Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Life-Like 1/250 Mayflower, Completed

The Life-Like (nee Pyro) "Mayflower" turned out to take longer to build than expected, really due to a number of unexpected issues, with both the project and myself. In the end, however, the work really paid off.
I've taken a number of images of the completed model, plus one image in particular, to give an idea of its scale.

There were a number of lessons I took away from this project. Chiefly amongst them is doing more planning before actual construction. There were a number of problems that could have been prevented had I planned ahead. As a result, the model has some rigging omitted (though at this scale, it doesn't detract too much). Other things I learnt were the extent to which "live rigging" (regular line/thread rigging as opposed to wire) can be utilized on small scale models. The cut off really isn't scale so much as size. A larger scale model of a smaller vessel, say one the size of this model, could possible be done with "live" instead of wire. There are now a couple of sections of rigging that respond to the weather.
The model looks good, however, and I am pleased with the end result. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Waiting Game

It has been some time since I've posted anything substantial here, and it nags me. In my personal life, this time of the year gets hectic enough, but there have been some additional challenges this year. However, rest assured that there is a piece coming, it's just taking longer than usual to get to it.
Soon, I promise.
 - RRL

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Lindberg Brig of War - A Conundrum in Plastic

The Lindberg "Brig of War" - A Conundrum in Plastic

First, I should disclose that this is not a review, but more an overview. To begin with, my current project, the Life-Like (nee Pyro) "Mayflower", is about to be completed. Obviously, I already have my next project lined up, the Lindberg "Brig of War".

This is, of course, the old Pyro kit of the same name. A couple of entries previous, I discussed some of the Pyro ship models that I was acquainted with and their various merits. In an addendum, I mentioned that the "Brig of War" may have some potential. In this entry, I want to discuss some of my findings.
The model most resembles the "Fair American" found in the Henry Huddleston Rogers collection. This model was built by the Royal Admiralty after the ship had been captured. This is not a typical Admiralty model, being a full hull with no inner structure present. It's been speculated that the model was built to better understand the hull and sail. There is even some question as to which "Fair American" this model represents. Regardless, this model has served as the prototype for many models of the privateer. 
Since I now had a prototype, I decided to see just how close the brig came. I found some old plans for a wooden kit of the "Fair American" and reduced them down to the size of the plastic model, which appears to be approximately 1/170 scale.
In profile, the model is very close to this interpretation, though I suspect (and have read elsewhere) the Pyro tooling was based on the old solid hulled Model Shipways kit. 

So far, so good. The masts are a bit flimsy, dubious in detail, but very close to scale, based upon the drawings. The only problems are the bowsprit, which is a bit short, and the mizzen booms, which are similarly undersized.

The yards and attached sails, though, are horribly out of scale, as if meant for a smaller model. 

It is in looking down on the model that the real problems surface.
The model looked too beamy, though not horribly so. In fact, however, the model has a plan that looks a bit peculiar. The further aft you go, the worse it gets. As a result, the transom is nearly twice as wide as it should be.

How did the folks at Pyro do this? More to the point, why? Perhaps it was a compromise to keep it a bathroom toy and therefore buoyant. That explanation, though, doesn't make sense in light of the fact that there are some ships in this series that are far more scale-like in appearance. At this point, I suppose that we can only speculate. One thing I did find interesting is that if you took a 3/4" (19mm) wedge out of the stern and squeezed the deck together you ended up with one that was a bit closer. The amount of work that this would require, plus the work needed to correct the hull, would be significant if not altogether daunting.

Where does that leave my planned build? At this point, I am looking at simply correcting the sail plan and improving the deck detail to see how that improves the model. This was supposed to be a simpler follow up to my current project, but as model ship builders know, simpler is sometimes a rare thing.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Most Sticky Subject

