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Bottled Ship Builder

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The third SIB in my collection was of my own construction. This was from a kit series that was readily available in model shops and department stores in the 1970’s. These were offered by a company called “Ship A’ Sailin’” out of Santa Susana, California – copyright 1971 J.O. Knight. I built two kits from this series: the “Lively Lady”, which I still have and the “Gjoa” which was given away. The third ship in the series was the “Skeeter”, which I never owned but just recently purchased an NOS example of. The $1.98 on the box must be a later tag sale price because I remember these kits to be priced somewhere less than $10 in the mid 1970’s. This series of kits may have been extended into the 1980s as the “Woodkrafter’s” series which have a very similar look but I never owned one of these for comparison.

The “Skeeter” that I purchased may have been an earlier edition of the kits I purchased judging from the instruction sheet and the materials included. A nice touch that wasn’t in the later kits I purchased is a nicely engraved metal name plate for the base, mine was just a faux metal paper sticker. I plan to keep this kit intact as a keepsake and maybe build the model from scratch from the plans. I enjoyed reading the little descriptive histories on the back of the box. I am now informed about Roald Amundsen’s Arctic Exploration in the “Gjoa”, the history of Canadian fisheries disputes on ships known as “sharpshooters”. However I believe the “Lively Lady” to be a fictitious 1812 privateer perhaps taken from the novel by the same name.

The kit was fairly complete and allowed me to almost 100% successfully build my model. The instruction sheet was very straight forward and provided my initialization into model ship in a bottle building. I still have both instruction sheets which can be used for scratch builds but I found that the dimensions are somewhat compromised. My construction was successful enough that I started receiving request from family members, examples that do not survive. The kit was all inclusive with rudimentary tools and a clear glass bottle with a cork. The bottle could have been an empty “Miller Highlife” beer bottle or perhaps a pop bottle but has no bottle deposit information or any other imprint. The sail cloth was also included but is too coarse for the scale.

I took some liberties with the “Lively Lady” design, most of which worked out. My one alteration that caused me trouble in the end was the addition of the putty sea. No putty was included and the instructions called for a sea of glue which was to be colored with ink or food dye. Of course the addition of the thickness of the putty was not accounted for in the design and I ended up cracking the foremast during final set up.  

As I look back on this model some forty years later I don’t think I did such a bad job. Even the cracked foremast isn’t that noticeable. Sometime later I managed to add a surprisingly neat “Turk’s Head” knot on the bottle neck. The kit was a good introduction to basic SIB building and these kits allowed one to make a model that looked somewhat authentic. I now find that the dimensions of the ships were highly modified to accommodate the small glass bottle so accuracy was sacrificed. Other SIB kits I’ve seen look very cheap or compromised but kits are still a good way to learn. The techniques learned are easily applied to scratch builds from more accurate plans.

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If only I could remember how I tied that Turk's Head Knot. I know I followed the incomprehensible diagram in Peter Thorne's book but the best I can come up with now is a "decorative braid knot". Much more to come...

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Great work.  I did a woods krafters kit as one of my first builds.  They are great kits and the instructions are good.  They are not realistic enough for the more serious crowd but I don't think that matters.  That's the thing about ship in bottle building.  You take it only as seriously as you want too. 

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Thanks! I eventually purchased a copy of Peter Thorne's book on SIB's and enjoyed his description of the origins of them. Even the sailors who made the authentic ones had a distorted vision of proportions and could only work with what they had on hand so a little "unrealism" can add to their charm. I suppose this can be controversial but when I went on to build my earlier scratch models I used to like to pretend I was building them in the hold of a rocking ship with just the materials I could scrounge, so I kept them simple. However I did very early dispense of the "pin stuck into a pencil eraser" drill and brought a proper pin drill and bits...It's supposed to be fun you know.

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