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Bottled Ship Builder


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I love working with wood. I love shaping it, carving it, sanding it and finishing it. I very much enjoy putting miniature wooden ships in bottles. I love recreating the ingenuity of the originators of this craft who worked with whatever materials they had on hand with improvised tools to produce small works of art.

This kit is none of that.

This kit is a miniature plastic ship model that will be placed into a glass bottle using the somewhat traditional technique of hinging the mast and erecting them via their rigging lines pulled from outside the bottle and then obscuring the lines to make it look mysterious.

I haven’t made a plastic model kit since I was twelve years old and I didn’t really enjoy them much then. The quicker I got them together so that I could blow them up with a fire cracker or light them on fire in a reenactment of the D-Day Normandy Landing the better. I don’t think I every bother to paint them; paints cost money back then – money that I could better use to buy illicit firecrackers from the local punk who probably latter became a drug dealer.

So I don’t get to carve any wood into a hull. Frankly I don’t mind not having to tediously sand mast and spars but not carving a hull is almost sacrilegious. So I’ve been at odds about what to do with this kit since I purchased it. My initial thoughts were to re-purpose the bottle for a model of my own making of another ship - it is a very nice “Dutch Flask” bottle. Then I thought about using the model as a guide to copy lines from and recreate the model using wooden parts in a more traditional build. Finally I decided to just open the thing up and see what it was all about and at least read the instruction book.

Once I started to assembly the stand, I was hooked. I opened the little container of provided gold paint to paint the little whale figurines for the stand only to find the acrylic paint was all dried up. So I broke out an ancient unused set of Testor’s model paints and found I had a bottle of gold paint that I applied effortlessly (I’ve learned to paint parts on the sprue to avoid handling them – something I didn’t know when I was twelve). So now I’m of the mind to just read and follow the instructions and build the thing the way it was intended.

The little stand looks pretty cool but the bottle doesn’t fit on it the way I expected. I think a lot of the model isn’t going to go together the way I expect it. At least the little vials of red and black paint aren’t dried up but I don’t know how I’m going to paint the tiny little figures – the Captain has a peg leg!

Well at least it isn’t a plastic ship in a plastic bottle – I have one of those kits too.







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Nothing wrong with a plastic ship.  I may give a side eye for gluing a bottle together with a ship inside.  Even then, we allow miniatures ships here too so I may allow it on grounds its a miniature ship put in a bottle shaped case.  :D   This does look like a fun project.  I bet you can get a pretty good looking SIB out of this kit. 

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Well here's today's progress. Of course it doesn't take long to snap together parts, but I needed to do some painting and I want to take my time. I found the instructions a bit vague and I'm noticing that some things don't match their depiction in the diagrams. 

The hull is made of white plastic and I was to paint it black but to leave the up-raised parts white. Since this is impossible to do on such a small scale, I applied the supplied black acrylic paint across the whole hull and simply wiped and scraped back the parts that were to be left white. I doubt I would have known how to do this when I was twelve.

However I am impressed with the quality of this kit as far as plastic models go. All the supplies and tools were included. Even the tube of plastic glue is still good! The modelling clay isn't even completely hardened. The kit includes a duplicate set of masts and spars. I have enough materials to make another ship if I make my own hull.

Also included is a neat little rigging stand that I could use to display the model in a case instead of using the nice bottle - we'll see.

I can't tell the exact vintage of the kit but since the supplied literature doesn't include a URL of website info I'm guessing it's pre 1995. It may even go back to the 1980's.

So the next step is the rigging of the yard arms to the masts which seems involved.IMG_20200819_085754.thumb.jpg.35786790eb5f6c49a17cc10a13798cc7.jpgIMG_20200819_085852.thumb.jpg.57c03d87a5c82b5ec5495e59b4c610b0.jpg

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  • 2 weeks later...

I finally made some more progress on this kit. Not that it is very challenging, but I'm trying to follow the step by step instructions exactly so that maybe I can learn something but about all I am learning is how difficult it must be to properly write instructions and to assemble a kit. I'm finding left over parts that aren't called out anywhere. There was suppose to be an exact duplicate of parts for the mast and spars but I'm not finding an exact number of duplicate yardarms. There is suppose to be a "test jig" built into the holding stand but it isn't properly molded in. So right now I have all the yardarms tied to the masts (I would have rather used wire but the instructions call for them to be tied in and no wire is provided) and are laying about all akimbo before being rigged. The masts snap in and hinge to the hull and the model snaps into a rather neat little rigging base. The control lines all come out of the bottom of the hull - I'm used to drilling holes into the bow sprit and rigging from there. Next onto the rigging , which seems over simplified not I may include more detail (I don't see any back stays or rat lines).DSC_0051.jpg.7a1d28421ad7bddaa72f52fa9fae4833.jpgDSC_0053.jpg.50c22a2ccca70f8d5222c7ee9ef61fc2.jpgDSC_0054.jpg.3a779b2c011a83e666a119db3636cb2b.jpg

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I think I need to follow the instructions and not modify the rigging too much. The mast fold forward, not backward, so back stays would prevent the masts from folding forward along the lines of what their actual intention on a real ship would be. The more I go along, the more I'm leaning toward completing the build as it is intented, glass bottle and all.  I wish I could find another glass bottle like it which I need for another scratch built model.