This morning, as we approach Thanksgiving Day, I'd like to discuss the virtues of attachment.
Which is to say I'd like to take a moment and write about glue.
After the discovery that I failed to attach the lift blocks to my small "Mayflower's" masts before they were secured into place, I found that I couldn't sleep. My mind raced as I sought to scheme ways to correct the issue. When I first got into miniature ships, I glued everything in place. Rigging, deck details, masts, all of this was glued into place. I've been a big fan of the water soluble glues like your classic PVA and their derivatives (Elmer's Glue-All, Aileen's Tacky Glue) as well as basic aliphatics (wood glue). To my friends in the UK, who have enjoyed the wonders of Secotine for generations, the closest we have here in the Colonies is Elmer's and Aileen's, which are similar though minus the fishy fragrance. My English friends tell me that Secotine is superior, but sadly it is not readily available here. Anyway, I have seen very little deterioration in the PVA's and aliphatics. The steam paddle tug I made for my Dad, the "Uncle Sam", is largely intact, the only damage it having received being that from when it was dropped. It is still intact twenty five years later.
Clearly, those water soluble wonder adhesives will stay with me. With caveats, however.
They are all but useless when dealing with polystyrene plastic, or any plastics for that matter.
The PVA's and aliphatics rely on the porousness of the materials to work properly, and even the hardest woods still have pores on the microscopic level. Not so plastics. They are smooth, indeed with some being so-called "self lubricating" (think polyethylene, nylons, polyesters). To attach two piece of plastic to one another, one must rely on either solvents or cyanoacrylates (CA or "Super Glue"). There are other adhesives of some value when dealing with those nasty self-lubricating engineering plastics. I recall one such concoction from our friends at DuPont that was yellow and could pretty much bond anything together, but it really was a bad choice for model work. So for plastics, most of the times its the first two I mentioned with regards to them. I have to use non-toxic Testors Plastic Cement, which leaves a wonderfully citrus smell, as if one has driven through an orange grove with a snow plow. For unpainted plastic, solvents and CA are immortal. Both weld the two components together, and that's it. Using them on painted surfaces yields less immortal results, and I am tempted to say that they are indeed fleetingly mortal. For instance, the small diesel tug I built after the "Uncle Sam" is basically falling apart.
Which then brings me to another point, and this is the heart of the matter. When I read Lloyd McCaffery's book "Ships in Miniature", he stressed permanent, physical connections. By this, he meant using trenails (small wooden nails), pegs, very fine wire and line for tying, etc. While he uses glues (in his case, hide based, which I really am not fond of for a variety of reasons), his initial attachments are made physically.
Which is what I have been doing. Well, at least trying to do. While I still use Aileen's Tacky Glue for some attaching by itself, I have been striving to plan everything out in such a way that glue is not to be relied upon.
Which brings me back full circle, at last, to the "Mayflower".
I am going to have to use a surgeon's skill for what I am going to do this afternoon; strop the lower lifts into place whilst working around all that rigging that is already up. These are items that cannot be simply glued. as they will be stressed.
Having another cup of coffee as I gird my loins for this task. As they used to say whilst working the yards on those great sailing ships of yore, "grumble ye may, but go ye must".

Monday, November 16, 2015

Some Thoughts On Replicas

In the fall of 1988, I visited the privateer replica "Rattlesnake" for the first time. It would be the beginning of a relationship with that vessel that would last until 1995, long after the vessel had been impounded and turned over to a local maritime museum. Sadly, the vessel was allowed to deteriorate due to a combination of lack of funds for preservation and general neglect.
Still, it was the first replica ship I would visit, and played a crucial role in my developing love of maritime history. In the years since, I have learned much.
Generally speaking, replicas can be broken down into two main categories; simple replica and experimental archaeology. With simple replicas, it is enough to look like the vessel they are supposed to be representing. The experiments in archaeology, however, are built using the same techniques that the original builders may have used in an attempt to understand how these vessels may have operated. 
From my personal observations, unfortunately these two mindsets tend to run afoul of one another, as if they are at cross purposes (which, perhaps, is true to an extent). The designer of the simple replica has a goal that is indeed simple; does the vessel represent a prototype? A good example here would be the "Bounty" made for the 1962 movie. While it was some 50% larger than the original, it still managed to capture the lines of the prototype, if a bit loftier in sail. 
Ships made for movies, though, run the gamut, from the well thought out to bordering on ludicrous.. The spate of pirate movies of late has made an industry out of replicas. Sometimes, they look the part, mostly. Other times, they are simply poor representations of ships from those periods, You find features like ship's wheels on ships from periods before that method of steering had been invented. You find odd details, all for the sake of "art". Since these are usually representing fictional vessels, we should give them a pass. However, they still mislead.
Moving beyond entertainment, we find plenty of purported historic replicas afloat. Many times, these are wonderful representations of the prototype (at least to the best of our understanding, in many instances). Many of them are perfectly fine as they are. However, I am very wary of anyone who says that a certain vessel is a perfect representation; such lines are used in marketing and publicity, perhaps, but are utter hogwash to the historian. 
Then there are the missed opportunities. These are perhaps the saddest of all. The best example that comes to mind is the original Jamestown ship replicas that were built in the mid-1950's*. The chief designer of the project initially made plans that were based upon the techniques for shipbuilding from the period, the early 17th century. That should have been sufficient by itself, however as the designer went an additional step and tested the designs in a basin, and then refined them. In modern engineering, this makes sense. However, as William Avery Baker observed in his critique of the designs, the original builders did not have access to such technology, and therefore would have simply gone with the lines they had laid out in the moulding loft and been done with it. While the ships certainly looked the period, they were not exact replicas. And yet they could have been superb pieces of experimental archaeology. 
Indeed, opportunities have been lost since. 
The real disappointment is that these replicas should be tools, not only for the tourist who wants to see period vessels, but for the researcher who wants to learn about how these vessels may have behaved underway, in short, experimental archaeology. If the least these replicas do is to inspire others to learn more about maritime history, as they did the author, then that might be enough. That they can do so much more and don't is the tragedy. 
(* - Pages 5 through 66 in Volume 66 of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers' "Transactions", 1958, are dedicated to these replicas. Baker's critique of the designs begins on page 36, and is highly recommended reading - RRL)

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Muddled Heritage of the Pyro/Life-Like "Mayflower"

