments with
each missed tide, until it was cleared for salvage.
6. CONCLUSION
Despite the adverse site conditions, a number of signicant
details could be observed and documented, which allowed an
unequivocal identication of the shipbuilding tradition ful-
lling all the criteria of ‘Dutch ush’ and ‘Double Dutch’. The
question of the ship type or even the ship’s actual identity can
not yet be claried, but the dimensions of the vessel certainly
suggest that this must have been a multi-masted ship, perhaps a
uyt or pinnace. At the conference, one participant advocated
to drop the term ‘Double Dutch’ in view of double- planked
vessels of other shipbuilding traditions, but this author believes
that ‘Double Dutch’ remains a useful term to refer specically
to double- planked vessels built in the idiosyncratic Dutch
shell-rst method.
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209
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I wish to thank my colleague Dr Stefanie Klooß for the
organisation of the eldwork and for tasking me with the docu-
mentation, research and publication of this fascinating wreck. I
also wish to thank my other ALSH colleagues, Jan Fischer,
Linda Hermannsen and Heiner Menzel for the pleasant
cooperation. I am grateful to Dr Karl-Uwe Heußner for the
swift dendro chronological analysis and for providing further
comments, and to Jonas Enzmann and Feiko Wilkes for gener-
ating an SfM model with Agisoft Photoscan. Karsten Bracker,
DrAnton Englert and particularly Dr Wendy van Duivenvoorde
provided interesting details and literature, which helped to
contextualise this wreck.
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