Bounty's Launch Archive

Little Things Mean A Lot

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It's been almost a month since I last posted on the subject — a month full of fiddling small details.

When last I wrote, the hull shell was complete; interior and exterior fittings had yet to be done. It might have looked sort of like a boat, squinting, from a distance, but without the little details it wouldn't be anything like a true-to-life representation.

First, the bow grates and the thwarts — benches for rowers — had to be installed. Measurements for spacing them were taken off the plans, but it was equally important to eyeball them to ensure they were parallel. A thwart out of alignment would stick out like a sore thumb. Fortunately, the spacing and alignment came out just right, with virtually no cheating needed to make them look shipshape.

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The main item that had to be attached to the exterior of the hull was the rudder. It had earlier been painted along with the hull, but the pintles and gudgeons — the "hinges," if you will — required some small-scale labor. Supplied in brass, the parts had to be filed to shape, bent to fit, and then colored using a chemical blackening solution before being secured to the rudder and hull with tiny brass nails.

The tiller was shaped, stained, and secured to the head of the rudder with brass strips prepared in the same way as the pintles and gudgeons.

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You may have noticed what appears to be a paper towel sandwiched between the hull and the display stand. That's because there was a paper towel there — placed to prevent the edges of the stand from marring the paint of the hull. Eventually, small felt strips were adhered to the stand to prevent marring, but I am undecided about whether to let the boat sit loose on the stand, or whether I ought to drive a screw up through the stand and into the keel to permanently secure it. We'll see.

Next, the masts were made up. On a boat like the Bounty's Launch, the masts are a fairly simple affair, requiring a bit of tapering and the installation of cleats up toward the top (hard to see in this photo) the purpose of which will be evident shortly.

Thole pins for the rowing positions were cut to size, stained, and added to the gunwales. After I'd glued them in place, it occurred to me that they might all be in the wrong places.

In most rowed boats, the rowers would face aft and pull their oars — yet on this model the tholes are positioned as if the rowers were to be facing forward and pushing their oars. A bit of research might give a clue; there's a good chance I'm wrong. Even if I had noticed the matter before gluing in the thole pins, I probably would have just taken the kit designer's locations as accurate.

Also seen here: the spars to which the sails might be attached, and the oars, which were carved out of 3/16" laser cut basswood blanks and bound with rope.

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Other accessories had been made up: some pre-turned wooden barrels were included with the kit, and were painted a solid black. A tool chest, which was a miniature kit all by itself, was assembled and stained, and hinges and a hasp fabricated from brass. Belaying pins were placed, and finally the rather rudimentary standing rigging could be attended to.

It's still hard to see in this photo, but the previously mentioned cleats on the masts are what are holding the rope in place where it is secured around the masts. The backstays run from the lower sets of cleats back to their respective belaying points, where they were secured. A bit of diluted white glue was brushed onto the ropes at the belaying pins to keep it in place and to (I hope) get it to hang naturally.

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Coils of rope were made up separately, brushed down with diluted glue, and then stealthily attached to the free ends of the belayed backstays in order to simulate that a much longer rope had been used than I had in fact used.

You can also see in the photo below the tool chest and a pair of barrels — used to store provisions and water — lashed together. They're placed there in the photo for no better reason than I didn't have a better place to put them at the time. The kit instructions do not specify where they ought to be located, but it seems sensible to me that they would have gone in the stern, where Captain Bligh would more easily have been able to control them.

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That's it. The model is at a point where the builder can genuinely claim completion. But hang on a minute: what about sails?

Well, the issue of whether or not to put sails on a model is usually settled by the observation that sails make an otherwise fine scale model look more like a toy. It's virtually impossible at model scales to get sail fabric to hang in a realistic manner. I am generally in agreement with this sentiment.