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I suppose I could rig the back stays as control lines pulled outside of the bottle, but the model already has eight of them and I don't need six more.

I'm having a slow go at this one for a variety of reasons, the biggest of which is that this is suppose to be my rainy day project and we've had very little rain here in Vermont! I've also acquired a slight repetitive strain injury in my left thumb. But I am almost finished rebuilding my modelling workstation.

I am also finding inaccuracies in the instructions. Of all the extra materials that were provided, I wasn't given enough thread and I was only provided with white thread (running rigging) and no black thread for standing rigging. The call out of required lengths to cut is also too short to reach outside the bottle. So I'll have to sub in some other thread but horror of horrors it won't be to scale!

So back to plodding along and hoping the damn thing fits in the bottle and pulls upright.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Finally finished rigging the model. I added the Martindale rigging that wasn't called for in the instructions but that is about the extent of my imbellishments. The rigging instructions involve a convoluted process of tying down one side of the yard while slipping the rigging on the other side with stop blocks applied to the control line on that side made of blobs of glue. So there was a lot of glue set up time involved. I don't have the yards as even as I'd like but they look better on the model than they do in the photo. I'll have to do some adjusting after the model is set in the bottle anyway.

Now I have a rat's nest of eight control lines that are all numbered with the supplied decals. Next step is to cut out the supplied sails and glue them down, one by one, another tedious process. Then I can do the fun stuff of designing the sea and back drop. There are supplied a neat little light house and some small dolphin figures that I can arrange. I may make a background headland for the lighthouse.


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I finished adding the sails. The model wouldn't look like much without them. The sails were cut out of a pre-printed sheet of glossy coated paper. I can't say that they look very authentic or attractive. I have to admit that this model is not my favorite thing. I hardly think that the ship model rates being put inside such a nice bottle and I'm still battling the thought of abandoning the model for a scratch build of something else to put in the bottle. But then again I already pasted the ship name plate to the bottle stand - but I could cover that.

The yards are hard to straighten and I have to play marionette with eight control lines and a little in-the-bottle adjustments with a long tool. I would like to do some creative sea and backdrop with the supplied embellishments though. Maybe it will all come together well once the ship is in the bottle. These things aren't meant to be looked at under a magnifying glass so maybe I'm being too hyper critical. 

Anyway, here's what the model looks like pre-insertion.


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I'm having a hard time reconciling putting this plastic model into such a nice glass bottle. I have another ship plan that needs this size of a bottle and I would like to re-purpose it for that application - it's hard to find such size bottles. Also I could improve the rigging on this model if I don't have to fold it. So I found this nice 5"x7" case that I had laying about and gave it a coat of cherry satin. 



The case was made as a top loading case and has a thin veneer bottom. I found a graphic of the Cutty Sark at sea and printed it on a 5X7 page and inserted it into the bottom as to be used now as a back drop while turning the case on edge as the top becomes the front door.




My intention is to make a putty sea for the base and install the model on top of that once I've completed embellishing the rigging more to my liking. I think this is a bit more creative than just living with the modified rigging and blindly following the instruction to place the ship in the bottle. So now I can have an attractive bottle for another purpose and an attractive miniature cased model which is something unique that I don't currently own. I've applied my own judgement, artistry and ingenuity - something I would be much prouder to own then the intended plastic ship in a glass bottle made from the kit.


Here's the "dry fit" of the model in the case before modification and applied putty sea.



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Once I put the idea in my head to make a cased model, I couldn't stop. I used the kit provided putty for a sea. I found that I could make it more pliable by heating it up a bit so I put it in a saucer surrounded by a bath of hot water. It smoothed-out nicely along the glass bottom of the case and I managed not to break the thin glass bottom while pressing it in. 



I then used the white putty to make the sea foam and once I placed the ship in I fashioned the foam wake. The kit had some small dolphin figures included and a little lighthouse that looks a bit out of scale. The large ship in the background picture violates the principles of linear prospective but I like the picture and seems to compliment the ship model. 



I wasn't able to modify the rigging owning to the original intention of the construction of the model to be folded and placed in a bottle. I decided to live with the rigging as it was. I was able to pull it tight and since the lines come out of the bottom of the model and the clay sea holds them fast. I think I'm happier with the model in a case and I have another plan for the bottle which I think I have no choice but to work on next after shelving the idea for a number of years. So I've buttoned-up my cased model, made my label for it and added it to my menagerie.



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