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Multiple S.I.B. models of the ship Wavertree

JerseyCity Frankie

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Over the summer of 2016 I was fortunate enough to be involved in the restoration and re-rigging of the full size three masted full rigged ship Wavertree,  an historic iron hulled Museum Ship owned by the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan. I made some good friends among the riggers but at the end of the project we all have gone our separate ways. As a way of expressing gratitude for the shared experience and comradery I got form working with these people, I decided to make some of them Ship In Bottle models of the Wavertree. But I didn't want to go too crazy so I decided to make the models small modest and easy to make. I had seen a Ship in Bottle model made in a mini liquor bottle at the the Noble Maritime Center in Staten Island ( they have a pretty good model collection) and it stuck in the back of my mind that I should try making a tiny S.I.B. model one day, so this was the perfect opportunity. I'm starting this build log November 10th 2016, lets see if I can finish these models by Xmas. Here is a photo of Wavertree taken over 100 years ago in San Fransisco.

If you are curious about what it was like rigging the Wavertree, here is a link to my flicker page which has over three hundred photos I took while working on the ship: https://www.flickr.com/photos/140039433@N06/sets/72157671511288900



Edited by JerseyCity Frankie
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Yes, excellent load of photographs.     A beautiful ship.      Did you ever get to climb over the futtock shrouds?     I have often wondered if I could actually manage it.    I have been aloft in steamers loads of times and found that quite unnerving, often getting the unreasonable feeling that the top of the mast was going to break off with me on it!:o       I suppose if I had gone to sea in those days, I would have managed to do it, as everyone seemed to do, despite the initial fear.


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Wavertree was built in 1885 of riveted wrought Iron and after a career typical for ships of her kind in her day, she was dismasted in a Cape Horn storm and her hull spent most of the twentieth century in South America as a storage hulk and sand barge. Purchased by the new South Street Seaport Museum in 1968, she came to New York and has been on pier 16 on the East River ever since. She was re-rigged but her condition was never all it could be, its difficult to find funding for the sort of work an historic ship like this needs and after 2001 she began to rapidly deteriorate as the fortunes of the Museum fluctuated. However there was a dramatic turn around at the Museum two years ago and the city decided to pay for the complete restoration of the ship. She was towed to Staten Island and completely stripped down and rebuilt. Here is a photo taken on her triumphant return to the East River taken on September 24th 2016.


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First I went out on foot and scoured my neighborhood for discarded mini liquor bottles. Jersey City has never been a very classy place and such bottles are there to be had, a typical sight where I live. Did you notice they started making them out of plastic? I suppose some of the brands are still in glass bottles but non of our local casual sidewalk imbibers can apparently afford the good stuff. Well, they are unbreakable so there is that. The sea is made of plastecene as it always is in my Ship In Bottle models.


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The ships are carved from basswood. I can't decide just how many of these I am going to make. As usual when you make a whole bunch of the identical part, you are always going to have a bunch of good ones then there will be two or three bad ones that are flawed. Keeping this in mind I am not thinking too much about the exact number of these I am going to make. Less then eleven?

Anyway. I sanded the hulls then painted them with a water based sanding sealer product then sanded them again. Putting the sanding sealer on transforms the nature of basswood and turns it into a nicer wood to work with. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you all try the sanding sealer. You will be glad you did.


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 at 1073 6th Avenue in Manhattan is a Japanese bookstore called Kinokuniya.   http://www.kinokuniya.com/us/index.php/fho003  They have a paper section downstairs where one can find selections of origami paper in stacks of multiple colors. Some of them are dyed the same color all the way through so when cut there is no white paper showing inside the cut. The reason I mention this is that its easy to laminate four six or eight sheets of this paper then cut shapes out of it like it was basswood strip. I make most of the deck furniture of my smaller models this way. Using this method I don;t have to worry about trying to paint accurate clean demarcations between deck and hatch since its all made up of colored cut paper. You avoid having to be perfect.


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I have for my entire ship model building career always used artists Acrylic paint but this time I got a bunch of the small bottles of Testers plastic model kit enamel. I think its better for painting tiny details and the Wavertree has the black and white checker pattern on her hull and I assumed it would be easier to paint this in enamels then it would be with Acrylic, and it was. The hulls are wood, as I said, and then I put a strip of paper I had painted white on one side and black on the other and glued one on each side port and starboard as the bulwarks. Visible in photos above you will note some of the hulls have masts in place. These are sewing pins with their heads cut off and painted white. My intention is to rig the masts individually, off the models. The hulls will go into the bottles and the masts will be put into position one at a time with tweezers. I do not intend to use any rigging of any kind, I don't think the scale will allow it.



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My favorite part, Masting and Rigging. Spars are all made of wire which I painted with the enamel. Again, this could work with water based acrylic artist paint but it would take two coats and still not be as consistent. Titanium white pigment is not expensive but for whatever reason the makers of artist paint are always too stingy with it.

My intent is to put the hulls in the bottles then put the masts in individually by popping them into holes in the deck using tweezers. SO I want all the masts to be fully rigged and free standing off the model first. But I test fitted and photographed the first attempt. I THINK I can reach in and glue staysails one at a time with no stays to set them on, simply gluing them at their peak and tack to the mast and deck.