This was originally going to be part of a longer piece about the long shadow cast by the Dr. R.C. Anderson and L.A. Pritchard model of the "Mayflower" ("A Mayflower Model", as Anderson would write). Instead, this subject is unique enough to stand on its own. 
When the Pyro Plastics Company decided that they wanted to begin producing better model sailing ships, they chose a short cut; they simply made plastic models of wooden kits from nearby Model Shipways. Some of their early, larger models are simply copies, saving Pyro a lot of time and effort where research was concerned. In the mid-1960's, the company decided to introduce a new line of smaller ship models, ostensibly to replace the bathtub toy-like kits they had sold before. The sources for these kits were various, though notably a good many of them seem to be based upon the work of Björn Landström . They also produced some new, larger ships as well, three of which were also based upon this source. There were other sources, and there appeared to be no real logic behind some of the choices (the "Santa Maria" modeled, poorly, after the Duro/1892 version, with a slightly larger scale "Niña" and "Pinta" based upon the d'Albertis designs?). As I've written elsewhere in this blog, the quality of these kits varied greatly. It really seems as if Pyro was rushing to get these out as quickly as possible, which they did. 
Their little "Mayflower" was one of these kits, and it was one of my favorites. At a glance, it is a nice enough kit. The Life-Like box, though, is deceptive; it shows what appears to be the 1957 William Avery Baker variant. The original Pyro box used the same artwork

Inside, the model is different; it appears to be based upon the Anderson version.

Or is it?
My experience with some of the better Pyro kits has taught me that when they got a model right, they were pretty good. Their "Revenge" looks as if it has been lifted off of Mathew Baker's drafts, and even the hull section is close. If their "Mayflower" is of similar quality, shouldn't the same be the case?
As I began construction of this model, something bothered me that needed addressing; two anomalous gun ports on the main deck.  
I began construction anyway, blanking out those ports. It was as I was trying to find more information about the model's deck layout that important discoveries were made. 
In my quest for detail information, I sought any source of plans I could find. Since the Imai kit was based upon the Anderson variant, using the plans for it seems logical. However, Imai made some mistakes, such as referring to the knights as "vents". That was when I discovered that the great E. Armitage McCann had designed a "Mayflower" model, based upon the Anderson variant, for a series that ran in Popular Science in 1928. Most of this series is on line, but the deck and rigging plans are not among them. 
It was another search that started to be a bit revealing. I was steered to the website "Solid Model Memories", and it was there, under the "Other Ships" category that I found an incomplete scan of some very old "Mayflower" plans from "The Model Shop", an English company. Drawn by one T.R. Kennedy, it is clearly based upon the Anderson version.

The plans are simplified, and the lines are not nearly full enough to match what I could see in the pictures I have of the Anderson version. It was this point that I began to notice that the Pyro/Life-Like kit actually had more in common with these plans. There were still differences, though, and I wanted to know; why the deck guns?
I finally found the answer in an eBay search. Someone was selling the decals for the Keelbilt model, and I immediately noticed that those markings resembled the markings on Kennedy drawings. I started to dig for images of the Keelbilt kit, to no avail. However, also on eBay, someone was selling the old Megow kit. Here was the final clue.

The Megow kit appears to postdate the Keelbilt model, and indeed might be based upon it. It also has much in common with the Kennedy-TMS plans.

Sail plans. Kennedy-TMS to the left, Megow right.

Compared to the Kennedy plans, it is a definitive derivative. Both the Megow kit and the Kennedy plans use the same style fittings, such as a later design for a capstan. Aside from some details, the Megow model actually appears to be better than the Kennedy plans; this may have been the case with the Keelbilt kit as well.
The stern markings, not shown, match those on the Kennedy drawings, and resemble those found on the Pyro tooling.

The final detail were the guns. They are not found on the Kennedy plans, but are found in the Megow kit.

With most other details, there is a match to the plastic kit, albeit the latter is simpler. Even the hull shape appears derived from the Megow kit.
In other words, the Pyro kit was copied from the Megow kit, and simplified. It is not so much based upon the Anderson design as derived from it. The only kits that were definitively based upon the Anderson design are the original wooden Model Shipways solid hull kit, and the Imai plastic model.
This information is a bit sobering. This means that, at best, the old Pyro/Life-Like model can be said to have been based upon the Anderson design for a merchant ship from the period of the "Mayflower". It is not the same.
Should the model be set aside then? 
Absolutely not. I am currently well into the model. The final result will be something of a hybrid, retaining most of its Pyro/Megow heritage, but with a new deck plan that better matches the Anderson original. 
With any luck, it will resemble most the latter.

(I'd like to thank the people at "Solid Model Memories" for uploading the Kennedy/The Model Shop plans, as well as Richard from Castlefront for his image of the Megow plans)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pyro's Hits And Misses

