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.