Investigation 4 


A personal account – P. Constantine


Understanding the core information


A Naval Architect

Source information

To investigate the nature of the hull of the ship it is important to understand that the core information has to be derived from the book The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial by Rupert Bruce-Mitford, as described in Investigation 1 on this website.

The present understanding of the ship has to be based primarily on the drawings in that book as described in Investigation 2 on this website.


The original basic drawing is:

Fig 185. Science museum Provisional plan drawn under the guidance of Lt. Cmdr. Hutchison, Sept 1939. An authenticated, signed-off copy is in Ipswich Museum where it was recently discovered by Joe Startin.

             Anything and everything written about this drawing is the ‘opinion’, also called an ‘interpretation’, from other people, usually having various levels of expertise in related archaeological fields. This and the other ship drawings can be ‘qualified or clarified’ by additional material from accounts and pictures from what was actually found in the ground during the excavations. It is worth repeating this section from Investigation 1 that tries to sound a note of caution, because even ‘experts’ may not be wholly in agreement about the significance of what some ‘evidence’ may be:

The people concerned with the excavations in 1939 had very little time to closely examine what was being found and sometimes they offered their opinions by making educated guesses at the relevance of what they were seeing. After the war the people excavating had more time and they sometimes sought to corroborate or to elaborate on what had been suggested in 1939. This means that in the book there may be more than one description of certain individual details. There will be the 1939 version and then another later version or versions that were produced following a more careful and detailed post-war investigation.’


 This possible lack of certainty can be illustrated by the Nydam ship (Investigation 3b) whose actual planks were recovered. In rebuilding them there have been different opinions about the shape of the ship that would result from reassembling the planks, as shown in this diagram on page 33 in the publication Das Nydamboot by Angelika Abegg-Wigg. Four shapes for the ship have been produced by different ‘experts’ on four separate occasions.

The Sutton Hoo ship, as it was discovered, had the open stern and on this issue all the experts are in agreement, the ship had split apart – it was not constructed like this. To remedy this, two other drawings were made and they have been very influential in the general understanding of what the ship looked like, as they are contained in the book. They are:

Fig 324. An early 1973 Lines plan drawn and annotated by Colin Mudie, called Drawing 202.3

Fig 325. The Plank and Rivet plan which is a British Museum drawing.

The Lines plan Fig 324 is a fold-out that appears as a series of lines showing the shape of the outside skin of the craft.

Most people do not pay too much attention to this drawing as the next drawing Fig 325 is much more interesting. It is a long drawing on a fold-out page that shows the ship with all its rivets, ribs and tholes. A couple of drawings to the right show the shape of the ribs and puts the planks in place over them. It is described in the book as an ‘Archaeological reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo ship, based on the 1939 photographic record and information gained in the 1966-7 re-excavation.’ This is the drawing that best seems to illustrate the ship.


Each of the 3 drawings is different. Each has features that are very likely to be accurate representations and some probable inaccuracies. Drawing 185 and drawing 325 are both illustrative and 325 is based on 185 but with additions, as mentioned above. However, there are differences that need some explanation, especially as Mudie’s number 202 drawing went through a series of different versions. The version printed in the book is 202.3, but additional versions were produced up to 202.8 and this drawing was in the possession of the investigators.


Naval Architect

To make design changes there have to be reasons. For Mudie to pull the planks together, other parts of the hull would have to change also - and this needs expert understanding. The investigation team went in search of a highly-qualified naval architect and were fortunate enough to be recommended to contact Paul Handley who has an Honours degree in Ship Science, is a Member of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects (MRINA) and a chartered Engineer (CEng). It is useful to understand the work that any expert has undertaken, so the following information may serve to show the range and flexibility of Mr Handley’s operations. When ideas are put forward about any subject there are questions about the basis of those ideas. It is inevitable that concepts may be questioned, depending on who advances them, so what is the expertise of the person and what is their experience?


 Paul Handley

Mr Handley has been the winner of three International design awards - Boat of the Year 2002 - British Nautical Awards, Coup de Coeurs 2004 (Sailboat of the year) - Voiles et Voiliers, France and Dinghy of the Year 2005 - Sailing World, USA. His designs include the development of new recreational boats built in Europe and USA and distributed internationally, including the RS Feva (junior double-handed sailing dinghy), RS Tera (junior single-handed sailing dinghy), the RS Quba, RS 100 performance single-hander and the K1, K2, & K6 keelboats. He did the production design for the 9m cruiser/racer sailing-boat Mustang 30 and was responsible for the structural design for EcoCruiser D-37 a low-drag motor cruiser. He has provided Recreational Craft Directive information for the project design of production rowing sculls and also a pedalo for roto-moulded HDPE construction.

It was important for the investigation team that Mr Handley’s work was not just restricted to a single type of craft, but crucially included rowed craft and experience with a variety of different materials. There was everything from sailing boats, keel boats, motor boats and even a plastic pedalo. The investigators were about to pose questions concerning (possibly) the most extreme and unusual craft that most naval architects will ever see.

His early career began as an engineer at the Wolfson Unit for Marine technology and Industrial Aerodynamics at the University of Southampton, he conducted research and consultancy for recreational and commercial boats, including hydrodynamic and structural design, research into the stability of yachts (Co-author of University report on Stability of Yachts in Breaking Waves) and the design of recreational, commercial power craft and lifeboats.

In addition to his design work Mr Handley has undertaken a very wide range of technical and advisory work such as consultancy for the International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA), for whom he prepared comparison guides between ISO and US ABYC boat-safety standard requirements. He was consultant to the British Marine Federation (BMF), the DTi and the Royal Yachting Association (RYA). His work on the EC Recreational Craft Directive included preparation of the guidance manual on RCD (EC Directive 94/25/EC) requirements for BMF. Technical support to RYA when it was acting as an RCD Notified Body, including support on UKAS accreditation requirements for RYA. Expert witness support for Dti. RCD consultancy for manufacturers of motor cruisers, sailing cruisers and Rigid Hull Inflatables for commercial and recreational use.


He has worked for the IYRU in London as a Technical officer drafting and revising Class Rules for International yacht racing classes and giving technical support at 1992 Olympics. He has worked as a CEN Consultant Brussels providing relevant advice to ISO TC188 technical committees developing standards supporting the RCD, in particular ISO 12215 structural standards and ISO 12217 stability standards, emission standards and navigation light standard. Mr Handley had worked for Motorboat & Yachting testing craft and writing technical reports. He is a keen restorer of classic cars and boat. He has restored an early National 12 based on the Uffa King design that he still owns. This is a classic, solid plank, clinker craft. Essentially, he works with CAD/CAM 3D design software and naval architecture software.

Could the investigators have asked for any greater experience or expertise from a Naval Architect?

The familiarity with specialist computer software was about to become of primary importance, because the ship that was to be constructed had to be defined using modern methods. The use of computers and what can be produced on them needs to be understood, for a working method for the ship build had to be considered. The investigation will return to this topic later.