Sunday, 23 February 2014

USS "Philadelphia"

Discovering the artefact

Since I had come across photos of the remains of the American gunboat (called gundalow or gondola in the sources) for the first time, I had wished to build that model for my war-gaming troops. When I found drawings of the reconstruction of the historical vessel in the net I could no longer resist.
various plans to be found on the net

The measures were known from the salvaged vessel from Lake Champlain. The flat-bottomed boat was 53 ft 2 in long, and the beam measured 15 ft 2 in. The mast which had been in place, was 36 ft high. No problem converting these measures into meters and centmeters, and then into the 1/56 scale of our miniatures.

Building the hull

The hull of the ship should not pose too big a problem, as the craft had a flat bottom and more or less the form of a flat-iron. I decided it could be made of layers of wood, afterwards to be smoothed with a rasp.
Drawing of the first layer

I then began drawing the different layers which were to become the hull. The lowest layer was made of 2mm aeroplane plywood because I wanted to keep the model as low as possible
Then the following layers were cut from 4mm poplar plywood. I chose this soft wood to save time rasping the hull into shape.

These five layers were to become the hull.
I glued the uppermost 4 layers together. and gave the product some shape with my rasp and a bit of putty. Then the lowest layer was glued on as well, and got its massage with the rasp and sand-paper on the edges.The result was not satisfyring yet, as bow and stern were too low, and the whole thing did not look boat-like to me (having been brought up on the North Sea).
The finished hull and the balsa wood to be added to bow and stern

The problem was solved with the help of some 4mm balsa wood, which was cut out with a jigsaw, glued onto bow and stern, and then cut into form with a single edge razor blade I had inherited from my brother-in-law, the biologist. The thing looked more boat-like now.
The raw form of the hull with the keel added

Bow, stern with rudder, and the three decks - higher gun deck for the 12-ponder at the bow, central gun deck for the two 9-pounders in the middle, and the quarterdeck - were then jigsawed from 2mm aeroplane plywood. After drawing the plank pattern onto the decks with a thin pen, all parts were glued into their respective places.
The decks and other parts before their installation

Some minor parts (cf. next picture) were added, and the skirting-board and gunwale were cut from cardboard and glued into their places. Now the hull was almost finished. Only the parts on the gunwale and the catheads were still missing.
The finished hull before painting it

Some parts of my model I got from a model shipbuilder’s shop: The twelve-pounder barrel and the two nine-ponder guns, the anchors, the pulley blocks, and the deadeyes. The barrels of the two swivel-guns I found in my scrap-box, and mounted them with bits of gardener’s wire. Installing the guns I omitted several of the lines which were necessary to manoeuvre them.

Building the mast

The gunboat had a mast that consisted of two parts, the main mast and a top mast. Both bore square rigged sails, the main sail having a yard and a boom, the top sail simply having a yard. Masts, yards, and boom I made of dowel-wood which I sharpened towards the ends with the help of an electric drill and sandpaper.
The two parts of the mast

The lower mast head I constructed of pieces of 2mm aeroplane plywood: two tiny bits for the cheeks, one larger piece imitating the trestle and cross trees, and another one the planking.
The mast head seen from below, you can see the 2 cheeks and the pattern of trees.
The mast head seen from above, you can see the planking.

The mast cap I jigsawed from 4mm plywood.

After completion the mast was glued into a square hole in the keelson and against the mastpartner.

The mast in position (with a provisional bow stay)
The Rigging

The flat-bottomed ship had not been a vessel designed to be propelled by sails: it had almost no draught, and neither keel nor centreboard or sideboards. It coulld only drift before the wind when that came from behind. The means of propulsion were ten oars. So I decided to have foiled sails because I intended to have a rowing crew on board. So pieces of cloth were soaked in white glue, and sewed and bound to the yards.
Plan of the rigging (the omitted parts are indicated by red lines)
Of course the rigging had to be simplified, otherwise it would have been impossible to handle the figures on board the ship. So the rigging became a compromise, a simple form of rigging which at the same time gave the impression of reality. I omitted lots of lines necessary for sailing a ship like this. There are no stays for the top mast, no sheets of the sails, no realistic halyards. But I made shrouds with ratlines, backstays of the main mast, simple sheets for the yards, and the complicated construction of the main mast stay which was necessary for the bow cannon.
The bow stay construction allowing the cannon to fire ahead
The general impression looks satisfying to me.

The finished model with the helmsman (a Minden Miniatures drover) at work

Another perspective