A fluyt (archaic/traditional: fluijt), fluit, or flute (Dutch pronunciation: [flœy̯t] ( listen)) is a Dutch type of sailing vessel originally designed as a dedicated cargo vessel. Originating in the Netherlands in the 16th century, the vessel was designed to facilitate transoceanic delivery with the maximum of space and crew efficiency. Unlike rivals, it was not built for conversion in wartime to a warship, so it was cheaper to build and carried twice the cargo, and could be handled by a smaller crew. Construction by specialized shipyards using new tools made it half the cost of rival ships. These factors combined to sharply lower the cost of transportation for Dutch merchants, giving them a major competitive advantage. The fluyt was a significant factor in the 17th century rise of the Dutch seaborne empire. In 1670 the Dutch merchant marine totalled 568,000 tons of shipping—about half the European total.
The standard fluyt design minimized or completely eliminated its armaments to maximize available cargo space, and used block and tackle extensively to facilitate ship operations. Another advantage of its pear-shape (when viewed from the fore or aft) was a shallow draft which allowed the vessel to bring cargo in and out of ports and down rivers that other vessels couldn't reach. This ship class was credited in enhancing Dutch competitiveness in international trade, and was widely employed by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th and 18th centuries. However, its usefulness caused the fluyt to gain such popularity that similar designs were soon developed by seagoing competitors of the Dutch. For example, the English shipbuilding industry began to adapt the design of the fluyt during the later part of the 17th century as English merchants, seeing how much cheaper the Dutch shipping was, acquired Dutch-built ships that were captured during Anglo-Dutch wars.
The design of fluyts was largely similar to that of the early galleons. These ships typically weighed 200-300 tons and were approximately 80 feet in length (24.4 m). The pear-shaped vessel had a large cargo bay near the waterline and a relatively narrow deck above. In part, this design was a method used to avoid high taxes collected by Denmark in the Øresund, which was assessed based on area of the main deck. The fluyt was square rigged with two or three masts. Masts were much higher than those of galleons to allow for greater speed. At times fluyts were also armed and served as auxiliary vessels, which was a common practice in the Baltic Sea.
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