Wednesday, July 29, 2020

18th Century Longboat - Model Shipways 1:48 - Part 5 - Finished

Here, finally, are some views of the finished model. I have mounted it on steel rods set into holes drilled in the keel of the boat, and it sits on a cherry base. See the end of this post for information about where the base and a custom made display case came from. The 1/48 figures are white metal castings from Amati.

This kit was a tremendous amount of fun, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the subject. It's not a beginner build, despite its small size, but it's a great opportunity to learn wooden ship modeling techniques in a manageable project, and to really take your time to practice doing it right. (Or rather, if you're like me, to learn from your many mistakes!)

If anyone is ever looking for a custom-made display case, I can't recommend Michael Jekubik of Chameleon Woodcrafting highly enough. Mike does beautiful work, as seen in the case I had made for this model. You can see more of his work here:

Sunday, July 26, 2020

18th Century Longboat - Model Shipways 1:48 - Part 4

In the last post, I left off after adding most of the internal detail to the boat. Here we'll pick up by adding he bowsprit. The piece tapers toward its forward end, and is fixed in place by two brass pieces, painted black to look like iron. The oarlocks have also been added in. These are just thin metal rods glued into small holes and painted red.

You can see in this shot the traveler has been added to the stern of the boat - the black metal rod to  which the boom sheet will be attached.

Here is a shot of the mast, the boom and the gaff.

The rudder has some decorative elements on it, matching the friezes along the sides of the boat.

Here are some of the accessories that will sit inside the boat. A bucket (not included with the kit) a second handle for the windlass, the anchor (made of white metal) and the oars. The kit comes with 10 oars, but I'm only including four of them, so that they don't hide the interior details.

Here is a test mock-up of the boat sitting on a base, atop a couple of steel rods. The mast has been set in place but not glued. 

And here the mast has been glued in place, the boom is attached to it by a small metal hook in its end, and the rigging has been started. I've attached the shrouds and the boom halyard and sheet.

The kit comes with its own deadeyes and blocks, but I purchased new ones from Syren Ship Model Co. They are a nice upgrade in quality, and I think well worth the additional expense.

Next time, rather than go through the rigging process step by step, I'll post pictures of the finished model.

Monday, July 20, 2020

18th Century Longboat - Model Shipways 1:48 - Part 3

Moving right along with the longboat build, it's time to remove the inner bulkheads. These are laser cut in such a way that you just need to file off the connections at the top of the frame, and then carefully snap the remaining connection at the bottom middle. Then you can remove the bulkhead and sand the insides. It takes quite a lot of sanding actually, as the frames all need to be thinned out significantly, and the inside edges need to be faired as well. Here is a shot of the hull with the bulkheads removed and the sanding underway.

Next I added the caprails to the top edges of the hull. To make these, you trace the outline of the hull onto some thin basswood sheet to get the right curve, measure out a small distance for the other edge, cut and install. The rail is much too wide at that point, but then you sand it thinner. Note that the frames need to be thin enough not to extend beyond the inside edge of the caprail. I removed and scrapped my first rail because I had not made the frames thin enough.

Next I added the decorative friezes. These are printed on paper, sprayed with matte varnish, cut out and carefully glued in place. Then a thin wooden strip is glued along the bottom edge. You can see in this photo the waterline has been marked in pencil.

Here you can see the stern decoration, and the waterline has been painted white.

Flipping the boat over, we have another view of the decorative friezes and the painted waterline.

Next I painted the caprail and the inside of the top planks red.

Then I added the floor boards in the bottom of the boat.

Here I've added the stern and bow platforms.

After the platforms, it was time to add the thwarts, the windlass, the knees, and the eyebolts in the bottom of the boat. At this point the body of the boat is nearly finished, and next time I'll post pictures of the masts and other details.

Monday, July 13, 2020

18th Century Longboat - Model Shipways 1:48 - Part 2

Picking up where we left last time: all of the frames of the longboat were installed on the keel, and the skeleton was complete. After fairing was complete and the sides of the frames were properly shaped, it was time to begin the planking process.

To begin with, I returned the model to my improvised jig to hold it in position while I marked the position of the top planks. Viewed from the side, the plank will dip slightly in the middle, rising toward the bow and stern. I took measurements off the plans and made marks on each bulkhead as a guide for gluing on the planks.

The first planks to be installed are the uppermost two on each side. I immersed the planks in boiling water to make them pliable, bent them and clamped them on the hull while they dried. Then I attached them with superglue, being careful to be as neat as I could be with the glue, since the inside surface of the planks will also be visible. Many people will prefer slower curing wood glue, but for me superglue is ideal because I can apply it to a few bulkheads at a time, secure the plank, and then move on, without having to clamp the entire plank and wait for the glue to dry. But it's very much a question of personal preference.

Another view of those first two planks, giving a sense of the slight curve they follow. Note that the top of the upper plank is not even with the top of the bulkheads.

