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)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Building Zvezda's 1/350 "Santa Maria"

It has actually been a long time since I've built a model so small, but where models of the "Santa Maria" are concerned, this is not only the newest and the smallest, it is also the most detailed for its scale. Construction took a little longer than expected, but then again, my eyes are not as young as they used to be. Here it is, with captions, in Picasa.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Sad Tale of the "HMS Couldabeen"

It was a couple of years ago when I first spotted a new model ship at my local Michael's. It was from Revell, or as I prefer to call them, Revell-o-Gram, due to their amalgamated nature. The new model was the "Black Diamond", yet another example of the ongoing pirate trend.
Image Courtesy Revell/Squadron Shop
I must confess that I was initially a bit excited as I always get whenever I find a new model ship. This was soon tempered upon closer examination.
The ship looked good, for the most part, but didn't really look like any real ship at all. 
The possibility to build this model to waterline is a tempting one. Image courtesy Revell.
Yet it is so close in many ways. I was initially thinking that it looked like a fourth rate, such as this one from Landstrom's "The Ship".  - 
The deck, though, is clearly wrong. The same can be said for the stern galleries. In some ways, it reminds me of the old Aurora "Bon Homme Richard", which was re-issued by Revell (under the Monogram label) a few years back. 
Why Revell chose to go this route baffles me. With a little more time and effort, a model of something resembling a real ship could have been made. Is it possible to convert this model into something a bit more accurate? The hull form is there, to be sure. The masts, especially the lateen mizzen, are appropriate for the period. Some details do look like an English ship from the late 17th - early 18th centuries. 
With a little work, perhaps.
There is a real lack of nice commercial plastic models from that period. 
Perhaps this will be a project for the future. I have seen some good builds for this model out there, and maybe it will inspire some young minds to take up the study of old ships. For now, however, this will remain, the HMS Couldabeen (a name inspired by my good friend Wes James. Thanks! And yes, I am aware that it would only be in the late 18th century that the Royal Navy would begin using "HMS".). 

Friday, August 14, 2015

My "Santa Maria" Pourquoi Story

Frequently in literature, and in mythology, one encounters the "pourquoi story". "Pourquoi" is French for why, and these stories tell an origin story, if you will. Where old ships are concerned, this is mine.
I started building true miniature ships in the summer of 1985, when I checked out a small, Rand-McNally style pocket book on sailing ships, and John Bowen's "Scale Model Sailing Ships". A little more than halfway through that latter book was a section written by the late Derek Hunnisett on sailing ship miniatures that opened a whole new world to me. His preferred scale was 1'=50' (1/600), and that was the scale I initially adopted. My first attempt was a 16th century Venetian carrack from that other book, a vessel named "Madre de Dios". Though the model was a bit sloppy, I was hooked on miniatures.
It was a little over two years later when my friend Mike Madigan was clearing out some of his models when he gave me two classic 1973 era Airfix Series I kits, the "Revenge" and the "Santa Maria". The former, a proper English galleon clearly derived from the works attributed to 16th century English shipwright Matthew Baker was the far superior. That latter model, though, was something else. The artwork on the package showed one version of the "Santa Maria", while the model enclosed was clearly another. 
This was probably the best packaging Airfix ever did for their Series I kits.
When I started construction of the model in early 1988, I was stumped. This model was going to be done right, but how? I cut away the forecastle railing and started crafting a new fore deck. Still, there were questions. The model got as far as being painted a tan color when all worked stopped on the forecastle by February, 1988. 
On a weekend visit to the old Hayden Burns Library, the main library in Jacksonville, I found my answer, a book with the modest title "Columbus' Ships" by Jose Maria Martinez-Hidalgo. It was the editor that caught my attention, none other than Howard I. Chapelle, whom I was already aware and greatly respected.
My third copy, clearly well loved.
It was that book that told me that the version in the package was actually the version by Julio F. Guillen (y) Tato. The model painting, though a rather dramatic image by the great Roy Cross, appeared to represent a combination of versions (I admit, I do so want a copy of that painting).
Sadly, that little Airfix "Santa Maria" was put away, and subsequently lost, but that book had changed my interests in the hobby, from one of simply being a model builder to researching, doing my own artwork, and studying from others. That change occurred thanks to that little model.
Recently, my parents decided to gift me with another one. It hasn't been opened yet, as another model is under way currently, the Zvezda 1/350 scale "Santa Maria". The packaging, however, has allowed me to make some measurements, and I am happy to report that it is very close in scale to the Zvezda/Serrano version. 
When construction does finally commence on the little Airfix kit, rest assured you will be seeing it here.
ADDENDUM - 15th August, 2015 -
In studying the Cross artwork for the kit a little more closely, I discover it appears to be based upon the so called Landstrom I version from Bjorn Landstrom's "The Ship". It could have been used as the cover for the Imai 1/225 "Santa Maria", which has yet another variant on the box top!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The "Santa Maria" In Plastic - A List

