Black Prince Archive

Ta Daaa

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It seemed like a bit of a sprint to the finish line, but last night everything came together, literally and metaphorically, and I was able to complete the Black Prince in a flurry of knot-tying, rope-coiling, and loose-end-trimming.

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Disaster was averted on several occasions, and I'm sure the longer I stare at it, the more things I'll see with which I'm unhappy, but for the most part I'm satisfied with the quality of my work (recognizing, of course, the vast potential for improvement) and, more importantly, with the lessons I've learned which I'll be able to apply to the next ship I build... which was rather the point of starting small, simple and inexpensive.

After it was complete, I noticed a couple of furry someones intently interested in a potential new toy.

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Bad kittehs. Bad, bad.

Next up... well, I'm not 100% certain yet. I have a few kits on hand; I think it'll be the Mayflower, but I might go with the HMS Bounty's Launch. I may have to flip a coin. In either case, I hope to do a better job of documenting the build.

The end is in sight.

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This being my first effort at shipwrightry, I think I've been wasting quite a bit of raw material. More rigging line ends up being trimmed off than on the model. As a result, I sort of ran out of one particular type....

You can see in the pictures that there are two colors of rigging, black and "natural." Black line represents rope that would have been slathered in tar, which stiffened them and helped preserve them against wear, tear, and the effects of being exposed to the elements. This was typically done with ropes and cables that were meant to stand in place full time, such ropes earned the term "standing rigging," and included such items as the shrouds and stays.

Ropes that were meant to be frequently worked by the crew needed to be more flexible, and so were left untarred. This included such ropes as the "running rigging" — the lines used to raise and lower the spars, handle the sails, and such — or those which, as in the photo below, put tension on the shrouds by being reeved through the deadeyes.

Do I need to define all these terms? Probably. Just click the links, or ask a question in the comments.

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So anyway... the kit from which I am working comes supplied only with natural line; the builder is expected to either dye some of it black (a disaster waiting to happen) or supply his own black line. I chose the latter course, but while working on the ratlines, used up all I had sooner than expected. In some spots you'll see tan rope that I'll end up touching up with black paint.

This is a pretty simple model, as such things go, but it still took me an entire day to do the foremast ratlines, a total of about 90 individual knots. (At that rate, it would take me a full month to do just the ratlines on something like HMS Victory. Fortunately, speed increases with experience.) The ratlines in the photo above are spaced only ¼" apart; tweezers and magnification are indispensable. The paper clipped behind the work in progress was also essential; it made visibility of the lines much cleared, and the lines drawn on the paper were helpful for keeping the spacing correct.

The usual thing to do when building such a model is to set up all the standing rigging, then do the running rigging, as would be done on an actual ship. For the model builder, this eliminates much of the potential for accidentally snagging or tangling lines that have already been meticulously placed.

It turned out, though, that I only had enough line to just barely finish "rattling down" the foremast shrouds, so while I waited for a shipment to arrive in the mail, I chose to set up some of the running rigging on the foremast, rather than wait to complete all the standing rigging on the mainmast.

There is, as far as I know, no local hobby shop from which to get supplies as needed, so I went to my usual online supplier, Model Expo. Having received a fresh batch of rigging line (20 meters of 0.25mm black poly/cotton) I got back to setting up the mainmast.

(Minor trivia: the masts are not glued into the hull; they are held in place solely by the tension of the shrouds and stays.)

Last night I managed to get the mainmast shrouds tensioned. It looks a mess right now...

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... but I could conceivably be done rigging by the end of the week.

Disaster and Recovery

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It was bound to happen.

While working on the ship model a few days ago, I had to make an urgent run off to the little engineers' room for an urgent call of nature. Being in something of a rush, I left the model unprotected.

Kismet took advantage of my hurried departure, and in the two or three minutes I was away, managed to chew off the jibboom.

It was bound to happen.

After I was finished decrementing Kismet's remaining lives from nine to eight, I set about repairing the damage. If I were trying to make a perfect scale replica, I'd trash the part and rebuild it from scratch. However, as this is my first model, and a learning exercise, I opted to graft on a passable replacement.