The next planks added are the bottom two on each side. These have to follow a more complex path, curving and twisting. They also have to be shaped more severely in the bow. After these are installed, I followed the instructions by alternating between adding upper and lower planks. The ones in the middle need to be shaped more, as the width is not consistent at each location. They are thinner in the bow and stern, fatter in the middle. Also all planks need to have their edges bevelled slightly to allow them to butt up against their neighbors tightly.

We're making progress!

An overhead shot of the hull as the planking nears completion.

Now all of the planks have been added, the little triangular stern filler piece has been added, and the excess length of the keel trimmed off. Overall, I made some errors with the planking, and it didn't all fit together as snugly as I might have wished. But I added a small amount of filler made from a mixture of white glue and sawdust in a couple places, and did a lot of sanding. I can live with the results. Also a lot of the outside of the hull will be covered by the paint of the waterline, so I will have opportunities to hide some of my mistakes.

And here is a top view of the finished planking.

Next it will be time to remove the inner bulkheads, do a great deal of sanding, and start in on the interior details. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

18th Century Longboat - Model Shipways 1:48 - Part 1

Recently I've been working on something a little larger than the 1:1200 ship models I usually build. Model Shipways' 18th Century Longboat is a 1:48 scale plank-on-frame model of the largest ship's boat that would have been carried on a ship of the line in the mid 1700s. It's a great little kit, with laser cut frames and planking in basswood, and various fittings, and I thought it might be interesting to show the steps of construction. It has been a long time since I attempted a model of this sort, and this was a fun foray back into this particular part of the hobby.

This shot is not my own, but shows the contents of the kit. You can see some of the laser cut basswood sheets, and two sheets of rolled up plans.

To begin with, the keel, false keel and stem are glued together - but first the edges of the false keel are sanded so that where it joins the keel there is a groove, into which the ends of the planks will run. (I actually stained these pieces before glueing them, but it was something of a moot point - only about an inch of them stem will be visible when everything is built and painted).

I built myself a crude little jig from some spare wood left over from the laser cut sheets, to help me hold the keel and align the bulkheads as they were glued on. They need to be properly squared against the keel, and the top edges all need to be level. Or at least as level as you can make them. If you mess that up, you just have to compensate with more sanding in later steps.

Here you can see all of the bulkheads have been added to the keel, and the skeleton of the boat, so to speak, is complete. You can see each bulkhead is numbered to make sure it goes in just the right spot.

A top view of the bulkheads.

I glued toothpicks onto the tops of the bulkheads to help keep them steady as I worked on the hull. They are relatively fragile, and can split easily. These bulkheads are laser-cut through most of their length, with the centers only attached on the bottom and the tops of the sides. That way once the model is planked you can remove the centers, leaving a hollow hull.

The bulkheads are all perpendicular to the keel, and the sides of the bulkheads are themselves squared. That means that those edges don't follow the intended contours of the finished hull, and they need to be sanded, or faired, to let the planks lie flat. A lot of sanding ensues.

Here is a close up showing the fairing process under way. you can see on the left of the pictures the edges of the bulkheads have started to take on the proper contours. On the right, the edges have not been touched yet and still show the charring of the laser cutting process.

And that's the first part. Next up, after the fairing is completed, it will be time to begin the planking.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Battle of Valcour Island, October 11th 1776

My visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History back in August, in particular the exhibit on the gunboat Philadelphia, gave me a little bit of an obsession, and I was determined to mount a game of Valcour Island as close to the 243rd anniversary as I could.

Why? Well, it's a pretty fascinating campaign and battle. After the American retreat from Quebec in the spring of 1776, both sides knew the British forces in Canada would be attempting to move south to link up with their forces in lower NY state, and that Lake Champlain would be the vital highway for the move. After all, there were little in the way of actual roads in the wilderness up there, and the lake is 120 miles of open water. The Americans seized or destroyed any vessels on the lake they could get their hands on to deny them to the British, and both sides undertook a rapid construction program to build up their naval forces. It was essential for the Americans to contest the lake and buy as much time as they could before the British could join their forces together. Both sides worked tirelessly through the summer months, and by October 9th the British were ready to begin their move down the lake.

Benedict Arnold had been given overall command of the American forces on the lake, and had several problems on his hands. His forces were undermanned, they were largely inexperienced, and they were significantly outgunned by their opponents. To attempt to fight the British on the open water in a battle of movement seemed to him to exacerbate all of his disadvantages, and so he determined on a strategy to try to offset his weaknesses. He would anchor most of his vessels in the narrow strait between the shore of the lake and Valcour Island, where the British would not see them as they sailed south, with the wind directly behind them. Then, when a significant portion of the British forces had passed well below the island, Arnold would move down to the southern tip of the island with a few of his vessels to make his presence known. He anticipated that the British would move to attack him right away, but that many of their armed vessels would have difficulty working their way back up wind to get into the fight - as indeed they did in the actual event, when the two sides met on October 11th, 1776. So Arnold gets his wish, and doesn't have to fight the full British force all at the same time. And the battle makes for an interesting, asymmetrical engagement and a challenging tactical situation. I won't go into the historical progress of the battle here, but instead just focus on the game we played.