As my interest in model sailing ships tends to run towards the smaller end of the spectrum, it should be of no surprise that the products that Pyro created are something I fancy. I do not consider myself an expert on the company, the Pyro Plastics Company of Union, New Jersey, but I've had enough of their products to know what I like.
But briefly, it is important to understand the fate of the Pyro dies. After Pyro, they were passed on to the LifeLike of Baltimore, which produced them until 1979, at which time they ended up in the possession of the Lindberg Models Company. As the product changed hands, the line got smaller and smaller. Currently, Round2 has possession of Lindberg's assets, and therefore it may be assumed that the Pyro dies are there as well. So far, a few of the former Pyro products have been turned out under the Lindberg moniker, most of which had been produced by that latter company a short time ago.
My experience with Pyro models has taught me the following.
Initially, Pyro made very toy like models. They produced a series of warships in the 1950's and early 1960's, all to a box scale and measuring 16" (400mm) in length. These models, while generally accurate in outline, were very crude, markedly toy like. Their first sailing ships were in fact worse. To my knowledge, Pyro initially produced a small number of sailing ships that were nothing more than bathtub toys. They were horribly out of proportion, remarkably crude. 
Early in the 1960's, Pyro began producing a series of larger scale ship kits, some which were almost exact plastic knockoffs of wooden kits. These were a quantum improvement over those earlier models, but actually fall outside of the models I really wish to discuss here. However, it was a start.
By the mid-1960's, Pyro turned their attention to producing better models. They introduced a series of 1/1200 waterline World War II warships, that while mixed were welcomed. Around the same time, they began producing sailing ship kits, better ones, at least in complexity and some details. A good number of these appear to have been inspired by Björn Landström's work, though their were certainly other sources of inspiration. Dozens of model ships were produced, with huge differences in accuracy. 
Why that was the case is a mystery. A good many of the models were, by the standards of the day, pretty good. Others, though, were either complete fictions in appearance, or simply fell back to those old bathtub toys appearance. 
There are two models in the smaller line that I consider to be the best sailing ships that Pyro would produce, a "Bomb Ketch" (reviewed here) and the Elizabethan warship "Revenge". Remember, these kits have to be taken in context; comparing them to products from Revell, Airfix, and even Lindberg at the time is a bit unfair. The bomb ketch, for instance, scales out close to 1/150 and while having over sized features like planking, can build up into a rather lovely model with a little work. 
The Revenge is in a smaller scale, around 1/260, and like the bomb ketch has over sized planking. However, it captures the appearance of a race-built Elizabethan warship perfectly.
Then there is the whaler "Charles W. Morgan". This model is close to 1/200 scale, and is fairly accurate, if one considers that the ship had been improperly restored, and it is that the kit is based upon; it is full rigged, whereas the ship was originally, operationally, a barque. Some minor hull issues and those "gunports", but it can build up very nicely right out of the box.
Unfortunately, it starts to go downhill from there. 
The next best ship from the smaller line is the "Venetian Carrack". This looks to be lifted from Landström in most details. There are a few shape problems around the stern, and the area below to focs'l is questionable, but otherwise is a rather nice model. Scale is close to 1/250. This is followed by their somewhat deceptive "Mayflower". The reason I say deceptive is that the box art depicts a version that very closely resembles the 1957 William A. Baker replica, but the model is a copy of the R.C. Anderson version from the 1920's. It's not a bad model, but there are some details that are perhaps oversimplified, and a stern that is flat a little too far down below the waterline. Scale is about 1/280.
The "Bounty" scales out to 1/180. While the deck captures most of the deck details fairly accurately, the hull is a bit cruder. The headrails are molded into the hull halves, and the area below the waterline at the stern is mysteriously angular. Both problems can be corrected, but work is involved. 
The "frigate" "Constellation', scaling out at about 1/360, has an interesting set of problems. While in general it is a fair model (hull is too bluff at the bow and the stern), it borrows detail from the almost fraudulent work done on the full sized ship sitting in Baltimore Harbor. It can be corrected back to making this ship into the sailing corvette that it really was, but does take work. In 1/350 is the clipper ship "Cutty Sark". In profile this model does a fair enough job capturing the prototype. In plan and details, however, it falls short (especially compared to the Imai model). 
One lovely, and sadly now hard to find model, is the Tutor warship "Henry Grace A'Dieu". Scale is close to 1/360-1/400. Since most of what we know about the prototype is only speculation, they had to rely upon what evidence was available, in this case another Landström illustration. Aside from the lower hull, which even they had to speculate, the model does a rather nice job capturing the appearance. A note; this is the one kit in this line that I have not personally owned, but admittedly do desire in light of the recent acquisition of the Airfix "Mary Rose". 
Inexplicably, there is a model of the 18th century Swedish third rate "Göta Lejon". It is fair in some details, but has a lower hull shape at the stern that is iffy at best, and some details, such as stern galleries, that are questionable. 
The frigate "Constitution" is rather smaller, around 1/450, and very basic. The attempts at making the hull planking make the hull coarse, the headrails are solid, the deck guns are wrong. Simpler still is the "HMS Victory". Here, the hull and deck planking give the model an almost rough appearance, and like the Constitution the headrails are solid, with the rest of the details correspondingly crude. In this same scale range is a model of the American clipper ship "Flying Cloud". The only thing it really captures is the hull shape, all other details being over-simplified.
Then the models take a turn for the simpler, and detailing starts to vary.
The "Spanish Galleon" again appears to have been lifted directly from Landström, but the hull at the stern below the waterline is too flat and too deep a transom. Scale is around 1/280. A "Niña" and "Pinta", both in around 1/192, have profiles that appear to have been based on E.A. d'Albertis' work from 1892, but have deck plans that are too sharp at the bow, exaggerated in aft sheer, and transoms too far below their waterlines. There is a model of the "Santa Maria" that, in addition to being in a smaller scale (closer to 1/240), is based on the 1892 Duro-Spanish Commission version. The sheer is too low at the focs'l, too high at the sterncastle, the vertical guards are too vertical instead of following their rake on the plans. The lower hull is a mess, especially at the stern below the waterline. It is also armed with six cannon. 
From here, things get significantly cruder.
The "Ark Royal"; what can I say about this model? From what I remember once reading, it was actually based upon a wooden kit that had been produced. If so, it is complete fantasy. From the shape of the hull to the anachronistic ship's wheel, it is utter hogwash. Best for parts only or if you need the lower hull. 
The following kits cannot be recommended as models at all. They all suffer from a variety of shape problems, with all but the first one having hull shapes reminiscent of those early bathtub toys that Pyro initially sold as sailing ships; "Barbary Pirate, Brig of War, Bon Homme Richard, Half Moon,  and Golden Hind". 
As for the larger sailing ships that Pyro tooled, again they run from mediocre to bad. The best of that batch has to be, hands down, the "Sovereign of the Seas". This is, to my knowledge, the only plastic kit version of the ship to have the flat stern found on the Samuel Pepys' painting with Peter Pett with the ship posed to the left, looking directly at the stern. In profile, though, the model is too tall, lacking the sheer as well. It might be possible to correct these, but it will involve work. Still, it can build up nicely. It is adequately detailed, and has Pyro's requisite over sized planking. Scale is close to about 1/225. 
Next is the Portuguese armed carrack "Santa Catarina do Monte Sinai". Scale here is close to 1/200, and again appears to have been lifted from the pages of Landström's book "The Ship". It has a hull shape that looks good, but the model, like the preceding, appears too tall. It is possible, with some work, to reduce those castles. It is worth it in my opinion, as this is a model of a rare, and important, type. 
The next model is the Dutch man o' war "Gouda". While purporting to be a model of a Dutch third rate, the model has a hull that more resembles that of an armed merchantman, with half the requisite guns. It has plenty of details otherwise, and in this writer's opinion could serve as a basis for a conversion into an early 17th century Spanish galleon in approximately 1/144 scale.
We end this list with the "Saint Louis". This model is very detailed, with plenty of parts. It also has a hull that is almost 40% too short in proportion. As a consequence, it is very round in appearance with an overly long beakhead. Scale is therefore difficult to determine. 
Pyro offered us some models of vessels that no other company considered, and produced some models that can build up with work. Unfortunately, they were inconsistent. Still, the models that were better provide us with subjects that are frequently overlooked. Even the models that require work can build up nicely, provided that one approaches them with the understanding that there will be work ahead.
(Addendum & Correction - I am moving the "Brig of War" into a different category. After examining the model, I've discovered that it appears to be based upon the brig "Fair American". There are some changes that are needed, the yards too small, and the proportions are still a little off, but there is model here with some potential.  - RRL )

