The Ship Model Builder's Assistant

The Ship Model Builder's Assistant

by Charles G. Davis


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ISBN-13: 9780486255842
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 02/01/1988
Series: Dover Woodworking
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 737,039
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

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By Charles G. Davis

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1988 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15620-0



PACKET ships and clipper ships had distinctive characteristics by which they could be recognized at a glance from that little heard of but more numerous type of plain, common, everyday merchantman that constituted the bulk of the American tonnage. Packets and clippers had a pedigree of their own, as it were, and the newspapers gave long, glowing descriptions of them and their records were given columns in the newspapers, while the rank-and-file would be dismissed in a line in the marine column, reading—"Ship Betsy, Sharp, from Madeira." But there were dozens of Betsies and Sallies to one clipper. They were the common wall-sided, flat-floored, bluff-bowed and heavy, square-transomed ships with which everyone was so familiar that they were just ships and nothing more.

Today, looking back and reviewing all the different types of ships, those little, three hundred ton ships, of about 1820, with their decks laid out with the same simplicity that characterized the schooners and brigs, are a novelty. They had one big, main-cargo hatch just forward of the mainmast. Fiferails, of course, were around each mast, at the deck, for belaying the gear. A fore-scuttle was forward of the foremast and a cuddy, aft, giving access to the after quarters. A log windlass lay across the decks, just abaft the foremast, with a pair of stout bitts at the heel of the bowsprit. Away aft was the steering wheel with its drum and tiller tackles exposed above decks. This constituted the visible deck furniture.

To appreciate what the smaller, single-decked ship really was, one should look at some of the old whalers, as many merchantmen, when worn out from carrying heavy cargoes, have been sold and used for whaling; to float around under topsails, as an ocean tramp, for the remainder of their days.

The shape of ship's hulls, in various decades, has gone through a gradual development that may be traced with some accuracy; but the way in which the decks and houses were built has varied so at all times that no one particular arrangement can be called a standard, for it depended on what trade she was built for or employed in and then, too, the size of the vessel always called for various layouts.

Small ships, single-decked ships, as they were called, because they had only one deck, laid dunnage boards over the top of their ballast on which to stow their cargo. As ships were built larger and deeper they needed another deck to stiffen the hull and also to avoid piling the cargo so deep as to crush the under part, so another deck was built and this was called the lower deck.

During the days of slavery, vessels that were only single-decked, used to carry a temporary deck, only three or four feet below the upper deck, into which low space hundreds of human beings were crowded. This was called a slave-deck and its presence in a vessel was one way by which the men-of-war's men could identify a slaver. Even the presence of lumber on board, with which to build such a deck, was considered sufficient evidence to convict. The female slaves were crowded into the after cabin or partitioned off in the after end of the craft. The officers and crew gave up their quarters below, to accommodate the slaves, and slept at night in what were called "sleeping boxes." The cooking was done on deck in sand-boxes, much the same way as the native small craft in the West Indies do to this day. It is said that the peanut, a native of South America, found its way into the United States by way of Africa, having been carried by the slavers as food for the slaves.

When the depth of hold increased, during the packet ship days, another deck became necessary and this, between the main and lower decks, was called the between deck, pronounced "'tween decks," by sailors. Some large ships had another deck, away down in the bottom, and this fourth deck was called the orlop deck.

In building ship models, it is the upper decks that mainly concern us. Men-of-war called the main deck, the gun-deck, and the upper deck was called the spar deck. Between the forecastle and the quarter-deck, covering the gun-deck on frigates, were gangways, a narrow strip of deck along each side, just wide enough to cover the guns below and connecting the two so that the sail trimmers had free access fore and aft. Merchant ships built with a continuous upper deck, are said to have a spar deck. ships with this spar deck, that had an open rail on turned stanchions instead of bulwarks, thereby permitting the water to flow off unobstructed, are said to have a hurricane deck.

The poop deck is the raised deck, aft, and the forecastle head is the raised deck, forward. The poop was usually built with full headroom, which might be between five and six feet, but when it was only three or four feet above the main deck, the ship was said to have a half-deck, and she became a half-deck ship. On this type of ship, the after cabin, with its floor on the same level as the main deck, stuck up through the half-deck far enough to give full headroom in the cabin.

The packet ships, the predecessors of the clippers, were heavy looking craft in their topsides, though under water, while they were big and burdensome for their dimensions, in a more modest way, they aimed for speed also. From 1816 to 1845, just after a long period of warfare on the seas, in their day they naturally followed the trend in design that had brought the American frigates into world-wide renown. They were high-sided, bluff-bowed and wide across the transoms. Everything about their construction had the massive appearance of the frigates from which they descended. Peaceful frigates they were, to carry freight, mail and passengers, for there were no steamers then and the later packets, that had to compete with the early, undeveloped steamships, could outsail the steamers and every trip west, across the Atlantic, found them loaded to capacity with European emigrants eager to come to the land of freedom and opportunity for a poor man.

