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The Jean Bart Replica

Mori Flapan writes from France:

In December 2018 we visited the building site of the Jean Bart replica at Gravelines near Dunkerque, France.


This project reminded me so much of the James Craig in the enormity of its vision and the struggles being faced. They are building a full size replica of a large 1st rate French warship of the 17th century.

As was the case with the James Craig for many years, the completion is still a date in the distant future, dependant on funds and resources. Our guide indicated that 2033 might be a realistic target, with an expected cost of 8 to 10 million Euros.

Origins of the name

There was never an actual warship of the period called Jean Bart. The replica is intended to be a generic representation of a typical vessel of the period. Jean Bart was a famous 17th century corsair from Dunkirk and so the name has special appeal for the region.

The project has its origins in the wrecks of 6 French warships from the battle of La Hogue in 1692 that were discovered in 1979 by Christian Cardin. Between 1987 and 1991 the wrecks were the subject of ongoing archeological surveys, culminating in the opening of a museum on the Island of Tatihou.

The building of Jean Bart is seen as the next logical step after the completion of the archeological study of the wrecks. The Association Tourville was founded by Christian Cardin in 1992 to build Jean Bart, a project that is viewed as an exercise in experimental archeology

A static vessel

The plan is that Jean Bart will be a stationary vessel, avoiding the compromises that would be inevitable if she were to be operational.

The first ten years were spent undertaking research, preparing plans, testing the proposed construction by building a 1:15 plank on frame model, making changes and building a second 1:15 plank on frame model, acquiring and preparing a site and raising the initial funds.

Construction commenced in December 2002, As with the James Craig, early estimates of the time it would take have come and gone.

The site itself is interesting in that they have created a period village with buildings for the blacksmith, scultures, shipwrights and even a fish smoking house. The entrance building is set up as a tavern and restaurant. It is certainly more comfortable than anything we had for the James Craig. Construction of village buildings is ongoing.

Open for visitors

The site is open to visitors and I was able to view the various buildings, go onto and under the ship under construction, and watch the shipwrights working on the massive timbers. There were numerous stacks of huge slabs of timber seasoning. The oak is sourced from French forests. They estimate it will require about 3800 trees to provide the 1800 cubic metres of timber required for the project.

I had seen models and paintings of ships of this type being built in the various French maritime museums, so it was incredibly impressive to see an actual building yard resembling those images with the massive ship’s frames towering above us. The yard is remarkably authentic to the period with everything being held in place by timber ribbands and struts (see the photo), though some power tools are used, such as chain saws.

Some of the particulars of the ship are as follows:

Length: 187 feet from the forefoot to the sternpost
Width: 49 feet
Height: 55 feet to the top of the poop
Draught: 19 feet
Tonnage: 1400 barrels
Armed with 84 cannons (1st-rate vessel)
Crew: around 700

I spoke with Jerome the shipwright. He was making giant dovetails to join two pieces of timber to make a floor.

Some notable features of the site were:

1. The two prototyping models are on display which are works of art in themselves.
2. They make all their own fasteners onsite in the blacksmith’s shop. Mainly iron spikes, some of them absolutely massive.
3. This vessel, though of similar length, will be considerably greater in beam and depth compared to the James Craig.
4. The scantlings are absolutely massive. The planking will be about 5″ thick.
5. The futtocks are arranged differently to what I had expected. They are not complete ‘sister’ ribs but staggered with gaps in between.
6. Some of the timbers are built up because of the difficulty obtaining grown shapes over their whole length, eg. the floors using dovetails, and most of the bilge futtocks with scarfs.
7. The massive timbers frequently show large splits as they season. These are kept in check by numerous dovetails let into the timber.
8. It was breathtaking to walk inside the construction. The day was very cold and one had to be careful not to slip on patches of ice.
9. Just like we had with the James Craig, some people say ‘it would never happen’, but those involved are resolute.
10. There are 3 full-time shipwrights, 2 apprentices and about 30 regular volunteers.

It was so impressive that I visited the project twice.

Here is a selection of photographs of the construction:








This entry was posted on 10/01/2019 by in Sydney Heritage Fleet.
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