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Catalan Caravel of 1465

In my studies of Iberian and southern European shipbuilding in the late Medieval period, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the class we refer to as "caravel" was broad. In some ways, I almost want to agree with Monleon in his assessment that the term was something of a catch-all. However, I do not necessarily believe that is the case. While Monleon believed that the word caravel not only applied to a specific class of vessel, as well as being a blanket term, what is apparent is that the so named vessels had enough familiar features as to be a class unto themselves, and not strictly any small vessel. 
The variation in caravels would eventually become very great by the mid 16th century, however what is not appreciated is the fact that a century earlier the class was also fairly diverse. This is no doubt due to regional design variation. 
Around 1465, a Catalan shipowner Gracia Amat entered into a shipbuilding contract with Miguel Joam and Pere Vicens for the construction of a small caravel of around "36 toneis" capacity. This document was researched by Carlos Etayo, and later Martin Elbl. Enough dimensions are provided that an outline of the vessel can be made. Based upon the information from Elbl's paper "The Portuguese Caravel and European Phases of Development and Diversity". The dimensions, converted to metric from palms are 4.36 meters beam, 2.19 meters depth, 13.5 meters keel, and 18.75 meters overall, with a bow height of 5.5 meters and 4.0 meters vertical at the sternpost. As I noted elsewhere in this blog, this caravel carried a bowsprit, and I am now convinced that it was rigged mainly "redonda", that is square, though I suspect that it could carry strictly lateen when such was called upon (something I believe Etayo suspected as well). The one feature of Amat's order that stood out was a call for three rudders; two lateral, one axial. 
While this may seem peculiar, Elbl notes that there was at least one other Catalan caravel so equipped. We also know that Gracia Amat had other caravels, and if this three rudder arrangement was a particular feature found on some Catalan caravels, it is probably safe to assume that the others carried thus. What advantage this arrangement may have imparted on ships can only be speculated. Perhaps it was a carry over from earlier, pre-axial rudder designs. Maybe the lateral rudders helped with stability. Regardless, here they are officially recorded. 
Using the information from Elbl's translation of the contract, I set about imagining what this vessel may have looked like. Here, only the hull has been imagined. No sails or rigging have been attempted. Some license was used for a few details. Four ports, two per side, were added for sweeps, a fairly common feature on smaller vessels of the period. The sheer on my design is a little less than Elbl indicated in his initial elevation, and of course the rake of the bow and stern can only be guessed. In order to have the three rudder arrangement work on this design, I have effectively made the hull double ended, a feature which is hard to perceive in the side elevation. What is apparent, though, is the impact Amat's contract and description had upon Carlos Etayo's caravel replicas. I was once rather critical of Etayo's work, but that was before discovering the diversity in this class of vessel. Today, I am far more forgiving of it. If these dimensions are correct, and based upon the contract they probably are, then this caravel was certainly lean, with a hull form that looks a bit more modern for the period. 
Eventually I plan on doing two sail plans for the design, but for now this is a start. It helps us to imagine these slender Catalan caravels that once plied the waters of the Mediterranean and around the greater Iberian peninsula. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Building Airfix's "Santa Maria"