From squinting distance, no one will ever know. Except me.

I've begun the rigging, too. The books all say that a builder ought to work from bow to stern and from the centerline out, so I began with the patched jibboom and bowsprit.

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This is tiny work, particularly for one with hands and fingers as large as mine, so most of the time I handle the rigging, I use tweezers. To give you an idea how small we're talking about here, the round deadeyes seen below are just 5mm, or 1/5" across.

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(Yes, they're meant to be unevenly spaced. The front three are for the shrouds, the back two are for the backstays.)

Patience, good light, magnification, and a steady hand are all really useful, as is a lack of interruption, particularly of the four-footed furry variety.

Ready to Rig

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I have been learning to tie knots. Teeny tiny knots. Lots of teeny tiny knots.

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See those black dowel-like things? Those are the spars and gaffs. If I were going to put sails on this model, those are where they would be attached. Each has blocks (as in block-and-tackle) through which ropes will lead. The blocks are the small wood-colored, roughly cube-shaped bits tied on to the spars, the booms and the masts.

The large ones are 4 millimeters; the small ones are 3mm. Tiny, and teeny tiny, respectively. It's taken a while — including a few false starts and do-overs — to get them all just so. There are 23 rigged blocks in the photo; I've tied maybe 150 knots, mostly half hitches, clove hitches and square knots. Perhaps not all historically or technically accurate, but at this scale, I figure no one will ever know.

Except me.

Given the scale, as well as the size of my hands and fingers, maybe you can understand why I chose to do as much rigging as I could before attaching things to the hull.

In the photo, you can see I've already fitted the bowsprit to the hull and tied on the gammoning. Next I'll be rigging it, and following that with the masts, which are likely to get a chapter here all their own.

I'm most of the way done with this model, but the rigging could take a fair number of hours, despite the relative simplicity of this particular vessel — especially as this will be my first attempt to rig a ship. Fingers crossed.


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During the hiatus I took from shipbuilding, the question often occurred to me: how do I protect my project from a cat with a test-to-destruction sense of inquisitiveness?

Yes, I refer to Kismet, who gleefully gets into everything.

The last thing I wanted to do was invest a lot of hours in fiddly small details on a ship model, only to have it pushed off the work table and eaten (or at least chewed upon) by the cat, who would then suffer my inevitable short term wrath.

Really, even in the event of total destruction, I wouldn't be able to stay angry for very long. He's a nice little cat.

So the work in progress has to be protected during the hours I'm not working on it. How best to accomplish this? I can't pick everything up and store it away every time I have to wait for glue to cure or paint to dry or whatnot. For starters, I haven't got a good place to stow the project (which takes up more space than the finished product will) and of course picking up and carrying anything is an iffy proposition for me.

Then, one day while I was cruising the aisles of the Super Target looking for lonely divorcées bargains, I saw what might be the answer to my dilemma.

Et voilà:

The giant Rubbermaid bin, on its own, would not be likely to stop Kismet. He does, after all, have a habit of pushing things off tables in order to examine them at ground level. Hence the clamp arrangement seen at the bottom of the photo.

So far, it has served admirably well. Nevertheless, I am continuing my efforts to train Kismet not to get on the table at all. He keeps trying.

The next ship model I have in mind to work on is somewhat larger. I'm not sure what I'll do about the problem then. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.


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One of the things I've tried to do over the past couple of years — since the seriousness of the Recent Neurological Unpleasantness became known — has been to simplify my life, to dispose of extra stuff (hundreds of books, for instance, have gone to the used bookstore; I'll probably need to sell off most of my rifle collection, and my power tools, as well, since I can't use them anymore) and to generally cut unneeded complexity from my life.

One non-obvious step I've taken in an effort to simplify has been to roll my separate (and long ignored) ship model blog into this one as a new category.

Yes, I am actively working on the ship again. And as soon as it's done, I'll begin another.

Over the course of the past two weeks, I've accomplished a lot, though the things which have been done are tiny, tiny things.

