Sunday, September 23, 2012

Of "Clippers" & Columbus

The word clipper ship has somehow come to be synonymous sailing ship. I've
noted this for a couple of decades now. It does not matter whether it is a
schooner or galleon or whaler or, yes, clipper, they are, in the minds of
many, clipper ships. I can't help but wonder if at some future epoch large
portions of the populace refer to all of our automobiles as Fords or
It has been a while since I've followed up on the status of the replicas
built for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage of discovery.
Currently, I am aware that the "Santa Clara" or "Nina II", an unofficial
replica but probably the most realistic, has a sister in a "Pinta"
replica. Both vessels are doing fine.
The official replicas, however, were not, the last time checked. The
official Nina was last seen rotting in the waters off of Texas, whereas
the Santa Maria has been brought ashore entirely, no longer seaworthy.
I've lost track of the Pinta.
That this has been allowed to happen at all reflects poorly upon us. That
I have failed to keep track as well reflects poorly upon me.

(Sent via handheld)
Edit - As I mentioned, it had been some time since I last checked on the status of the replicas, and that piece was written whilst I sat on the back porch. A search, a short time later, revealed this; all three ships are being restored, and the Pinta, like the Santa Maria, is now ashore. For more -

Columbus Replica Ships to Visit Corpus Christi in March

Friday, September 21, 2012

Some Thoughts On A Replaced Replica

In 1957, two replica sailing ships were launched celebrating the
colonization of North America by the English; the Mayflower, launched in
Brixham, England, and the Susan Constant, launched in Newport News,
Virginia. In addition, two other replicas were launched in Virginia as
well, the Godspeed and the Discovery.
All of these vessels were replicas of late Elizabethan ships. The larger
two represented typical merchant ships of their classes.
Of those replicas, only one remains afloat, the Mayflower. The original
replica Susan Constant, as well as the smaller two, were replaced after
suffering deterioration. The new Susan Constant is an impressive sight,
but the previous replica was interesting as well.
That the previous replica Susan Constant deteriorated is not the point I
want to raise. The first replica had an interesting pedigree. Unlike the
replica Mayflower, the Susan Constant was designed by a relative unknown,
one Robert Fee; the Mayflower replica was designed by William Avery Baker,
a name well known in nautical research circles.
In the Transactions of the Society of Nautical and Maritime Engineers,
January 1958, quite a bit of space was dedicated to the Jamestown
replicas. The first section dealt with their design and construction,
written by Fee himself. The second section told of how the vessels sailed. It was
here that William A. Baker gave a fairly critical review of the designs.
This seems a bit harsh, in retrospect. When I first read the reports, I
was something of a W.A. Baker fan; I still am. But, I've also learned that
people are people as I've matured, and everyone has a competitive streak
somewhere inside. Now whether or not that was the case here is hard to
gauge. What is apparent, though, is that Mr. Fee seems to have moved on.
There are questions, though, that still persist. The Fee Susan Constant
seemed to have borrowed heavily from R.C. Anderson's Mayflower, yet as I
recall no credit was given. What of the hull section, why that design? The
Baker Mayflower was designed to cross the Atlantic; could the Fee design
have done the same.
Sadly, we'll never know. The old Susan Constant has long since been
scrapped, and I am having difficulty finding anything else out about Mr.
Fee. The new Susan Constant, based upon research by Brian Lavery, is the
last word on that ship's appearance. Still, the old design was as close as
we could ever get to knowing if Anderson's Mayflower could have sailed.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Latest Project Gallery - LifeLike (nee Pyro) Mayflower

 The little Pyro Mayflower was tooled, like many of their model ships, in the mid 1960's. It is one of the few representations of the R.C. Anderson version available and works out to around 1/300.
 This kit is crisply molded in white; originally was tooled in brown and white.
 For the most part, it does capture the feel of Anderson's version, if somewhat simplified.
 The markings on the quarterdeck were accomplished with colored marker on single ply smooth Strathmore Bristol board.
 The stern decorations were handpainted. All the colors used were regular craft store acrylics. The strakes were accomplished with 1/16" vinyl tape. There is still some touch up needed here.
 View of the port side. You can just make out the grating over the hatch on this shot. I created this grating with Microsoft Windows Paint, reduced it and printed it on regular paper. I used brown marker to color it. The same paper was used in the beakhead.
By this date (20 September, 2012), the hull is basically complete. Beams were added across the hatch for the ship's boat to rest upon. Two pumps were added just forward and abaft the main mast, and the poop deck railing is a replacement. Should be a lovely little model upon completion.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Of Gold Gilded Galleons

