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Bottled Ship Builder

Yacht America 1851


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To misquote The Most Interesting Man in the World, "I don't often post build logs, but when I do, I usually do it after I've finished the model..."

I'm breaking that rule with this build.  We'll just see how it goes.

I've decided to build the yacht America in a bottle.  First, the boat is lovely.  Second, I have no end of research materials available, so I should use it.

Several years ago, I bought the Chappelle plans from the Smithsonian.



I have the book The Low Black Schooner, which, even if you don't want to build a model, is a great book.


And I have a great set of rigging diagrams and plans, so, at least from that perspective, I have what I need.

I had a couple of bottles to choose from and I cleaned off the labels.


I scanned an image of America from Chappelle's The Search for Speed Under Sail and scaled it to fit in the smaller bottle.


Rather than monkey around with the "sea" as I did on my first ship in a bottle, I'm going for the full hull on this one.  The hull lines of America are so striking that it would be a shame to just show her from the waterline up.

So, off to carving a hull and seeing what's going to be needed to get it into the bottle.




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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

I've made some progress on my America.

Using John Fox's article from 1988 in Model Ship Builder, I made the hull blank.


I sandwiched a thin piece of basswood between two others, establishing a keel line for the hull below the waterline.  I used 0.010" styrene to establish a waterline.  And then I cut another piece of basswood for the upperworks.  I turned a couple of toothpicks down to 1/16" to pin them all together.


I've made two templates, mounting them on basswood.

Here's the side view.


So now my question.  I decided on the size of the ship based on the internal dimensions of the bottle.  Is that the right way to think about this?  I made the blank per the article:  3/4" thick, 1-1/8" wide, about 4" long.  That'll make a model the same size as John's Bluenose.  Bluenose's hull lines are similar to America's, but the yacht carried a lot more sail area. so the model would be taller than the inside the bottle if I built it to the same dimensions as Bluenose.  

So, do I build it a little bigger and find a bottle that will fit later?  Or build it small and fit it into the bottle I have?




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Keep the proportions and scale, that's how I understand these constructions... so either you find a bigger bottle or it's dry docked to wait for its bottle and then make one smaller than the dimensions and proportions between hull and sail is the authentic.

That's my way of thinking.

Greetings, it looks nice.

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I've crossed the Rubicon.

I scaled up the drawings to fit the hull blank I have.  (I used the plans redrawn by Howard Chapelle in 1933.)  That made the model too wide to fit through the neck of the bottle I have, so I will definitely need a bigger bottle.  I marked the outline of the hull, the waterline, the locations of the masts and the locations of the aligning pins on the drawings and then lined all that up on the hull blank.


I mounted the drawings on 1/16" basswood, creating templates.



Next step:  trace the hull lines from the template to the hull blank and then use my razor saw to cut down from the top of the block to the top of the cap rail to form the sheer of the hull.



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Yesterday, I cut the hull block down to the lines on the plan view.  it was a simple enough operation, but I took it slowly to make sure I didn't go too far.  Now the hull is about 15/16" wide and 3-15/16" long.





Today I'll transfer the side view of the boat to the block and cut the top of the block down to the top of the caprail.









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Greetings Dan,

You will find it better in future to cut the hull block sandwich to the side/profile view first, then the plan view.  When you place the profile view to an already cut plan view you will find that the profile view is too short. Basically, the curved side is longer than a straight side would be. Just a hint for future reference.

Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III

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Thanks, John!

I'd thought I would do that initially, but then cut from the top view.  Live and learn.

It looks like it's going to work out alright.  I traced the waterline on the back of the template so I could position it properly on the other side of the hull block.  Then I clamped the template to the hull block.


And traced it out...


Here you can see the outline and the waterline drawn on the other side of the template.


Now it's time to cut down to the cap rail and form the sheer of the hull.






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Quick update tonight.  I've done the rough cutting of the block down to the hull lines.

Next step is the most difficult -- I think -- final shaping of the hull.  I'm not sure what the right tool is to do that.  This model is so small that a rotary tool is probably too aggressive.  And I'm thinking about making the kinds of hull templates you use when you're making a larger solid hull model.  Without those I don't see how I can keep the hull symmetrical.




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  • 3 weeks later...

I've made some progress, but I'm afraid in the wrong direction!

I've tried three times now to get the hull block carved properly.  Each time, I've wound up with an asymmetrical hull.



I made three hull templates (midships, about midway between midships and the bow and about midway between midships and the stern).  The problem I had -- as I've diagnosed it -- is not being able to clearly see where centerline was.  Because everything's made of basswood, it all pretty much looked the same when I started sanding on it.

On my third attempt, I dipped the "keel" piece in some wood stain.  The stain didn't penetrate too far, so you can't see it on the bottom of the hull blank, but it does show up on the sides of the keel piece, which means I can see where it is.