There are plenty of models purported to represent Columbus' flagship for the 1492 voyage. I haven't taken a count yet, but I do believe there more wooden kits than plastic of the “Santa Maria” have been produced. That might be a subject for another time. Here, though, is a list of all the plastic kits I am familiar with of the subject. Scale is listed, as well as the interpretation it represents. This is by no means exhaustive. 

Aoshima (formerly Imai) 1/60 – Guillen
Heller 1/75 – Guillen
Zvezda 1/75 – Guillen (similar to Heller dies, if not identical or in fact the same)
Revell 1/90 – Guillen
Artesania Latina 1/110 – Martinez-Hidalgo
Lindberg 1/136 – Guillen
Aoshima (formerly Imai) 1/208 – Landstrom I (from “The Ship”)
Lindberg (formerly Pyro) 1/220± - Duro
Heller/Smer 1/240± - Guillen
Airfix 1/384± - Guillen
Gowland & Gowland 1/350± - Guillen
Zvezda 1/350 – Serrano

It becomes immediately apparent that the most common version is based on Julio Guillen y Tato's studies from the 1920's.  This version is unique in that it represents the “Santa Maria” as a caravel, a belief that was not only held by Guillen y Tato but his predecessor Raphael Monleon as well. One of the models listed, the Artesania Latina, is a composite kit, using a molded wood/epoxy hull and wood. While not in keeping with the true spirit of this list, it is included as it represents one of the very few versions of the ship as a “nao”, as well as the only model of the renowned Martinez-Hidalgo version.
The oldest model on the list is Gowland & Gowland's, which was molded waterline and was apparently last available as a ship in a bottle from Addar. While based somewhat on Guillen's design, it has a flat stern. The smaller of the two Heller kits (now Smer) has proportion problems and would probably be a good basis for a conversion to the Martinez-Hidalgo variant.  
I could go into more detail on the relative strength and weaknesses of each kit, but that is probably a subject for another entry.
ADDENDUM - 21st August, 2015 - It turns out that the Airfix kit is derived from the Gowland & Gowland kit, and both are much closer to 1/350.
ADDENDUM 2 - 29th August, 2015 - The Airfix kit is almost 1/384 scale. List has been updated to reflect this. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Review: Zvezda's 1/350 Scale "Santa Maria" (or, At Long Last, Some New Miniature Ships)

Not too long ago, I noticed that the Russian model company Zvezda was advertising a 1/350 scale model of the nao "Santa Maria". In light of the fact that their larger, 1/75 "Santa Maria" was either a licensed copy or in fact the same tooling as the old Heller Guillen version, I expected this newer, smaller kit to be the from the venerable French company as well.
I was wrong. Joyously wrong. 
This new "Santa Maria" is completely new tooling.
This new tooling is extremely fine and delicate, which runs contrary to most snap together models. This kit is also a part of a series of 1/350 period sailing ships from Zvezda, and like them can be built either full hull or waterline.
But whose interpretation is this? 
Initially, some early images I found of this new "Santa Maria" reminded me of the version designed by E.A. d'Albertis in 1892. However, when I got my first look at the tooling, it became immediately apparent that this was the version found in "Arquitectura De Los Naos y Galeones de Flota de Indies" (1991) by Jose Luis Rubio Serrano. 

Compared to the drawings I have on hand, and the measurements I have available, it is a pretty good match for his work, one of the smallest interpretations thus far. To be fair, Serrano used a range of dimensions to cover a range of size possibilities, meaning this model could be accurate from about 1/350 down to 1/400. 