Before I set the model aside so long ago, I made up some of the deck fittings. Looking at them now, I am almost ashamed at how poor a job I did of them. No, strike the "almost" from that last sentence. In my defense, I didn't have the right tools at hand at the time, and I couldn't see well enough. Those problems have been solved by a) digging the Dremel set out of the attic, b) getting better bits for it, and c) acquiring a magnifying lamp (thanks, Mom!)

My shame was not enough, however, to make me want to remake the parts in question; I'm also a bit short on walnut sheet (as in, I have none) so after I installed the rudder, the shameful bits were pinned and glued to the deck; the pin rails were made up, drilled, and installed on the insides of the bulwarks, and eyebolts for rigging have been installed on the deck. I also glued in the gun carriages, though I left the barrels off for now; I don't want them getting in the way.

I think somewhere along the line I misplaced some walnut strips, or they were mistakenly not included in the kit, so I built up the pin rails from thinner stock I already had on hand. The hard part, though, was drilling the holes for the belying pins in a straight, evenly-spaced row; it took several tries to get close, with numerous discarded parts. The results are what I'll call "good enough," if not perfect. We're talking about millimeters here — even a small error stands out. Maybe I should think about getting some sort of micro drill press.

So at this point all that remains on the hull is to add the channels, stern davits (though, oddly, there's no ship's boat) and the hawse pieces, then drill out the hawse holes. There will be some touch-up painting required, as well

From there, masting and rigging will commence.

Finishing the Hull

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The deck and bulwark planking having been finished to my satisfaction, I could finally turn to the hull exterior.

First, though, I drilled and shaped the hole through which the rudder head would extend above the deck; the rudder itself had yet to be addressed by the kit instructions, but I found it in the kit box and shaped it to fit properly through the hull.

I chose not to make any changes to the color scheme depicted on the kit box art — stained wood from the wales up, black from the waterline to the wales, and white below the waterline.

Prime. Sand. Repeat.

Relying on my vast model-painting experience, I free-handed the primer up to the lower edge of the wales. Sanding followed, revealing some flaws — bumps and divots, mainly — in my planking job, which were corrected with additional block sanding, or with thin applications of filler as necessary. This process was repeated twice, until I was satisfied that the hull was ready for paint.

I started with white paint, from the keel up to within about 3/4" of the wales; on white, it would be easier to mark the delineation between black and white areas; I figured it would also be easier for the later black paint to cover the white than vice-versa.

The white I used didn't give me the opacity I wanted, so it took three coats to get a solid white base on which to work. After allowing the white to dry/cure for a few days, I gave it a coat of clear varnish, which I allowed to cure for a week.

I ticked off the waterline with soft pencil and then masked it with painters tape. The thorough drying of the white paint and varnish allowed me to burnish the low-tack tape down such that there would — I hoped — be no opportunity for the black paint to seep or bleed under the edge of the tape, and would later allow me to remove the tape without pulling up any of the varnish or white paint.

As with the earlier primer, I free-handed it up to the lower edge of the wales. The black paint had better opacity — only two coats were needed to cover the primed wood well.

After a couple days of drying, I carefully peeled off the painters tape, revealing only a couple spots of "bleed" which detracted from the crisp painted edge. These were easily but ever-so-carefully corrected by light scraping with a very sharp new #11 X-acto blade; the varnish atop the white paint really paid off there.

The entirety of the painted portion of the hull then received two coats of varnish, and the bare walnut above the wales received an application of stain.

The rudder was masked and painted it the same way as the hull.

The hull being basically complete, we will next turn to the deck fittings.

I've been model-making rather than writing. I'm horrible. So anyway....

The hull planking having been completed, I next turned my attention to the deck planking.

The supplied material — .5mm x 4mm strips of something neither basswood nor walnut... maybe tanganyika wood — was a bit disappointing; the color tone was inconsistent, and the edges were somewhat rough due to the coarseness of the grain. I ganged the strips together and mass-sanded the edges, which got them close enough to what I wanted, but because (as usual) there was barely enough supplied to do the job, I had to be careful not to sand too much away.