This has been a project that almost thirty years in the making. As I noted elsewhere in this blog, the small 1/384 Airfix "Santa Maria" was the model that started my interest in not only building miniatures, but studying, and later drawing and painting, them. It took a little longer than anticipated to build, but I believe the end results are worth it. 

A couple of items to note.
There is really not a lot of reference material on either version of Gullen y Tato's interpretation of the venerable ship, in this guise a caravela redonda. I believe the only two kits that properly convey this interpretation are the Heller 1/75 scale model, and the now rather expensive 1/60 Imai model. Lacking either of these, I had to rely on what photographs and information was available to me. One reference was an article in the October 1932 edition of "Popular Mechanics". Other references were in images scattered around the Internet. In the end, the model shares the hull colors of the 1957 replica with the rigging of the 1926 version. 
Here is a link to the Picasa album with images and text to explain the process of building the model. One thing is for certain, it is a far better looking model now than as if it had been built straight from the kit. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Airfix's 1/400 "Mary Rose" - At Last, A Nice (Albeit Small Scale) Tudor Warship

In the realm of plastic model sailing ships, some eras seem to be better represented than others. For instance, there are several Viking ships available from different manufacturers, yet only one 13th-14th century cog. There have been plenty of late 16th through early 19th century warships, yet very few early 16th century vessels at all. In total, this writer is only aware of three from old Pyro dies (the "Santa Catarina do Monte Sinai", the "Henry Grace A'Dieu", and an early Spanish galleon, all derived from Landstrom, apparently), one from Heller (the "La Grande Hermine"), and one from Zvezda (the "Conquistador" and its various guises). If you consider the old Pyro "Santa Maria", based upon Duro's 1892 design, which more resembled a ship from the early 16th century, you have a total of six vessels, and only a very few of them are what I would consider accurate out of the box.
Not too long ago, Airfix released the first model of an early 16th century vessel that, rather than being based on scholarship alone, was based upon the remnants of a ship of the period; the famous "Mary Rose". There is no point in covering old ground about that vessel, suffice as to say that it is the sole surviving example, what is left at least, of a "carrack". 
Airfix chose to make this a small model for reasons unknown. It is the spiritual heir to their long gone "Historical Ships" Series I kits, which peaked during the 1970's with those wonderful bubble packs. In some ways, it is so like one (and in one aspect in particular, something we shall see later). It is being sold as a starter kit, complete with plastic cement and four small tubs of acrylic paint, all Humbrol branded. 

The back of the box is that painting guide, again rather reminiscent of the old Series I kits. Humbrol paint numbers are called out, in the event one chooses to go that route instead of using the included acrylics. The only complaint I have here is that the area below the waterline (or at least the lowest wale) is not a color indicating an attempt at sealing the hull. In this case, I'd recommend an off white or, my preferred choice, a very light gray. 

It is the contents therein that we are most interested.

The instructions are rather typically modern Airfix, if perhaps a bit simple, keeping with the beginner's nature of this kit.

The model is made up of three complete trees molded in light gray.

The hull is crisply molded. Some things to note here. The anchors, instead of being separate pieces, are molded into the hull halves. Also, no attempt has been made to represent planking in any way, however that is a minor grievance. Like many models this size, some of the weaponry has been cast into the hull halves as well. The lower gundeck is open, however. A personal observation; as this model was based upon the starboard remnants of the prototype, please note the bow below the waterline. The image of bluff-bowed carracks, in this case, is likely not always accurate, for this ship had a nice entrance. The overall length of the hull is a shade under 5"(125mm), almost 3 3/16" (80mm) at the keel. As the exact overall length is unknown, we can only rely on the preserved keel, which is 32 meters (105'). Based on those numbers, this model is truly 1/400 scale.

There really is no deck detail on this model. The lower gundeck, with a total of eighteen cannon, will be mostly obscured, while the upper decks are effectively hidden beneath molded anti-boarding netting. The latter seems a bit heavy handed, but is none too obtrusive. The only section of decking molded is really the forecastle top.

There are five fighting tops for the four masts, and these have nice detail. On this tree as well, one finds the inner faces of the fore and stern "castles". Additional cannon are molded for the latter.

