Sunday, December 26, 2010


During Christmas I spent a good many hours researching the Eighty Years War, the Dutch Rebellion and the ships used by the Dutch in their wars against Spain... or at least I tried to, but the online resources available on small Dutch fighting vessels of the sixteenth century is at best, beguiling.

I'm specifically interested in a type of ship used by the Sea Beggers (Geuzen), known as a flyboat, which in Dutch translates to a Vlieboot, or a Vliet, the reason for which is explained by Wikipedia;

The role of the budding Dutch navy in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in August, 1588, has often been under-exposed. It was crucial, however. After the fall of Antwerp the Sea-Beggar veterans under admiral Justinus van Nassau (the illegitimate elder brother of Maurice) had been blockading Antwerp and the Flemish coast with their nimble flyboats. These mainly operated in the shallow waters off Zeeland and Flanders that larger warships with a deeper draught, like the Spanish and English galleons, could not safely enter. The Dutch therefore enjoyed unchallenged naval superiority in these waters, even though their navy was inferior in naval armament.

As to what exactly a Flyboat looks like is still something of a mystery, I came across one description of size, but without any illustration;

a "Vlieboot" (also called a vliet, a boat that could be sailed through the "Vlie", i.e.. to open sea). The size of such seaworthy jaghts was between the 15 and 80 last (A last is a: A measure of volume for ships; and b: A measure of cargo/deadweight capacity; a last is 2000 kg), at a maximum length of 135 voet (A voet is a measure of length; a Rijnlandse voet is about 30 cm) and a width of 25 voet. The water replacement was around the 540 tons.

So I'm looking at an auxiliary warship from 70 to 200 tons in displacement, good for littoral combat and used successfully by the Geuzen. They sound perfect for table top skirmishes in 28mm, and I fully intend to build two of them (I'll need them if Oleg goes ahead with his plan to launch a pair of Fustas!) The Spaniards had their own Vlieboot fleet though. They were allied to the Dunkirkers who were a particularly annoying thorn in the side of the United Provinces of the Nederlands...

The [Vlieboot] resembled a small carrack and had two or at most three masts, a high board and a dozen iron cannon. Small, inexpensive and manoeuvrable, it was ideal for privateering activities in the European coastal waters and soon imitated by privateers or pirates of other nations. The Dutch navy, and their enemies, the Dunkirkers, at first extensively employed flyboats.

Another teasing web page describes the Vlieboot as a forerunner of the famous Fluyt. Only smaller. Google image search dredged up a number of images, the best one's are all gathered in this post, but none of these images gives a clear idea of what a Vlieboot actually looks like, though they are quite seductive from the modelling point of view... The top image shows multiple vessels which all seem to have a certain resemblence with the various descriptions I've read and its my favourite illustration so far, the second image kind of fits the description but lacks the leeboards which are a recurring feature of the first image. I think the second image might actually be a bad drawing or possibly a caravel thats been mislabelled...

The third image was labeled as a 'fly boat' but doesn't really fit with the descriptions. Crucially it has a fo'csle and quite a deep draught and I believe it may be a mislabeled schematic of a small barque, possibly a vessel akin to the Duyfken. It certainly fits with the era, and I may possibly even attempt such a model one day, but its not what I'm looking for now.

The fourth image is possibly the most helpful. It came from a Dutch language site and shows a Vliet from 1770. Since the Vlieboot was an armed development of existing commercial designs, I'm inclined to believe that the last image supports the first image. All I need now is to find some one who has built a model of one of these Vlieboots, for a maritime museum for example.

This last image is typical. The vessel on the right fits the description of a commercial vlieboot, but the image was posted as an illustration of the vessel to the left which is a galleon.


Grimsby Mariner said...

I'm not aware of anyone making or selling such items but....

Minimi models sell a number of resin boats and barges in 28mm including whaleboats that don't look that dissimilar and suitable for modification.

moif said...

Thanks for the heads up.

I'll almost certainly build them from scratch as its much more fun, though I'm not sure how I'll do all the fiddly bits yet.

fred schumacher said...

The boats in the illustrations are fore-and-aft rigged, so they would have required a smaller crew than a square-sail vessel. The pen and ink drawing looks like a lemsteraak with a gaff sail. Bottom one has a sprit sail. All have "swaards" (leeboards) and would be flat bottomed with shallow draft.

moif said...

Cheers Fred.