Known by the English as a flyboat, the French as a flute, and the Spanish as a felibote, the fluyt, a “16th-19th century flat-bottomed Dutch vessel with a very high and ornate stern with broad buttocks, and with one or two masts either square-rigged on both or with a spritsail on the mainmast. They were of about 600 tons, and mainly used for local coastal traffic“–as well as in inland waterways and on the high seas.
The fluyt was ideal for Dutch shipbuilding efforts. It required less lumber than other ships, therefore it was less costly to build. It could also be made from pre-fabricated parts. It operated on winches and tackles instead of traditional rigging. It required a much smaller crew. And it had that all-important factor in the era of privateering, it had speed.
The fluyt helped the Dutch benefit in trade: timber from Norway, grain from Poland, and furs from Russia. In fact, construction of the fluyt enabled the Dutch to “dominate Europe’s shipbuilding industry.”
Sea captains and merchants observed first hand the advantages the fluyt offered to cross-Atlantic trade.
Quotes from the New Hampshire Provincial Papers offer some details. One such local captain, Captain John Holmes, on August 12, 1692, was commander of the flyboat America, recently arrived in Portsmouth Harbor from London. The New Hampshire Custom House reported:
Capt. John Holmes, Comr. of the fly-boate, the America—entreth from London, with these goods following, viz. 2 barrels of wrought pewter, 2 bbls. of wrought brass, 4 bbls. of wrought iron, three boxes and six bbls. of grocery, 2 truncks of haberdashery, 6 bayles of stuffs, blancketts & ruggs, 3 trunckes wearing apparell, 2 pictures and 2 saddles, 2 bayles linnen-cloth, 45 quoils of rigging, 223 barrs of wrought iron, qt 5 tunns and a halfe, 1 truncke of haberdashery, 1 truncke of haberdashery wrought silke, serges & hatts, 6 boxes wrought iron, 1 packe of stuffs, 4 bundles, 2 trunckes of haberdashery and stockings, 2 parcells of wrought iron, and one box of wrought pewter. [PPNH 2:82]
Captain Holmes was only in port two months, long enough for the cargo to be unloaded, Customs to inventory his goods, and perhaps for him to spend a few busy weeks ashore with his family, before departing for London.
On-board was a typical cargo bound for the Old World:
London. Oct 10, 1692: Capt. John Holmes, Comr. of the fly-boat the America, of London, of 30 tunns burthen or thereabouts, mounted wth four guns, navigated wth 20 men, Forraine built, made free, cleareth for London, having on board 18 Masts, 98 bow-sprits, 13 yards, 11.400 ft. of Oares, 2900 boults, 25.000 of staves, 84 pounds of beaver, 130 skins of small furs, 46 spars, 10 pieces of Ash, 2bbls. of Cramberrys. [PPNH 2:80]
The return cargo included ship masts and hand-hewn timber items for shipbuilding as well as wooden oars, wooden bolts, barrel staves–and beaver and other small furs and barrels of cranberries.
Note that the merchant ship America was “Forraine” (foreign built), had cleared Customs for departure, and navigated with a small crew of only twenty men. It was also prepared for a light engagement at sea with possible pirates. This was the Golden Age of piracy.
Also of note is the fact that there is no mention of passengers. The fly-boat was constructed purely to carry cargo and there was no room for passenger accommodations.