The kit is molded in three colors, tan brown, black, and white, with the majority of the ship (hull, masts, etc.) in that very first color, naturally. The black sprue contains small details like the ships guns and standing rigging. Like many smaller model sailing ships from the past, the ratlines and shrouds have been molded. But, unlike many of those older kits, they are incredibly fine, if still a bit out of scale. An important detail here, though; Serrano's interpretation uses a modified southern method for standing rigging, with few ratlines (confined to a few shrouds). 
The white sprue has the sails. As previously mentioned, the molding on this kit is incredibly fine, and the sails are very thin, and in fact a bit translucent. The clips that hold the sails to the yards are a bit oversized.
Like many snap together models, in order for the model to be pressed together, some allowances have to be made. On the sails, that would be those clips. The masts, while very thin, also have attachment points for the ratlines that are rather large. Still, once the model is assembled, they probably won't draw much attention. 
Rounding out the model are a set of decal crosses for the fore and main sail.
The instructions are detailed, with a paint scheme covered on the last page. As Serrano didn't cover the ships color's, the color scheme is pretty much open to interpretation.
Unfortunately, there are some details that are missing or wrong. The windlass that Serrano includes on his drawings is absent, as is the riding bitt under the forecastle arch. The ship's boat is a bit small, and the quarter deck is molded integral with the main. The cannon appear to be from the wrong period (and none can be found on Serrano's plans), and the number of stanchions on the rails at the forecastle is short. There are some smaller details as well, such as flags, that would have been nice, but with some patience and tissue paper, one could always make their own.
Do I recommend the kit? While snap together kits are generally thought of, at best, items for beginners or, at worse, mere toys, this model is neither. It has very fine parts that can be easily damaged or lost, making it a challenge for the inexperienced. It is far more delicate than a toy. I hope to commence construction of my kit soon, once I muster up the courage. This is probably the smallest plastic model sailing ship I have ever seen with this level of detail and fidelity.
CORRECTION 9th Aug 2015 - The anchors are actually on the tan brown sprue. The text has been corrected to show this. - RRL
EDIT 10th Aug 2015 - Now that the model is under construction, I can report that there are indeed cabin windows molded. They are extremely fine as well. Also, closer examination of the Serrano drawings reveals that what I thought was a bow windlass is actually a riding bitt. Once more, the entry has been corrected to reflect this. - RRL

Friday, August 7, 2015

And Yet, Another "Santa Maria"

Whilst doing my daily Internet dig for obscure, possibly forgotten maritime historical data, I stumble upon this -

The designer is none other than Professor Luis M. Coín Cuenca, the person who designed this replica of the caravel "Niña". Here is his "Santa Maria" - 
The Newest Santa Maria, courtesy Cadiz Capitana del Mar
 I like the sail plan and the sheer. While the sheer may seem excessive, it would not be entirely unexpected for ships from this period, based upon the art and the model of the "Mataro Nao". However, this elevation view is a bit deceptive. It does not appear to be built on the traditional 1:2:3 formula (with 1 being the beam, 2 being the keel length, 2 x beam, and 3 being length between the perpendiculars, 3 x beam). This appears to be an effort to improve the sea keeping capabilities of the small ship. Based upon the information gleaned from the page, it appears as though they took inspiration from Diego Garcia del Palacio's 1587 work "Instrucción Náutica". 
In short, his interpretation of the "Santa Maria" is rather narrow in beam. 
Understandably, Prof. Coín Cuenca had his reasons for making this startling new design, but this seems, to me at least, the wrong way to go about it. Ship design changed vastly in the intervening years between 1492 and 1587. While I believe that his version of the nao will probably be a lot more seaworthy, certainly better at sailing the Atlantic, it seems to me to have more in common with the later galleons, and less with the 15th century stock from which it originated. 
Unfortunately, at this time I do not have access to his research to see the reasons. There was a conference held in Cadiz in 2012 where this was discussed at length, and sadly the author could not attend. I do hope to find more information about this version of the "Santa Maria", and you may expect that I will share it here. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Санта-Мария - The 1973 "Моделист конструктор" Santa Maria

A few years back, whilst looking for additional information on Heinrich Winter's research of Columbus' ships, I happened upon a website, since gone, that featured the Russian text of his book "Die Kolumbusschiffe von 1492" ("The Ships of Columbus of 1492"). On the same page was a set of drawings of the Santa Maria, also in Russian, that I assumed to be associated with Winter's work. 
Nothing could be further from the truth. 
Until this point, it had been assumed that Winter's work had simply served as an aggregate for the various studies. His book shows some of the various interpretations. But I could find no other data verifying that this Santa Maria was in fact his.
I decided to approach the problem once again, this time using Google Image Search, and I discovered something. 
The image was not from Winter's work after all, but a Soviet era hobbyist magazine, "Моделист конструктор" (Modelist Constructor), in the 5th edition for 1973. The article was titled "И ВСЕ-ТАКИ — КОЛУМБ!" ("And Yet - Columbus!")

