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)