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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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