Which brings me to the stand, and a salute to those old Series I Historical Ship kits. The stand is very much the same design, dating back over fifty years. The base of it can be seen here. It is designed such that the model can only mount one way. 
The masts are very fine looking, if just a bit simple. The sails, whilst molded, are rather thin, reminding me of those I encountered on the Zvezda 1/350 "Santa Maria". However, there the resemblance ends; they are molded to their yards. Still, the yards look well enough, and the fore and main are even equipped with grappling hooks (note; the foremast sails are on the tree with the hull halves and stand uprights). Sharing the tree with the masts is the transom, which is also nicely detailed, as well as the rudder.

Another very welcomed addition to this kit are the decals for those wonderfully complicated patterns found on ships from this era. A little trimming might be in order to get them the fit properly, but otherwise they are in proper register. The flags are printed onto a self-adhesive sheet, and are perhaps a bit too thick as a consequence.

The big question, though, is what is the fit like. Elsewhere, I have read that this model goes together with little incident. Using two of my miniature spring clothespegs/clothespins, I put the two halves of the hull together, and am happy to report that the fit is good and fairly solid.

What do I think of this model?
For one, it is very nice to finally have a decent representation of a carrack. I do not know if this was done to see if there was a market for such (the model is officially endorsed by the "Mary Rose" people). Maybe they intend to produce a larger scale model of the grand old ship eventually, or perhaps are planning a new series of "Historical Ships". Regardless of what they are planning, I feel that this model is very nicely done in its simplicity, and once I set aside a few more projects, am looking forward to building it.

Revell's "The Black Diamond" - A Review

This model has been available for a few years now, and as I wrote in my piece "The Sad Tale of the HMS Couldhavebeen", I was struck by just how close the model is to some late 17th century, early 18th century designs. As I wrote then, I felt that the model had some potential. 
I decided to purchase one.

The kit is molded in three colors, black, brown, and tan. The detail is a bit coarse. 

While the box says that the model is in 1/350, the hull length is more appropriate for ship in much larger scale, between 1/144 and 1/240. The hull measures almost 9" (225mm) in length, 8" (200mm) minus the head assembly. Beam is 1 7/8" (47mm). Also, the hull is not "one piece" as listed on the box, but a total of six pieces, including the rudder and transom, neither shown here.

In shape, the hull is a bit of a conundrum. In profile, the low sheer is similar to 18th century practice, but in plan, the hull more resembles mid 17th century practice. The flat stern is another older feature, though some vessels retained that into the 18th century. The stern gallery doesn't resemble anything in reality. 

The headrails are very simple and dead vertical; this would come as something of a shock to the crew. 

The main gun battery is molded integral to the hull halves. There are ten per side. The spar deck has another twelve guns total. This makes this ship a 32 gun vessel, a fifth rate. 
The deck detail is another fictitious design. There is a ship's wheel astern; it may or may not be a feature of a ship like this, being dependent entirely on the decade it was made.
The sail plan is another interesting aspect.
The bowsprit is more in keeping with 18th century practice, lacking a sprit topmast. It is one piece with sprit yard.. The fore and main masts each carry two sails each, but are very crude; the upper shroud assemblies are molded as part of the masts, and are solid. Otherwise, the tops are yet another feature more appropriate to an 18th century vessel. 

The yards are molded separately, and have sails furled; the paper sails printed on the instructions are really an option, and to be honest a bit garish.

The shrouds and ratlines are molded in black plastic, and of course a bit over scale. One interesting thing I noticed is that there is an attempt to mold a rope texture onto them (and onto those on cast with the masts as well, though only on the edges).

In so many ways, this model is similar to those early ship kits from Aurora, specifically the "Black Falcon". In a sense, it is an heir to that unfortunate legacy. With just a little more work, Revell could have made a model of something that was grounded a bit more in reality. They could have made a model of an early frigate, or even a number of ships from the American Revolution. Instead, they chose this route. 
Is there any hope for this model? Maybe, but not without a lot of work. I suppose if you enjoy purely fantasy ships, this kit might be for you, but as a scale model, it falls a bit short.
ADDENDUM - The model is now being offered as part of Revell Europe's "Easy Kit" line as simply "Pirate Ship".