Today, as I do every so often, I did a little on line maritime research on French ships of the 16th century. This is the period of the "galleon", those magnificent vessels we too often associate with treasure fleets and the Invincible Armada. Again, as is usual, I came across many illustrations from the period, usually the Theodor de Bry etchings or small drawings of French ships from maps and charts. There was a time when I had a good deal of information in a number of folders, however that was some time in the past and those folders have long since been lost. Many, if not most, of those images could be found amongst that information, so for me they are no strangers and nothing new.
However, it is the occasional modern interpretation that I run across that bother me. These are usually done by very good artists who have no idea of how these vessels should look. Indeed, most maritime researchers will rightfully tell you that, in most cases, we can only guess, though they may be educated guesses. One illustration that I see quite a bit is of a French galleon in a storm off the coast of Florida. It is a striking painting, done by William Trotter. However, aside from being inspired by Willem van de Velde the Younger's painting "Resolution in a Gale", there are many anachronisms in the work, none as telling as the stern; it is gilded, in much the way vessels would be in the later 16th and well into the 18th centuries. It is also much too rectangular and blockish.
He was not the first to make this mistake, and it is doubtful he will be the last. There are many other interpretations of vessels from this period that make the same mistakes. Even the F. Alexander Magoun interpretation of the "Mayflower", which borrows from the superb R.C. Anderson version as well as a version by Prof. J.R. Jack that seems more like a vessel of the latter part of the 17th century, makes these mistakes, primarily due to the latter interpretation.
We want to romanticize these ships. When we think about the 16th century, we do tend to think about the royal splendor of all the major powers of Europe. Nothing says power and prestige like gold gilding on ships. As a practice, however, it did not really begin until later in the century. Gilding a ship was an expensive affair, especially for something that was very likely to be lost. The high point of these decorations can be found in the English ships of the early 17th century, followed immediately by France. Both of these naval powers had to prove their mettle on the high seas, so both undertook building programs that were a bit grandiose in scope, if not in size. Both England and France built what were super ships during this period, with the French receiving aid from Dutch naval architects. The irony is that Dutch ships of this period were relatively sparse in their decoration, as well as smaller.
Decorations reached their ultimate realization on the English three decker "Sovereign of the Seas", ordered by King Charles I and designed by Peter Pett, launched in 1637. This ship carried an amazing amount of gilding, and was so costly that it played a major role in the King being deposed. It is said that the ship was designed not so much as a warship but as a statement of English, and specifically the King's, power on the seas. She was so overloaded with decorations that she was impractical, and was cut down and modified not once but several times, and ultimately served for sixty years.
These ships, though, were the exceptions. While it is likely that many ships of the late sixteenth century and later carried gilding to varying degrees, it is far more likely that the vast majority of these ships carried little or none, and made do with either paint or perhaps no decoration at all.
Those romantic images we have in our heads, of those resplendent galleons sparkling like jewels on the water, is simply romantic.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

For The Love Of An Old Pyro Bomb Ketch

When it comes to plastic models, most builders would prefer that the kits be pristine, untouched. Sometimes, that is not an option, particularly when those kits are becoming somewhat scarce.
The first sailing ship model I ever built was a Pyro kit, their Göta Lejon, a Swedish warship of the eighteenth century, back in the fall of 1976. At this point, the Pyro dies had been passed along to LifeLike, and at our local hobby shop, Art's, the kits were being sold in a mixture of Pyro and LifeLike labeling. Pyro tooled most of these smaller sailing ships kits in the 1960's, with a heavy concentration in the middle of that decade. As for quality, it is assuredly mixed. Some of the better models, though, are sought after, such as the Göta Lejon, or in the case of that image, the British Bomb Ketch.
Trying to pin down a specific prototype for this model is difficult, but many suspect, as do I, that the people at Pyro lifted the plans from a wooden kit. The scale is therefore variously listed between 1/144 to 1/180. Aside from being simplified, it is actually not bad, and with a little work can turn into a lovely model. This is the second time I've had this kit, the first being a Revell-Germany release from the mid-1980's.
Nevertheless, it is lovely, and growing scarce. My newest one was had very cheaply via eBay, and was started long ago. The kit appears to have been put away after only a few pieces were assembled. This model comes from that period where the box says Pyro, but the instructions say LifeLike. Fortunately for me, the person who started it did so sparingly with the cement, so dismantling the major assemblies was easy, the only damage being to the quarterdeck port railing.
I have no idea when I will actually begin construction of the model, but simply having this kit in my collection is good enough.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

El Navio Moves To The Internet

I believe that the best way to begin is with a brief explanation. While it is true that I have a good many hobbies, one of them has been fairly consistent for better than three decades, and that is a love of ships. This has taken various forms over time, from model building to artwork to writing and research. Among other things, I consider myself very fortunate in having worked in the nautical history field as well, being involved with our local maritime museum in the 1990's.
Now, as I find myself wanting to venture back into these waters, I feel it necessary to share my work here. Recently, I have made the decision to do more maritime art and find a market for it. This is unusual territory, to be honest, given this day and age. Yet I believe that inside everyone there lurks a need to be close to the sea, their "mare nostrum", to borrow the Latin term for "our sea".
"El Navio" was my maritime research diary, my second one. It deals primarily with the miniatures and artwork I've done, and soon will have its pages filled. This blog is an extension of that diary, and here I will share in my work from time to time.
Please be sure to visit...