However... the kit includes material and plans for sails... and I've never actually done sails. So what I have decided to do is to make the sails and secure them to the spars, but have them furled up and display them that way — present, but not showing their un-scale-ness. So, that'll be the final thing to do, if for no other reason than to be able to say that I've tried making sails at least once.

I need an embroidery hoop....

One of my all-time favorite movies was playing on the DVR while I was preparing this post. Master and Commander — The Far Side Of The World is perhaps the best "age of sail" movie ever made. I recommend it most highly.

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Hull (-abaloo)

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After getting the initial framing and the planking done, and the shell of the hull removed from the construction jig, the next steps involve fitting out the hull interior.

The frames completed so far are not all the frames needed — just enough to hold the hull together for the remaining framing. More frames were bent as before and fitted in between the existing frames. Also, the "cant frames" at the bow were added. The tricky thing here is that the frames are not only curved, but twisted as well, to fit snugly against the interior of the planking.

On the whole, the framing went quite well; I got it all done in one day, with a minimum of breakage along the way.

The "sheer clamps" run along the inside of the frames at the top edge of the hull, making a kind of sandwich holding the frames in place; they were installed next, first being soaked and bent and then carefully cut to fit against the transom. After the glue holding them in place had cured, the tops of the frames were cut down almost flush with the top of the sheer planks/clamps, and then sanded flush to make a good gluing surface for ... well, we'll get to that in a minute or three.

Also installed at this point were the "thwart risers" — the beams on which the thwarts will eventually rest.

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The mast steps — the blocks in which the heels of the masts will be seated — were then installed, with care taken to ensure that they were placed properly so that later, the masts will be properly (i.e., vertically) aligned.

If I'd been clever enough to have thought of it beforehand, I would have stained the insides of the planks before gluing them to the frames earlier. I am not, however, that clever, so the interior of the hull was stained at this point. I am not at all happy with how it came out — it's too uneven and blotchy, due in no small part to the difficulty of removing excess stain from between the frames.

OK, lesson learned: stain first wherever possible.

The floorboards were next stained and installed. They had to be soaked and bent first; even so, they were reluctant to fit properly. This is (so far) the only place on the model where I've used cyanoacrylate glue; everywhere else, I've used ordinary wood glue.

At this point, the kit stand was assembled and stained.

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With the inside of the hull stained, this seemed the right time to paint the exterior; indeed, the kit manual suggests so. I primed the outside and sanded it, filling any major gaps discovered along the way with wood putty. After sanding, a second coat of primer was applied, and the final sanding done.

The general color scheme is: off-white below the waterline, grey above, with a yellow/ochre stripe at the sheer, with a decorative green stripe inset on the yellow/ochre.

I painted the off-white and the yellow/ochre at the bottom and top of the hull and let them dry. Next, I took measurements off the plans and marked the waterline.

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The waterline was carefully masked off, as was the yellow/ochre strip at the top of the hull, and grey paint applied between them. Two coats were all that were required for each color. The green stripe was added last.

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At this point, I discovered the only major flaw I have found thus far in the kit.

While examining the plans and the photos in the manual, I realized that the quarterdeck ought to have been dealt with somewhere along the line. However, there isn't a single word in the manual about it. Not one word.

Fortunately, the plans are fairly clear, and I was able to fabricate the quarterdeck from scratch. Because the quarterdeck slopes and has to fit inside the curve of the hull and around the stern post, a fair amount of trial-and-error fitting and trimming was required.

Once I was satisfied with the fit, the quarterdeck assembly was stained and installed as a unit.

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The parts comprising the gunwales were stained and assembled over the plans, cellophane being used to keep from gluing the parts to the plan sheet. Also shown here are the thwarts, the bow grate and the rudder, though these won't be installed quite yet.

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The bow ends of the gunwales were rather fragile, because as they curve towards the stem, they gets into a bit of a cross-grain situation where the wood is weak. In fact, I accidentally snapped the blasted things twice. Before the glue-up, I reinforced the weak spots with masking tape, which I thought (correctly, it turned out) would be enough to hold the weak spots safely while the glue cured.