The pioneer packets, the Black Ball Liners, of 1816, were small ships of only four hundred to five hundred tons. Larger and larger ships replaced them until in 1843 they were of one thousand tons capacity. These packet ships had long poop decks extending from the stern forward just a little beyond the mainmast. A bulkhead crossed the ship at the forward end of the first-class cabin passengers' quarters which were built in the after part of the ship, below this poop deck. This bulkhead kept back some six or eight feet aft of the end of this deck which formed a covered shelter below. Access was had to the main deck by means of a steep ladder on each side, under two small, square hatchways in the poop deck. Aft, there was a roomy wheelhouse and smoking room with a stairway also leading down to the cabin passenger quarters below. Forward and aft of the mizzenmast were skylights and then came a broad open space to the mainmast, broken only by a capstan placed about midway between the main and mizzenmasts.

On top of the main hatch, down on the main deck, just in front of the mainmast, was a cow-house lashed fast to ringbolts in the deck. Forward of this was the ship's long boat, stowed in skids, also lashed down to ringbolts. The galley smokestack came up through the deck just forward of this boat and behind or aft of the foremast bitts.

Access to the quarters below was down a cuddy or slide just forward of the foremast, the crew's quarters being forward in the eyes of the ship and the steerage or second-class passengers lived under the main deck between the fore and mainmasts.

Some of the larger packets, such as the famous Dreadnaught, launched in 1853, a 1400 ton ship, 200 feet long, 39 feet beam and 26 feet depth of hold, had a covered house clear across the stern. The wheelhouse or helmsman's quarters, was in the middle, with toilet rooms to starboard and bathing rooms to port. This covered house or decked-over part was ten feet long, fore and aft. Out on the deck, just forward of this, where it could be seen through the windows by the man at the wheel, was the binnacle and forward of that, a skylight just behind the mizzenmast. Just forward of the mizzenmast was a large deck-house over the stairs or companionway, as sailors term them, leading down to the first-class cabin passengers' quarters,—passengers who could afford to pay for comforts denied the steerage. The fare in 1830 was 35 guineas for the voyage, which included beds, bedding, meals, wines, etc. In this deck-house, with two doors opening aft, were fitted chairs and settees as a lounging and smoking room. Forward of this house was a round skylight, one of the fancy kind with tapered panes of glass. Then came a capstan, a hatchway and the mainmast.

The total length of this deck was fifty-five feet, which, in fair weather, gave a fine promenade for the cabin passengers. None of the steerage were allowed off the main deck below.

The clipper ship era was from 1841 to 1860. It began with the little Webb-built ship Helena, of 135 feet length on deck, 30 feet 6 inches moulded beam and 20 feet depth of hold, with a tonnage (old measurement) of 856 tons. She was constructed for A. and N. Griswold, for the China tea trade. Following the Helena came the Rainbow, Montauk, Houqua and Sea Witch and after her many others, increasing in size from 500 to 800 tons burden to 2300 tons, in the last of the clippers.

The little Helena, following the custom of the packet ship, the clipper's predecessor, had much the look and model of a frigate; but once started in quest of speed, the American designers and shipbuilders soon dropped all preconceived ideals of ship's proportions and a comparison of the plans of the Helena and the Sea Witch will show to what extremes the changes in ship modeling went in the short time between 1841 and 1846.

The Helena was bluff-bowed at the water line, and the Sea Witch was hollow-bowed. No wonder the waterfront community said that the latter's bow was turned inside out. The midship section was cut away so fine and round, that by contrast with the square, box-like midship sections of former craft, the change was too sudden for the comprehension of waterfronts and all kinds of disaster was predicted for her. It was predicted that she was going to founder by running her bows clean under water. Instead of that she ran her bows up out of water. Other builders then began to sharpen up on their ship's bows but they did it very cautiously, each ship being a little finer. But none of them would concede to the easy midship section that Griffiths, who designed the Sea Witch, put on his ships. They clung to the flat-floored midship section as long as they could.

The changes more apparent to the casual observer, were the elimination of all the fancy work at the bow and stern. There was nothing left on the later clippers but a small carved image, close up under the bowsprit, on an otherwise naked bow, where formerly there were fiddle-boards, trail-boards, hair rails, hair brackets and ornaments galore. At the stern, the big, heavy, bay-window effect, with its overhanging galleries, carved pilasters and slanting windows, so dear to the hearts of the old-time seamen, were cleaned off as neat and clean as on a Whitehall boat's stern. The squat, lower transom disappeared, the rudder carrying up almost to the deck line, the after quarters were so lean and sharp.