I then cut all but one of the strips into 75mm segments (the length being decided upon arbitrarily) and, using a #2 pencil, blackened one edge of each strip to simulate the caulking that was historically hammered into the gaps between planks in order to waterproof the deck.

Using wood glue rather than cyanoacrylate, I ran the one uncut strip down the centerline of the deck to use as a starting point for the rest of the planking, and then filled in the rest of the deck, offsetting each row of planks by 25mm to create a "three-butt shift" — ensuring that no two adjacent planks ended at the same spot. I also made sure to trim out the holes for the masts before I completely covered them over.

I was correct about the amount of wood supplied for the deck planking; there wasn't a single extra strip left over.

When the deck planking was complete, I sanded and scraped it smooth, and applied three coats of varnish, lightly sanding after the first and second coats.

I then rough-cut the gunports, bent and installed the waterways (sorry, too small to photograph) and then installed the inner bulwark planking and finish-cut the gunports.

Next: finishing the hull.

Second Planking

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The spare basswood and walnut strips arrived from Model Expo, and were a pretty close color match to those supplied in the kit — though, being sized to imperial rather than metric measurements, the walnut was a tad thinner and a skosh wider than the original .5x4mm strips. The basswood was a pretty close match.

It was a bit tricky to glue the basswood strips edge-to-edge to the top of the existing bulwarks, even with the tip-tops of the frames to aid in alignment. The problem was that I'd already done the exterior planking in walnut (see the picture here) so the 1mm thick basswood had to be lined up properly on the edge of a 1.5mm bulwark. I solved the problem by glueing the edge of the basswood, getting it approximately lined up, and then using scraps of .5mm walnut as shims while applying every single spring clamp in my collection. I'm pleased by the results.

The second planking then continued, three plank widths above the false deck and all the way down to the keel. More accurately, I worked from the top down and the bottom up, meeting approximately mid-way down.

I spent a lot of time fitting the second layer walnut planks, particularly at the joint where the planks meet the stem — it's a lot of fiddly work with very sharp X-acto blades and small rasps. I paid a lot of attention there as I wanted to minimize the amount of wood filler that's going to be needed before sanding and painting the lower hull. As expected, the planks needed tapering at the bow, and a couple of stealers were needed to fill in some gaps at the stern.

[Click for larger.]

I'm not terribly happy with the contour of the hull right above the keel and abaft the stem, but the frames and drawings all seem to indicate that I got it right.

Though they don't show up well in this picture, the wales have also been installed. A fair amount of soaking was required to get them to bend around the bow properly.

The Things You Learn....

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I discovered this evening that the cat really really likes head-butting things.

Perhaps it would be best to not allow her up on the work table.


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I'd put on the top two strakes of the second planking, and was getting ready to stick the wales onto the hull, when something struck me as odd. The bulwarks didn't seem to be high enough, even though the instructions and drawings were clear that the bulwarks should be two plank-widths high.

A look at the box cover art seemed to show the bulwarks as three planks high. Uh oh.

By way of confirmation, I used a cannon to check the height. . . .

There's just not enough height there for the gun ports — and there will be even less when the deck planking is added. Uh oh.

Now, as is usual (I'm told) with kits, the planking supplied is just barely enough to do the job. And sure enough, I'd used every stick of the basswood for the first planking, and right now I'm thinking the walnut supplied for the second planking is going to be barely enough for that task.

So, what do do? I need to add another level of planking on top of what's already there, but I haven't the material.

Well, there's always Model Expo....

The additional timbers should be here by the end of the week.

Necessity is a Mother

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With the second planking ready to commence, It occurred to me I would need to prepare the wales in advance.

When doing the first planking in 1mm basswood, bending planks was not a terribly difficult obstacle to overcome. A couple hours' soak in water, and they were flexible enough for me to bend by hand or with a crimper... not that there was much bending needed on this particular hull form.

The second layer, of .5mm walnut, seems not to need much coaxing at all for the planks to bend properly.