So, now that I've gotten to this point again -- and it's amazing how quickly I can make a hull blank now, after doing it three times -- I'm looking for some advice about the best way to go about this and wind up with a symmetrical hull.  What tools ought I be using?  I'd like to use my bandsaw to cut away the bottom of the hull block.  That's fast and easy.  From there, should I just sand it away?  Use a chisel?  Any tips on using the templates more effectively?  I was thinking of making, instead of these kinds of templates...



... some that would be "full hull" that I can fit from the bottom up and have both sides of the model on one template?

What do you think of that idea?

Any other suggestions?










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Greetings Dan,

I know the feeling, I have often carved hulls that were close, but not symmetrical enough. I put it down to my being right handed, it's almost always the port side that is slightly out of shape with me. The only advice I can give you is to use more templates, good idea to glue paper ones to something a bit thicker and stiffer, you got that one right. That keeps them from bending out of shape when holding against the hull. Mark the points on the keel where each template bottom should be located, and attempt best you can to hold the template perfectly vertical when checking shape. I start in the middle, then work every other template space fore and aft. Cut just a little at a time, I use an X-acto knife and #11 blade myself, At the stern it gets trickier where it undercuts. Be patient, and work slowly, when the hull seems close to the right shape, i then use sandpaper starting with heavier grits and then work down to finer stuff. I often make 3 hull block sandwiches to start with, so don't have to repeat the process again later "when" I screw one of them up.

Hope that helps!

Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III

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A little bit of progress last night.  I marked the locations of the frames from which I made the templates on the keel of the model.  Then I started carving.

You can see the marks and how the templates fit here.



I'm planning to work from the middle out.  Frame 9 is the widest part of the boat, so that's where I started.  And the most extreme curves of the hull are forward and aft of that frame.






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Quick update.  I spent some time last night sanding.  I just put the template in place, marked where it touched the model with a pencil and then sanded away the pencil marks.

I think the next step is to work on the areas forward and aft of that mark.  I want to make sure I don’t overshoot the mark!




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  • 3 months later...

It's been a long time since I posted here and it's not because I've given up on this model.  Quite the opposite, I've been here solving problems the whole time.  the biggest one I had was how to carve the bulwarks and leave the deck in good shape.

I started out with a #11 X-Acto blade, doing a lot of relief cuts and then removing the material.  That was slow going and didn't give me the results I wanted.  After a lot of time spent doing that, I turned to my Dremel with a milling bit.  (I probably need to get a new one of those because mine doesn't cut all that well anymore.)  That worked pretty well.  I mounted the Dremel in my drill press stand and worked the model underneath it.


I did the same thing on the bottom of the upper hull, carving out a space for the erecting lines, once they're installed.


Once that was done, I made the keel, sternpost and rudder.  I fitted everything, sanded it all down, applied a couple of coats of sanding sealer and then made a couple of extra-long pegs to mount the model in my vise.


I also like the looks of the timberheads on small models like this, so I decided to add them.


I've made a set of cap rails for the model too, edge bending them so I didn't have to use a bunch of pieces of wood.

First, I traced the bulwarks on a piece of tracing paper.


Then I made several copies and mounted them to a piece of scrap plywood.


I covered the drawings with waxed paper to prevent water from damaging the tracings.  Then I thoroughly wetted some basswood strips and bent them to the shape of the bulwarks.


After two or three iterations, when the clamps were removed, they retained the curves.  I'm going to do some painting next because, with the caprails in place, it'll be very difficult to paint the bulwarks.  I've test fitted them and they fit great!  So more to come when that's done.






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  • 5 weeks later...

I've made some good progress on the hull over the past week or so.  I finished the bulwarks, installed them and painted everything.


For the deck furniture, I tried to make the deckhouse and the ring around the cockpit from wood, but had no luck.  I moved to brass, which is easy to work with at this scale.  I had to try three times to come up with one that looked good.


The first attempt, on the left, wasn't quite square.  For the second attempt, I tried to incorporate the ring around the cockpit with the deck house.  Worked alright, but when I tried to cut the excess off the ring, I damaged the piece, so, for the third attempt, I made the ring, fitted it into the recess in the deck, soldered it together, made the deckhouse and soldered the entire assembly together.  It fits very well in the cockpit and lays flat against the deck.


I tried to paint it with acrylic paint, but it didn't adhere.  (What you see here is the assembly with the paint removed.)  Looks like I have to use an etching primer to get that acrylic paint to adhere to the brass.  Another trip to the art supply store, I guess.  The assembly is just set in place in the photo, not glued in place, so it's easily removed for painting.

This was the hardest deck structure I need to build, which is why I started with it.  The hatch covers and other things are simple boxes.  The capstan might be a little challenging, but I have some ideas about how to do that.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the model at this point.