I chose the rule set Flying Colors: Serpents of the Seas for the battle. A hex and counter game from GMT, it's the best system I know of for fighting large actions in a few hours, and is simple enough for beginners to learn the basics relatively quickly. The vessels at Valcour Island are all pretty small, but in this scenario there are 34 of them, and so any system with more detail would have added many hours to the game.

I made a few modifications to the rules, trying to improve some of the historical details. For example: the scenario set up has Arnold onboard the Royal Savage, but sources I read indicate that he had transferred his command to the galley Trumbull before the battle. This is also good for the American player, as Trumbull is further away from the British gunboats, and is a more survivable vessel for him. I also forbade any ship from using full sails. I felt otherwise the larger British ships would be in action much too soon, which historically was not what happened. And if the British won the initiative while at full sail and moved first, the British gunboats would be in among the fleeing American vessels instantly. And I tweaked the firing arcs of the gunboats. The game gives them a huge penalty for firing straight ahead, which is bizarre given that a 1 gun gunboat mounts its only gun in the bow. I also tweaked the bonus ships get for firing while at anchor, as it seems illogical to me. Ships at anchor bob around more, not less, without the relatively consistent force of the wind pushing on their sails. As a compromise, I gave them a +1 rather than a +2 as the rules prescribe.

It took me a while to build up my collection of little gunboats, and in fact most of them were not really finished at the time of the game. I'll post detailed photos of the models as I complete them fully.  They're a mixture of 1:1200 models from Langton and GHQ. Meanwhile, the construction of the terrain ate up a fair amount of time. Rather than purchase a pre made terrain mat with hexes, I chose to make my own tiles, so that I could scale the hexes exactly as I wanted, to make transport easier, and to give me a lot of flexibility. (I was also hoping it would be a little cheaper, but that was a bit naive...)

The water tiles are graphics taken from a digital map file, printed on 8.5 x 11 card stock, hand laminated with adhesive sheets, and trimmed on the sides so that they interlock. They are attached together with masking tape on the seams on the back. The island and shore and shallows sections are made of the same materials, trimmed to the proper contours. The land pieces were hit with green spray paint, and then covered with lichen to represent foliage.

In the photo below, the shore of the lake is along the left edge of the map, and there in the center is Valcour Island itself. The lighter blue hexes on the left by the land represent shallow water.

The American gunboats and other vessels are anchored in a line across the channel between the shore and the island, except for the three galleys, Trumbull (which Benedict Arnold is using as his flagship), Congress and Washington, and the schooner Royal Savage. In this view, the latter have already come about to flee from the line of approaching British gunboats, which are trying to surge forward and overwhelm them. On the far right side of the image, just barely visible, is the base of the British schooner Carleton, commanded by Lt. James Dacres. It has just entered the map, and will be followed over the next couple turns by the schooner Maria (flagship of Captain Thomas Pringle, who is commanding the British naval forces in the battle) and the sloop of war Inflexible.

Here is a closer look at the American line. In the first line are 6 gunboats, and the single masted sloop Lee, closest to the camera, in the shallows. Behind are two more gunboats, the small schooner Revenge, and the single masted sloop Enterprise, in the shallows. She is acting as a hospital ship, and in this scenario is not allowed to move until fired on.

A closer view of the American galleys and Royal Savage fleeing before the advance of the British gunboats.

Here you can see the gunboats have been pursuing the American vessels for several turns. A few gunboats have struck their colors already after suffering damage, but Royal Savage has been hit a number of times, and is in danger of striking as well. On the right, Carleton, Maria and Inflexible have moved up behind the gunboats.

The anchored American vessels are remaining in position, waiting for the British to come to them, as per Arnold's plan. 

Here, the British gunboats have pressed further forward, though four of them are out of commission. Royal Savage has struck its colors, and has suffered so many hits to its hull that it is awash, in danger of sinking. The three American galleys have nearly reached the line of anchored vessels, while the British schooners and sloop of war are moving up by the island.

The following three images are different views of the same moment in the game. 

Having reached the line of American gunboats, the American galleys, rather than pass through to try to find a safer spot, tack and pass in front of the line. As they do so, the British gunboats swarm up at close range. At the right of the picture, the British schooner Carleton trades fire with the American gunboats, and suffers significant damage. Before long she will strike her colors. Just south of her, the schooner Maria moves up to get into the fight, while Inflexible lags behind.

HMS Carleton has struck its colors, but HMS Maria has gotten into the action, and the galley Washington has struck as well. Congress and Trumbull are in bad shape. The yellow chits mark vessels that are in danger of striking, and that includes several more American vessels.

We were running short of time at this point, and it was decided to call the game. With the Maria getting into the fight, the Inflexible moving up in pristine condition, and most of the American vessels in a bad way, the British declared victory. Benedict Arnold has been captured, and while Carleton still will most likely not be able to link up with British forces further south in NY, it being so late in the season, we can only speculate what the loss of Arnold will mean for the battle of Saratoga and the cause of the Revolution.