A little more searching led me to a site where I could download a DjaVu version of that issue. Finally, I had found my source.
The article, written by "Б Тимофеев" (B Timofeyev) had plenty to say about the actual journey, but apparently very little about the ships themselves, from what I could discern. In other words, looking at the Russian text, I saw very few numbers. Searching further, I discovered a page with the text that allowed me to use Google Translate. 
Within the article, there is scant information on the origin of this interpretation, how they came up with this design, nor what evidence they followed. It does mention that the "Santa Maria" was not a caravel, but a "hundred ton carrack" (стотонную каракку). Beyond that, no dimensions were given. 
Looking at the drawing, which I find to be rather well done if a little unclear, I immediately was reminded of the second version of Monleon's interpretation, with some adjustments. 
The rake of the masts is certainly similar. The shape of the forecastle is strikingly similar as well, as are the placements of the fender cleats and wales, though there is one wale on the newer design. The real differences are in the stern and sails. The stern on the Monleon II version is flat, whilst the "Моделист конструктор" version (henceforth the MK version) has a round tuck, perhaps a bit more appropriate. The Monleon II version has a larger lateen mizzen and a trapezoidal topsail, whilst the MK version has a smaller lateen mizzen and rectangular topsail. 
Dimensions wise, they are very similar - 

Monleon II - 
Beam - 7.86m
Keel - 19.6m
Length between perpendiculars - 23.72m

MK (note - all dimensions are estimates derived from the drawings) -
Beam - 7.8m
Keel - 19m
Length between perpendiculars - 24m. 

In many ways, the MK version is like an evolved Monleon II interpretation. Unfortunately, there is little else to be found about it. I would truly like to know what sources they used, and how they produced this intriguing interpretation of a late 15th century Iberian nautical workhorse, the nao. 

The last page of the "Моделист конструктор" Columbus article has this wonderful illustration of their Santa Maria underway. In my opinion, it certainly is lovely. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Plastic vs. Wooden Models

This, my first post on this blog, is bound to rankle a few.
I've been building model ships long enough to say that I am fairly comfortable with technique and material. More than anything else, I am an adamant researcher. Perhaps more than anything else I do, I care about how my ships are going to look, regardless of whether or not they are two or three dimensional. I've worked in a variety of materials, and am comfortable working in many mediums.
Which is why what I am about to say is bound to rankle.
If I have to build a kit, I prefer plastic ones over wood. 
Quelle horreur!
Certainly, most wooden kits can be built to represent the prototypes admirably. It depends upon the skill of the modeler, certainly, but many so called beginner's kits can be built up into lovely models. 
However, the question is, do they represent the vessel being modeled?
This is where I have problems. 
Too many of the wooden kits out there are poorly researched. For instance, I've seen models of caravels with wheels. Not likely; the great age of the caravel was ending about the same time ship's wheels started coming into use, the late 17th century. I've seen all manner of vessels purporting to be this or that ship, and be completely wrong. With the interest of late in pirates and various scallywags of the sea, the number of these ships has gone accordingly up. Many of them are simply relabeled large man-o'-war (something some plastic companies are guilty of as well), something these buccaneers sometimes simply wouldn't have. 
Scales are all over the place. If you can afford to by and build a few models, you'd probably like them to be in the same scale, for the sake of comparison. Too many are in scales that leave one scratching their head. 
Then there is the price. 
Often, these models are very expensive, and I question their value. 
This isn't to say that all wooden kits are bad. There are some very well researched kits out there, and truly remarkable models can be made from them (Caldercraft, Billings, and JoTiKa immediately spring to mind). But too many of them are simply not well thought out.
Certainly, there are many (a great many) plastic models that are horrific, poorly researched, poorly designed, I could go on. But, from experience, I can tell you I have seen a plastic model of the clipper Cutty Sark that was far and away superior to any wooden model of the same I had ever seen, barring examples in museums (and even then, there have been exceptions). 
Soon, I am going to put together a table of the various Santa Maria kits out there and the interpretation they representative. A couple of those plastic kits are truly beautiful and look superb when in the hands of a talented builder, and are superior to many of the wooden versions, again with exceptions. It comes down to what you want; a scale replica of a ship, or a lovely display piece that might not be grounded in reality, and probably set you back quite a bit.