Because of the bending involved, I pre-drilled holes at a few key spots for pins to hold things in place during the glue-up.

Glue was then applied to the top edges of the sheer planks and sheer clamps, and the gunwales pinned and clamped in place and left overnight for the glue to cure. The next day, I pulled the pins and filled the holes with tiny bits of stained putty.

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The hull — and the kit as a whole — is nearly complete.

(Walking the) Planks

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It's been a challenge, but I've completed the planking on the Launch, more or less successfully.

The Model Shipways kit of Bounty's Launch, being a very modern product, was developed with CAD/CAM technology. One of the benefits of this is that the planks could be pre-cut to fairly accurate shapes.

See, here's the thing about the planks on a ship's hull: they are never straight. I mean, if a boat had a rectangular hull, sure, they could be straight... but ships and boats are usually quite rounded; the planks have to be contoured and tapered to conform to that shape.

Now, the kit I'm working on does allow for the modeler to develop his own planking from scratch, which would be great if one intended to leave it as bare wood... but I have no such intent, so I used the pre-cut planks provided.

As with the earlier framing, the planks had to be bent, though not as severely as the frames. A good soak in freshly boiled water was essential, with most of the bending done by hand, after which the planks were clamped onto the building jig and frames to dry.

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A pattern cut from the plans was used to make sure the planks lined up properly. Adjustments were made, as needed, by sanding.

For the sharper bends some of the planks required at the bow, a bit more heat was required. Since the planks are slightly wider than the bending tool I used for the frames, a slightly different solution was called for. I dug through the attic and found a tool from my days of building radio control airplanes — a covering iron from the makers of Monokote.

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Intended to iron on and shrink mylar, it has a nicely rounded shape at the nose, and gets hot enough to generate steam in the soaked planks. Fairly tight curves can be achieved, specifically needed where the planks meet the stem.

Planking was begun at the top and bottom with the uppermost or "sheer plank" and the garboard strake next to the keel, and progressed plank by plank towards the center, or "shutter" plank, near the turn of the hull.

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Once the final planks were in place, I trimmed off the excess plank length at the transom and gave the outside of the hull a rough sanding while it was still on the construction jig.

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To conclude this phase of the project, I used an X-acto knife to carefully separate the frames from the places on the jig where they had been spot glued, above the sheer line. Then, after unpinning the transom and detaching the dowel at the stem, I was able to remove the hull from the jig. Fortunately, my glue control had been up to the task, and nothing stuck where it shouldn't have — the hull popped right off, no muss no fuss.

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It took all of five minutes to clean up the few drips of glue that had hardened inside the shell.

Next up: fitting the remaining frames.

Faired and framed.

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After a brief interruption in the project due to the need to install my new home theater system (woohoo) it was back to work on the Launch.

We left off with the molds securely attached to the false keel. Before going any further, the molds have to be faired, that is, their outer edges need to be shaped so that the planking, when applied, will make contact against the full thickness of the frames (which will be situated on the molds... be patient.) If this isn't done, contact will only be made against the edges — not a particularly sturdy way of building.

By way of demonstration, I'll re-borrow an image I stole borrowed from Keith Julier when I described the process for the Black Prince.

I used a Perma-Grit sander to shape the molds, checking my progress frequently with a strip of basswood.

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Next, tabs were spot-glued to the jig's false keel — they're there to align the keel with the false keel for the framing process. The keel was set onto the jig between the tabs, and secured at the bow end by a dowel inserted through a sandwich of the stem and a pair of alignment blocks, and with pins through the alignment tabs.

The transom was then attached. A pair of spacers were glued to the last mold, then the transom carefully aligned and glued to the stern post — not to the spacers. The idea is that after the planking, the launch will be removed from the jig. In aid of this, small holes were drilled and nails were driven through the transom and into the temporary spacers.

