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)

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