The most astonishing thing, however, concerning these huge clippers, was the spaciousness of their broad decks and their great length. After climbing over such little ships as the Rebecca Carnano, the G. D. Zaldo, and others, whose decks from bow to stern were a continuous congestion of hatches and deck-houses, the large, open sweep of a clipper's deck struck one very forcibly—decks so wide that there was a capstan on either side of the poop deck and either side of the forward deck by the foremast with ample room to walk the bars around and have room to spare. Everything about the deck furniture seemed so small; due to the bigness of the ship, that it impressed one with the size of the craft. A man shrank into such insignificant proportions aboard one of these craft that it fairly awed him with respect for such of his fellowmen as dared attempt the mastery of such a hugh fabric of wood and iron. The topsail halliard blocks appeared small in the maze of spars, ropes and other blocks, but when you came to lift one you discovered what immense things they actually were.

A little south of Rio we sighted a sail astern, early one morning. At noon, one of these big Frisco-bound ships was abeam, as delicate-looking as a spider's web, with every stitch of canvas set including three skysails, and going through the water two feet to our one. Our bark carried a crew of eight men and the stranger probably stowed about thirty in her forecastle. Those immense blocks, that were all one man could lift, looked to us no bigger than beads and the heavy ropes rove through them, like threads. But a handsomer picture never was presented to the gaze of man than such a ship logging her twelve knots under full sail.

Such a ship is a different creature, when viewed at sea, clothed from deck to skysails in white canvas, cut and set as only a Yankee ship's sails were, from the same vessel lying inert and disheveled, alongside a wharf, while being loaded.

Deep-waisted bulwarks, around the naked-looking decks of these ships, gave an appearance of simplicity, in striking contrast to one of the two thousand ton, Bath-built ships of 1870 or thereabouts, with its many deck encumbrances. These later ships were built with a high quarter deck aft and a raised forecastle-head forward. They had fore, main and after hatchways for loading and unloading cargo. A long deck-house ran clear from the foremast, aft, almost to the main hatch, containing crew's quarters, carpenter shop and galley. Some ships fitted with a steam donkey-engine and boiler, had a room in the deck-house, called the "donkey room." On top of the deck-house, turned upside down on skids, were two ship's long boats, for these craft carried a crew of thirty-odd men.

The after house, raised some three feet above the quarter deck, was fitted with skylights and companionways and sometimes a couple of double-ended whale boats would be stowed on skids, one on either side, just forward of the mizzen rigging. This elevated poop deck was the sanctuary of the ship's officers and in tacking ship it gave the "old man" room enough to stomp about, wave his arms and cuss to his heart's content. A long, steep ladder led down from the forward end of this poop to the main deck and a short ladder led aft to the quarter deck, which ended near the after end of this after house with a ladder at each side in the alleyways. There was a private companionway leading down to the captain's quarters, aft, and just aft of it was the steering wheel.

The little, flush-decked coaster had a single barrel lever pump abaft her mainmast, but this big, soft wood ship had a double-chambered, diaphragm flywheel pump mounted on the extended main fiferail.

To handle warps, there was a small capstan, away forward, on the forecastle head, and a heavier, double-acting capstan was near the after end, for hoisting and stowing the anchors, and for heaving the windlass. There was another capstan, aft, between the mainmast and after-hatch and also winch heads at the fore and main bitts for emergency cases in getting out cargo. These were also used for mastheading the heavy maintopsail yard when reefing topsails down off Cape Horn where man-power becomes all but exhausted in the killing weather of those latitudes.

These big, Maine-built ships were beauties and represented the last word in ship construction. Many of them, nowadays, are referred to as clippers, but they are as different from the true clipper, as a brewery horse is from a trotting mare—well kept, but not speedy.



THE height of every ship model builder's ambition is to make a real built-up model of one of those old-time three-decked men-of-war that were the pride of European nations during the seventeenth century. They were round-sided ships with tumble-home top sides, beautifully adorned with carvings along the upper works, their sterns a blaze of colorful carvings and paintings, with windows and balconies, all harmoniously proportioned. The other end of the ship was also adorned with curved rails and an elaborately carved image for a figurehead that was generally symbolic of her name.

There is a lot of work connected with the making of one of these models and anyone undertaking to build one should first of all be very careful to get a design to work from that is correct. It is most exasperating to get well along with the construction of your model and then find that a grievous error has been made in the plans. It is far better to go carefully over the plans before you begin work. Only recently, a friend of mine undertook to build a three-decked French line-of-battleship, from a set of plans printed in an old book on shipbuilding. He had all these plans enlarged by the photostat process and naturally supposed they were accurate. He went ahead and did a lot of work; bought a whole log of boxwood and had it sawed up to the proper thickness for frames and keel and then, when he got stuck, called upon me for help. I found that the three plans did not agree; that they were unfair; that the heights in one plan did not coincide with the heights in the other. The result was that he had to scrap most of the work done, redraw and fair-up the set of lines and then begin over again.


Excerpted from THE SHIP MODEL BUILDER'S ASSISTANT by Charles G. Davis. Copyright © 1988 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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