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We now come to the first really difficult part of the construction: bending on the frames.

The frames are fabricated of 3/32" cherry strips; they have to be bent to fit the molds. Cherry tends to bend better than basswood, but it's not a sure thing. Strips were cut to length — about 4½" — and given a good long soak in freshly boiled water to soften them up.

I had acquired (via eBay) a long out-of-production plank bender made by the now-defunct Italian ship model producer Aeropiccola. It's pretty much just a soldering iron with a fancy head. Wet strips of wood held against the hot iron are [relatively] easily bent; the steam generated by the heat loosens the wood fibers.

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Nevertheless, wood being wood, I had a breakage rate of about one in three during the bending. Fortunately, the likelihood of this happening was taken into account by the kit manufacturer, and a surplus of cherry was provided.

The frames were bent and clamped, with no glue at this stage, to the molds and left overnight to dry. I expected a fair amount of "springback," but after drying, they retained their shape quite well.

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The edges of the molds were then waxed — I used beeswax — to help prevent the frames from sticking to the molds in case of some misapplication of glue. The bent frames were then glued into the notches in the keel, and spot-glued to the molds below the sheer tabs (where they will eventually be cut off.)

After letting the glue cure overnight, all the clamps were removed, the outsides of the frames lightly sanded, and the transom faired in line with the frames. (No framing is needed on the transom — the planks will attach directly to it.)

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Coming up, the most daunting task yet: planking. Wish me luck.

And away we go....

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Going by the manual, the building process for the Launch is broken down into six major stages. The first stage consists of assembly of the keel/stem/sternpost, and construction of the framing jig.

The first thing one does, though, is to ensure that everything that is supposed to be included in a kit is, in fact, included. In this case, the kit contains sheets of laser cut parts, bundles of strip materials, sailcloth, fittings, accessories, sheets of plans and the manual.

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I mentioned I'd be working next on the HMS* Bounty's Launch.

It looks like this project won't take anywhere near as long as I took building the Black Prince; the skills I develop during this build are going to be different, but useful.

A bit of background, from the kit manufacturer's website:

As captain** of the HMS Bounty, William Bligh demonstrated an obsession with paltry matters. Too hastily provoked, he antagonized officers and crew with frequent and uncontrolled outbursts. With tempers already flaring and resentment simmering, a trivial matter of coconuts stolen from the ship's store provoked a true mutiny. On April 28, 1789, Fletcher Christian and his sympathizers took over the ship, casting Bligh and 18 of his loyal supporters adrift in the Bounty's 23' launch.

In a remarkable feat of seamanship, Bligh navigated the dangerously overcrowded boat on a 47-day voyage to the Dutch colony of Timor, equipped only with a sextant and a pocket watch. He recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles. While struggling to survive, he kept a log and produced highly accurate charts and surveys of the seas and the terrain, such as the Fijian Islands and the northeast coast of Australia.

The Bounty's launch was typical of boats issued to Royal Navy ships of the period. Historically accurate and highly detailed, Model Shipways' HMS Bounty's Launch kit is based on original plans from the Nautical Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. . . .

Bligh, by the way, had an eventful and perhaps even moderately illustrious career after the famous mutiny; he commanded ships-of-the-line at Camperdown and Copenhagen, was governor of New South Wales, and reached the rank of Vice Admiral before his death in 1817, aged 63.

Next up: construction begins.

* More properly, it should be HMAV (His Majesty's Armed Vessel) but since the kit uses HMS (His Majesty's Ship) that's probably how I'll refer to it.

** He was only a Lieutenant, but as commander of the vessel, he was entitled to be called Captain.

Coin Toss

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As a followup to my previous post, I have decided* to build the HMS Bounty's Launch from Model Shipways, the "house brand" of Model Expo.

I gotta tell ya, without being able to get supplies from a place like Model Expo, this hobby would be far more difficult.

* No I didn't. I flipped a coin.


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