The wales, which helped to stiffen ships longitudinally, are necessarily thicker and heavier than regular planks. Being 2mm walnut, they are also more prone to breaking. Because of this, I needed to take additional steps to get them bent — without breaking, of course. So, I gave them a 24-hour soak prior to bending.

But then I realized that for the bend to set, I would need a form of some sort to which to clamp the wales as they dried. My eyes lit on a shape that looked to be the right size. . . the corrugated cardboard insert for a kitty scratcher.


First Planking

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The first layer of planking has been completed, and the hull sanded fairly smooth.

Somewhere along the line, I got the fairing off a bit, which left a bit of a hollow on each side of the bow. That necessitated the use of about 1/16" of wood filler. I do take some small comfort in the knowlege that the hollows on either side were nearly symmetrical.

Onwards now to the second planking, in walnut. It'll be puuurrrty.

Still Here

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I had to take a bit of a break from the Black Prince, but I've resumed construction.

Planking Continues

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At this point, it might be a good idea to repeat the motto of smart model shipwrights:

I will be familiar with the instructions, remember that they might not be in proper order, or as clear as they could be, and at each stage in the process will consider the implications of later steps.

Yes, there was a hitch in the planking while I tried to figure out how the stern planking runs. Unfortunately, there's no drawing, and the instructions are somewhat opaque, so the final result may not be exactly what the designers intended. I did have to take one step backwards, but I think I'm on track again now.

Oh, well. I'll make it work. I am an engineer.

Planking Begins

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The first planking of the hull has begun, using cyanoacrylate to tack the planks in place, and carpenter's wood glue for the full glue-up. The planks are drilled at each bulkhead, and push-pins used to hold them in place while the glue cures.

Following every piece of planking advice I've ever heard, I'm planking the hull one plank at a time, alternating between the port and starbord sides of the hull to avoid distortion of the hull form.

Photos later.

Frame Assembly

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With the keel straight, the next step was to test-fit the bulkheads and false deck, check the alignment, and make any necessary adjustments before then gluing the bulkheads in place.

Bulkheads were added one at a time, squared up and the glue allowed to dry before proceeding to the next bulkhead. After the first was added, the bow support blocks were glued into place. As each subsequent bulkhead was added, I checked the fit of the false deck. When all the frames had been glued in place, the false deck was checked one more time, and then glued and pinned into place.

I then took the time to "fair" the bulkheads smooth so that the planks will eventually run with firm contact along their entire length, rather than contacting only the corners of the bulkheads.

(The above image taken from Keith Julier's New Period Ship Handbook.)

Keel Straight

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The keel, after several days under weights, in a baggie with a damp sponge, has indeed straightened.

It feels slightly damp, though, so now it's out of the bag and under weight for a day or two of drying.

Straightening the keel

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To straighten the keel, I'm trying a method I've read about: I've placed the keel, which is made of high-grade plywood, into a ziplock bag with a damp sponge.

This should loosen up the glue which binds ply to ply just enough for the keel to straighten out, assisted by a pair of flat surfaces and a bit of weight.

It might take a few days, though.

The real beginning

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I began by examining the box and its contents. Everything looked complete and intact.

The main keel/backbone piece, however, is slightly warped.

Building a ship around a warped keel will probably yield a warped ship, so it might behoove a fellow to attempt to straighten the keel.


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I've decided to document my construction of the Mamoli kit of the Black Prince.

From the Mamoli website:

During the Revolutionary War (1774 - 76) private vessels (privateers) were commissioned by the colonial rebel government to prey on British commerce everywhere and to capture, when possible, British ship. At the time of the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin was ambassador to France. He allowed to buy French built corsairs through an important ship broker. These corsairs were the predecessors of the Baltimore Clippers. The ships were painted black so as to be nearly invisible at night. They were named Black Prince and Black Princess. The crew were Portuguese seamen but captained by an American. They preyed on the British trade in English coastal waters and for over a year nearly destroyed Britain’s trade with the rest of the world.


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