17th century shipwreck sails again in 3-D model by former student


The American Bureau of Shipping’s latest quarterly publication includes an article about a centuries-old Portuguese shipwreck brought back to life in an immersive, 3-D model created by former Texas A&M Master of Visualization Sciences student Audrey Wells ’08.

Wells worked with Filipe Castro, associate professor of anthropology, to create a 3-D model of Nossa Senhora dos Martires, Our Lady of The Martyrs, which sunk in a heavy storm off the Portuguese coast in 1606.

It’s the first view in three centuries of the nau, a class of ships Europeans once used for exploring and long-range trade, states the article in the ABS’ fall 2011 publication Surveyor.

The model, Wells’ thesis project, reproduces the historically important but largely unknown vessel type down to its wooden planks and internal construction details and is of such detail that seakeeping, stability and other analyses can be performed.

Wells helped Castro create the 3-D visualization of the ship from its surviving hull fragment, which has carved construction marks that helped in its virtual reconstruction, stated the article.

Design details, technical texts, sailing plans from administrative records, operational remarks from ship logs, sailor diaries and visual data from coins and artworks also contributed to the reconstruction.

“The Visualization Lab here is one of the best in the world, and working with them was a very natural collaboration,” said Castro.

“Audrey and I would meet once a week; she would ask questions, work on my hypotheses during the week and email me image files as she progressed, which I would mark up and return; then we would meet the next week and take the process a step further. Every time we solved one problem, we solved several – for example, a space occupied by a capstan or a locker can’t be occupied by something else. Every correct solution reduces the number of possible correct answers for other questions, making it all a very exciting, iterative process.”

Castro, a civil engineer in Portugal in 1996 when he was assigned by his country’s Ministry of Culture to the ship’s excavation project, had no idea the assignment would change his future, and the course of the ship’s history, states the article.

“As a manager, I was simply gathering data for the project when I began reading old shipbuilding treatises. Because I am an engineer, I discovered I could understand the texts very well,” said Castro. “I was also able to explain to my colleagues what the old authors were writing about, which drew the attention of the people in charge, who eventually suggested I go for a master’s degree in nautical archaeology.”

After beginning Texas A&M’s nautical archaeology program in 1998, he alternated between Aggieland and the wreck site, earning a master’s degree, a Ph.D. then a teaching position at Texas A&M in 2002.

During his studies, Castro hatched the idea of the 3-D model, which would require knowledge from computer graphics, nautical archaeology, history and marine engineering.

The fall 2001 issue of Surveyor is available as a .pdf file. The article about the 3-D model begins on page 27.

posted November 1, 2011