Monday, September 7, 2015

A "First Rate" Pirate Ship, & Other Model Concerns

Over on eBay, I think they've picked up on my viewing habits, and alerted me to a huge price reduction on a model; "Blackbeard's Ship, now $17.99!"
Of course, it is not the "Queen Anne's Revenge", the ship that they assumed to have located in the waters off of North Carolina (this person remains unconvinced, and for a variety of reasons). "Queen Anne's Revenge" was a frigate class (really, a cargo ship and later a slaver in its very short life). At maximum, it carried forty guns (I think that converting the Revell "HMS Couldhavebeen" (Black Diamond) into a similar ship is possible). 
No, the kit that is being pushed on me is a Lindberg kit, and a much larger, and older, ship. Indeed, it is simply a renamed "Sovereign of the Seas", an early English first rate. 
Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, would have loved to have had a first rate. 
Not that it was likely. 
Anyway, this kit is the old Pyro "Sovereign", in about 1/225 scale. It is tempting, mind you, especially in light of the fact that I have a bit of money in my PayPal account. But I am a bit sore at what Lindberg did here. This is an old trick of their's, going back to at least the late 1960's. They produced two amazing model sailing ships, the French Frigate "La Flore" and the Dutch built Germanic "Wappen von Hamburg". Both models are incredible pieces of work for a company that wasn't known for such. In fact, in a short time, from about 1961 to 1967, they turned out a number of sailing ship models that were as good as some from better companies. Some were smaller copies of Revell ships (truly, almost down to part count); "Bounty", "HMS Victory", "Santa Maria", and "Flying Cloud". The two earlier models, the "La Flore" and "Wappen von Hamburg" were originals. 
Sadly, both were not great sellers, so Lindberg renamed them as pirate ships, with the 'La Flore" becoming the "Jolly Roger" and the "Wappen" the "Captain Kidd" in the late 1960's, early 1970's. Then both disappeared from the lineup, to reappear in the early 1990's with new boxes but the same names.
Prior to that, Lindberg had acquired the old Pyro dies by way of taking over LifeLike models. When the ships were initially released, the "Sovereign" was kept with her proper name, and wonderful new box art. Another ship, the French first rate "Saint Louis" was also released from the old Pyro dies (and that really should be the subject for another day, and a sad subject it is). In the early 1990's, the ships were renamed "Blackbeard's Ship" and "Captain Morgan". 
Which brings me to where we are now.
I'll give it a little more thought. There are other things I need to replace (a great many books and tools, for instance). But that price is pretty good.
I shall think on it some more.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Airfix "Santa Maria" - A Review

I have been wanting to write this review since this model arrived, and since I plan on starting on it shortly, this was the best time. This is to be the companion piece to my recently completed Zvezda model, and in many ways is the version of the legendary (and to a degree notorious) ship that took me from merely building models to researching them. The Airfix kit has a long history, going back to 1954 with that company. However, this model, like some of Airfix's other small sailing ship offerings at the time, originated with Gowland & Gowland, being copies of that company's products. The Gowland & Gowland kits would later resurface as Addar "Ship in a Bottle" kits in the mid-1970's. As originally offered by Airfix, the model was waterline. Sometime before 1965, Airfix retooled the model. Gone was the excessive sheer and flat stern. A new hull that was closer to the Guillen version was produced. It was no longer waterline as well. Amazingly, the sail and deck appear to be the same as the Gowland & Gowland original copy. More on that sail plan in a bit.
The kit would be moved to Airfix's bubble packaging that marked all of their Series 1 kits in 1973, and would remain thus until at least 1976. In 1981, with Airfix under new ownership, the kit was changed to a snap together model. The kit would make one last appearance in 1996, this time under the Heller banner (and displacing their slightly larger kit, which had gone to Smer). 
My kit is a 1973 version in the bubble pack. In my opinion, this format was one of the best ideas Airfix ever had. The painting, a beautiful work by Roy Cross, appeared initially in 1965, but does not show the same "Santa Maria" that is found in the kit. As I mentioned previously, it appears to be based more on the version of the "Santa Maria" found in Björn Landström's masterpiece, "The Ship". Perhaps Airfix had another version in mind when they were retooling!

When the kit was opened, I finally had a chance to compare the model to the measurements of the Guillen version. The hull is a pretty good copy, when compared to the drawing found in Martinez-Hidalgo's "Columbus' Ships".

Double checking the dimensions, I found that the model is actually much closer to a classic miniature ship scale, 1/384 (1/32" = 1'). For purposes of display, it falls neatly into my "10% Rule", that is, it falls within 10% of a common scale, in this case 1/350. It also happens to be within 10% of 1/400, of course. 
There really are not a lot of parts to this model, especially when compared to the far more complicated Zvezda kit. Age, of course, has a lot to do with that.

As mentioned previously, Airfix stuck to the original Gowland & Gowland sail design, and it is oversized. All of the masts are too tall, as well as too great in diameter. The sails, especially the main, should be smaller. The top is a solid piece. Notable are pieces that are simply missing; anchors and a ship's boat. Another more glaring absence is the rudder! While the hull is a fairly good copy of the Guillen prototype, the deck has remained true to its roots, simple and rather crude.

There are nice decals included, which very much match images of the Guillen 1929 version underway. The flags look nice as well. Along with the flag sheet is a stand placard, and decorations for the stern, which are inaccurate for this version but do look nice. Sadly, both sets were yellowed in my kit, due to age and outgassing from the plastic.

The hull, however, is the selling point for this kit. While the fore and mizzen deadeyes and channel locations are wrong, the rest of the hull looks nice.

The instructions, as with all of the Series 1 kits from this period, are part of the packaging. The are laid out in a logical, easy to follow manner.

The color scheme is nice, using the old Airfix Colors. However, I can't help but notice that colors are similar to the one found on the kit's wonderful Roy Cross painting. This would probably be fine, but both of the Guillen versions had different colors.

Replacing or rebuilding the deck and masts, and reworking the sails and yards, will go a long way towards improving this model. There is plenty of potential here, however. I for one look forward to finally giving this model the build it deserves. When I do, I will share it here. 

(I'd like to take a moment and say thank you to the folks at "Scalemates" for their fine page on the Airfix kit. It was a great resource for getting the dates right for this piece. - RRL)