I'm trying to determine how to do the trailboards on the stem and the eagle on the stern.  They were very prominent parts of the boat.  I think decals would be best, but I really would prefer not to do decals.  I'm wondering if I can paint them on or make an applique with paper and attach it to the hull.  Any thoughts on that?




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Greetings Dan,

You can make them with an inkjet printer and cigarette papers. I've done this many times in the past. Design and print the decals you want on plain paper, then use cellophane tape to put a cigarette paper directly on top of the original print and run it through the printer again. Inkjet ink is water soluble so I then spray it with clear coat of some kind, very lightly and let it dry. Then cut out the decals and use PVA glue to adhere them to the hull. With any luck and with cutting as close to the outlines of the decal items, there will be almost no "edge" to the added decals. Good luck!

Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III

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Thanks, John!  That's a great suggestion.

I went to the local "smoke and vape" shop yesterday afternoon and asked the stoner at the counter for cigarette papers.  You would have thought I'd asked him to do high energy particle physics.  (Remember that old Cheech & Chong bit?  "Dave's not here..."  Kinda like that.  The guy's working as a clerk at the dope store on a Sunday afternoon, so I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised.)

Anyway, the dude went through all the papers he had.  "Mostly these are, y'know, for rollin' joints..."  And none of them were white.  They were all "natural" because, y'know, dope is natural and you wouldn't want to pollute your lungs with bleached paper...  Thanks, Beavis.

So, anyway, I did some searching and there's another dope store in town -- who knew there were so many? -- and Walmart sells cigarette papers, so I'm going to do some hunting around and see if I can find the right ones.  I spent some time yesterday doing the artwork.  I have the plans from the Smithsonian and there's a good rendering of the trailboards on them.  I traced that on tracing paper, scanned the tracing, reduced it to the proper size and then futzed with the color to get that right and printed it on plain paper.  It's tiny, of course.  (It's about 0.25".)  And you can see the individual ink dots.  I'm hoping that spreads out a little on the cigarette paper.  We'll see.

Thanks again!



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Success!  I went to Walmart last night.  They don't sell tobacco products there.  But across the street was a smoke shop, not nearly as weird as Uncle Stu's Smoke and Vape.

They had white Zig-Zag papers.  Twenty-two of them for $2.17.

Like I said, I traced the trailboards from the plans on tracing paper.


Then I scanned that tracing with my scanner and pasted the picture into PowerPoint where I traced over the top of that.  I put a black background behind it and got this.


I made a mirror image, too, so the name will read correctly port and starboard.  (That doesn't matter because it's too small to read, but I wanted to do it.)

I scaled this picture down to the proper size (0.28") and made multiple copies on the page so I can mess up a few.

The eagle on the stern of America still exists, so finding an image of it wasn't hard.  I manipulated the background to make it black and came up with this.


I did the same thing with this image:  scaled it down to the right size and made multiple copies.

Then I copied it, taped cigarette papers over the images and ran it through the printer again.

Then I sprayed it with some Testors Spray Lacquer I happened to have.  It's drying now.  (I hope that will work, but if it doesn't I'll try something else.  Any recommendations for a clear coat fixative that will work?)

So that's where I am!  The decals look great and I'm excited to cut them out and see if I can make them look good on the model.






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I put the decals face down on a sheet of glass and weighted them down with a heavy book overnight to make sure they didn’t crinkle.  They looked great this morning and, tonight, I’ll apply them.

I was a little worried that the would be too shiny, but doesn’t look like that’s the case, so onward!

Edited by DMC1964
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  • 2 months later...

It has been quite a long time since I posted anything, so I thought it time to give an update.

My experience with making the decals for the trailboards and the eagle on the stern was positve.




Then I finished off all the deck furniture.  This was all made from various pieces of brass cut and shaped as necessary.



Then I stepped the masts.


And made the various gaffs and booms.  More wood (toothpicks worked great) and brass for the boom jaws.


Those were painted white.

I made my sails by 1) drawing the seam lines on sketch paper, 2) copying those lines on the other side of the paper and then making two copies of that.  I know John Fox used his light table to copy lines from one side of the paper to another, but copier/printers are a lot more common today than in 1988, so I used mine!

Then I used the plans, proportional dividers and a machinist's protractor to get the angles and dimensions of the sails.  I made templates for them.



Then I laid them on the sketch paper with the seam lines and cut them out with the correct orientation.


A set of sails!


I've installed the sails and all the rigging now.  I found that I'd overstretched the foremast backstays, so I needed to remove and replace them, which is why the foremast pitches forward in this photo.


There's some tidying up that needs to be done on the rigging.  (Not a big job, but a time-consuming one.)  I finished cleaning up the bottle last night and will start getting the base and pedestals done so I can get the ship inserted.

That's a daunting task.  I hope, after all this work, the final product looks good!






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