I made the sails of ordinary white printer paper which I first stained with a light wash of brownish grey. For this I DID use artist acrylic which is the perfect medium for a wash on paper. In my view one should NEVER use pure white material for sails, any kind of sails. Actual real world sails are nominally white but they are never pure bright white they are always a cream color with dirt. In my case my spars ARE white and as on the real ship the sails must show a visual contrast, they are less white and more ivory and there is a distinct visual difference. I will say it again: Don't use pure white for sails. One POSSIBLE exception to the rule would be dacron sails on a modern vessel which really ARE a bright white.

I cut the sail material into long strips then cut them to the proper width for the spars they will go on then cut the arc at the bottom of the sails to indicate the foot being curved.

This is a good time to talk about oversimplification in Ships In Bottles. Lets face it, in this hobby the bar is low for accuracy. We can get away with toylike models that would make people howl if these were three foot long free standing static models. (Although there are plenty of Ship In Bottle models that ARE very very accurate I think most examples are off in scale in most respects) In the case of my Wavertree the length to beam ratio is all wrong and the height of the bullwarks are way overscale. At the scale I am working in a bulwark that is 1 mm too high would translate to an inaccuracy  of six or eight feet on the actual ship. But I can live with all this since its difficult to improve on it and I'm achieving the effect I'm after within the parameters I am willing to meet. If I had wanted to achieve a higher degree of proportional accuracy this projects time budget would balloon extravagantly. Maybe if I was building only a single model I would strive harder. This is a long way of getting to the point where I am going to admit that I'm leaving off the Royal yards. Getting them to fit on the masts, then getting the masts to fit inside the upper part of the bottle without touching the glass is a struggle I am willing to avoid even if it means I'm putting up a rig that is not accurate. Te overall effect will please my eye enough without them.





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Something I think is true about all types of ship models is that PRESENTATION counts for a lot more than most people realize. Too often I see very well made models that are sold short by poor methods of presentation. "selling the sizzle" is a term advertisers use for the showy aspect of presenting a product, in this case its not the steak that is being presented its the sizzling sound of the freshly cooked steak that makes peoples mouths water. If you take all the trouble to build a model, why not go the extra few steps to make the presentation of the model just as much a part of the model as every other aspect? These are the bases I am building. I took pains to make the brackets which hold the bottle to look as interesting as I could. I could have simply glued the bottles onto the wood base but if the bottles are held with brackets it makes the whole visual effect more interesting.  I'm gluing them onto green felt since I want the people I give them to to be able to display them without worrying about scratching furniture, but also because the green felt is part of the "Sizzle", its another textural element that becomes part of the object and which adds to the whole effect.




Edited by JerseyCity Frankie
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I had pictured the masting and rigging to be fairly easy but now that I am into it I am realizing its a pain in the butt. The masts are sewing pins and the yards are wire thinner than the pins, all painted with white enamel. I cut a long horizontal ribbon of paper then I cut the sails to width from that. I cut an arc off the bottom of each one then I glue the yard to the top and trim it to length with nippers. I make three sizes of square sails to go onto two types of masts: The Mizzens are shorter and the Fore and the Main are the same height as each other but slightly taller than the Mizzen. The difficult and tedious part is the gluing on of the yards to the masts. I also have to put one naked wire at the bottom to represent the Course yard, I wont have Courses set on the models. The staysails WERE going to be simple triangles than it struck me I could pre-cut the arc that would appear in the foot of each staysail by using a paper punch and cutting the sails in such a way so that the foot of the staysail would corespond with a section of arc of one of the punched holes.




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Well I got the masts in and sails up. Once again the inside dimensions of the necks of the bottles necessitated some minor surgery on the parts entering the bottle. I had gone to some lengths to assure a tiny bit of yard arm protruded past the edge of the sails but I had to snip most of these edges flush, removing a scale two or three feet from the mast stacks to get them in. It proved fairly easy to swing the masts around and into position and into their holes.

I used Weldbond white glue which is swiftly becoming my favorite glue. It grabs quickly and the bond is strong and I know its good to have a range of glues, all with different properties but if I had to pick just one white glue it would be Weldbond.

In a post above I show myself using a paper punch to give me the curve at the bottom of the staysails bt this turned out to be one of those ideas that looked good on paper but was really just preventing me from getting the sail shape I really wanted so I wound up cutting new staysails individually with cuticle scissors since there was no "one size fits all" way to make staysails in a batch that would fit all the rigs. All the models differ in size and proportion to one another.

Looks like the final count on the number of SIBs built is nine and this will allow me to hang onto a couple of them for future gifts. I suppose there must be a source online for obtaining a supply of small corks but I did not go to the trouble and I'm just using some dowel stock cut to length.






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I still have to glue the ships onto their bases and then cork them then get them into the mail. But it looks like I will get this done and they should all arrive at their destinations by christmas. Meanwhile I took one of them with me over to see the real Wavertree. Wavertree is on pier 16 in Manhattan and visible from the public peirs on each side but you can also take a guided tour with Museum admission.




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  • 4 months later...

I am one of the lucky recipients of a Wavertree SIB deftly crafted by Jersey City Frankie.  I was thrilled to have been honored with one of Frank's creations as well as being grateful for his craftsmanship and jovial personality while we were rigging the full scale 12" to the foot" Wavertree last year in Staten Island.

Please stop by and visit Wavertree at her new berth at South Seaport Maritime Museum and you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Frank high aloft with ongoing maintenance jobs for a ship is never finished until its sunk.

Thanks again Frank for this look into the building process of your gracious and very well received gift of a SIB Wavertree.. 

Jamie White

Master Rigger Wavertree project

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  • 1 year later...

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