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Bottled Ship Builder

Yacht America 1851


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I set my self a goal of finishing America in time for the Model Ships and Boats contest in Manitowoc, WI at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.  That happens May 19-21, so I have a little less than a month to get everything buttoned up.

This weekend, I made major progress.  First, I built a little cradle for the bottle using some scrap wood.  That will keep the bottle stable while I work in it.


I made a plinth for the model from some spare oak strips I happened to have.  The pedestals are birch (I think) in brass tubes.  That was a tight fit through the neck of the bottle, but some gentle persuasion got it in there.


To do that "persuasion" I made a little tool with a swiveling head on it.  I could put a "tamper" through the neck of the bottle to put downward pressure on the plinth.  I used some Loctite adhesive to stick it to the bottom of the bottle.



Then I inserted the lower hull and glued it to the pedestalls.  If I had it to do over again, I would make the wooden portion of the pedestals a little longer.  They fit fine, but there wasn't much gluing area and getting them a little deeper into the hull would make it more stable.  I made them short because, outside the bottle, every time I tried to assemble everything with longer pedestals, I pushed up through the upper hull, dislodging some of the deck furniture.  Those things need to be short.


It took a little doing to get everything lined up, but it went fine.  I let it dry for a good long time before going to the next stage.


At this stage you can see the lower hull in the bottle, the upper hull on the erecting trestle.  I did test runs of collapsing the model several times to make sure everything worked.  One thing that definitely didn't work were the sheet lines.  I'd thought that I could suspend the sails by the sheet lines as they went into the bottle.  That just didn't work.  They were too short and got hung up every time.  I ended up removing them.  Best decision I made in this whole project.




In it goes.

There was plenty of manipulation needed once it was in the bottle.  The mainsail halyard got wrapped around the upper hull and I needed to pull back on the hull, raise the main mast, re-insert it, etc.  But, in the end, eveything worked out alright.  As you can see, there is little or no tension on any of the lines at this point.  The jib is still a little tangled in two other erecting lines, so I need to get that sorted out.  And then there needs to be some minor adjustments all around.  Then I need to secure all those lines with glue and cut them off.

I really enjoy building the model outside the hull.  Inserting it and working through these adjustments are, I find, really nerve wracking.  I'm happy when it's done.

Once this is all buttoned up, I'll start on the base for the bottle.  That'll be the easiest part of this whole project.  I have a nice piece of mahogany in my wood pile that'll be perfect for this.





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Sory to hear you won't be in Manitowoc, John.  We'll try to hold down the fort without you.

I made some good progress over the weekend.  Big things:

  • Glued the upper and lower hulls together.  Without that, every time I tried to adjust the erecting lines, the hull halves would separate.  Finally gluing them together stopped that.
  • Sorting out all the erecting lines.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the jib had gotten all tanged up going into the bottle and the others were hard to identify when they were all bundled together.



I made labels for all six lines, sorted them out (very carefully) and taped them to the outside of the bottle.

Since then, I did some final adjustments.  The jib had separated from the jib halyard, so there was some delicate surgery needed to reattach it inside the bottle.

Once I had the masts and sails exactly where I wanted them, I applied some super glue to the mast hinges.  That keeps them where I want them as I tensioned the erecting lines.  I started with the main mast and worked to the fore mast.  I've glued and cut off two of the six erecting lines and the rest should be done tonight or tomorrow.  I can't emphasize enough the value of going slowly on any of this.  Let the glue dry thoroughly.  Move slowly.  Think through exactly what you want to do.  Do test runs without glue on the lance.  It's just so easy to slip up, move something you don't want to move, catch one of the lances on something on the way out of the bottle, etc.  Breaking something at this point would be really hard to fix.  I learned this will my last model, which was much less complex than this one.  This thing just screams "pay attention!"  I'm very clear on how to tension, glue and cut the next two lines.  The final two are going to be tricky because they exit from the bottom of the bowsprit, which is not the most accessible spot.  I'm going to have to create a new tool to get at those.

I'll be really happy when the construction is complete and I can focus full time on mounting the bottle for display.  I've got some ideas about how to do this and that piece of mahogany I mentioned will be perfect for it, but making decisions about wood finishing is one of those things I tend to overthink.






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Greetings Dan,

Here are a few photos of what I do when making models with more "control" rigging lines that have to be pulled from outside the bottle/light bulb. I've made several of these, each one designed for specific models, so the openings are in the right place to apply  glue to the lines once tightened. Simple wire hoops keep the lines contained to the desired angles to make gluing easier. The "head" end has a rubber pad, then a thin wood slab, with rubber underneath. The arrangement keeps tension on the lines as they are tightened, and allows tension release if a mistake is made. There is a brass 90 degree angle with holes drilled to keep lines separated into groups, to make it easier to label lines.





Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III


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Greetings Dan,

Do try to remember that I've been doing this sort of modeling for 40+ years now, everybody starts with banging rocks! Too boot, I've made more mistakes and bad solutions to problems in that time than you'd do in the same time frame. I usually try to work "outside the box:" so I am often working things I've never seen done before, with many  attempts until I actually find something that works. Also, keep in mind that one solution doesn't work for every model. I've had to adapt the inside the bottle/bulb upper hull holder many times to accamodate various different models. In the particular model from the photos last posted, my Bon Homme Richard, all the lines excited from beneath the upper hull. Many reasons for it, mostly due to attempting to duplicate all of the rigging, the vast majority being running rigging that needed to be "operated" from outside the light bulb to move the sails into position.

Your America looks very nice, clean and good hull shape and display! Good luck in Manitowoc in a few weeks!!

Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III


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Super quick update here.

I know the traditional way to display a ship-in-a-bottle is to have a Turk's Head knot on the neck of the bottle, but I haven't tied one of those since I was a Sea Explorer back in the early 80's.  I did a little Googling around to relearn and then practices a few times.  It turned out looking pretty nice!  Four passes, which filled out the neck nicely.

Then, yesterday, I designed the base and fabricated all the pieces.  It's all mahogany, cut from some leftover wood I had.  Routed the edges.  Resawed a piece for the piece supporting the neck.  (I thought the full thickness of the board was a little too bulky.)  I thought this turned out well, too, although I'm concerned about the butt joint on that neck piece. I think I'll make some small reinforcements for it.

I got some Varathane wood stain the other day.  It's that "super fast drying" variety, which I've never used, but from everything I've seen, it works well.  Still debating if I want to use tung oil or polyurethane varnish on it.  I'm going over to the trophy shop this afternoon to see if they can make me a name plate for it.

Down to the final stretch!


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Dropped by the local trophy shop this afternoon.  They’re buried with all the high school graduations and all, but said they’d fit in my brass nameplate.  I mocked it up on paper to make sure it would fit.  Should look nice.

I also made a little gusset for the neck support.  That’ll strengthen that butt joint a lot.




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Another super quick update.  Spent the weekend finishing the base.  Lots of sanding, four coats of Varathane Gunstock stain, two coats of polyurethane varnish.  Left to dry for 24 hours yesterday morning.  Will be ready for final assembly tonight.  The supports will be attached to the base with brass screws and finish washers.  The nameplate came back from the trophy shop in Saturday and looks great.  Everything's going according to plan. 




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