Thursday, March 15, 2018

The First Unicorn

As mentioned in the "Unicorn Hunting" post, one of my goals for this year is to try and finish some ships that have been languishing for several years now.  The reasons are varied, but I've finally decided that if nothing else, they can serve in capacities other than what their hulls would indicate.  So, with that in mind, here are some pictures of the First Unicorn, the USS North Carolina.

According to Canney's Sailing Warships of the US Navy, the ship was laid down in June 1816, and was commissioned by 18 December 1824, so 8 years and 6 months before she was put into use.  By comparison, mine took from September 2014 to March 2018, or 3 years and 6 months.  If we use Canney as a benchmark, I flew through building my version. 😀  According to the Dictionary of American Fighting Ships (DANFS, the online address is: ), North Carolina was laid down in 1818, launched on 7 September 1820, and got her first captain on 24 June 1824.  That's only 6+ years, so even by those real world standards I'm still doing pretty good.  That's enough self-congratulations for right now I think, so let's move on to some photos of the new model.  First though, a plan of the original ship:
I saw an online comment that said this ship looks like the Constitution on steroids.  Maybe....

Remember, this is officially a 74-gun, 2 deck ship of the line.

The sails obscure just how flat the ship is.  No waist, or
stacking of decks here. Just one cabin above the spar deck.

This earlier photo gives a better idea of what I mean.

Pretty enough, but in a very practical, almost brutal, way.  I think it's
due to the ship being mostly black and white.
I did have a bit of a problem on deciding how to paint the masts.  Paintings and models show a number of different ideas.  There are white masts with black hoops:

Or, white masts with white painted mast hoops:

This model is at the USS North Carolina (BB-55) memorial
at Wilmington, NC (
And in some cases, black masts with white hoops:

The last picture was painted in 1827 and was probably commissioned by one of the ship's officers.  So, it's possibly the most correct.  However, I didn't think this looked very good on the model (too much black), so went with the white mast/black hoop combo.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, North Carolina wasn't commissioned until 1824, so will never fight under US colors except in some sort of "what if" scenario.  Given her paint job and distinctive appearance, it's almost certain that she will be impressed into the Russian navy as a 74 for various scenarios.  Either way, the first unicorn is finished, and others will be following

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Paper Anniversary

One year ago today,  I uploaded the first post to this blog.  Hard to believe that it's been a year since I first welcomed people aboard this little bragfest about my hobby.  It's perhaps even harder to believe that people keep coming back, and some have even signed on to follow my ramblings about toy sailing ships.  A tip of the bicorne  to all of you who come by, even if you don't leave comments.  I assure you, all of your visits are appreciated.

There have been a few visitors, to be sure.  As of 3/06/2018, there have been 8,483 visitors to the blog.  Unfortunately, the Blogger statistics do not separate out my views from everyone else, so I know some of those are mine but not how many.  What the Blogger stats do tell me is where the visitors come from, and that is quite interesting.  Most pageviews come from the US, as you might expect, followed by the UK and Belgium respectively, with Australia coming in fourth place and Ireland at fifth.  Interestingly enough, the audience is evenly split between English speaking countries and other ones.  Poland is sixth on overall pageviews, Spain is seventh, Germany is eighth and France comes in at tenth place.  If you look at the monthly or weekly breakdowns, then things get really interesting.  For the month of February 5 to March 6 2018,  I had 20 pageviews from Switzerland.  That is probably the one I least expected, as even the 19 visits from Russia could be because I posted photos of my Russian ships.

Another thing the stats let me see is which posts are the most popular for a given period. As of 3/06/2018, the most popular post contains the photos of my French fleet, with 245 views.  What's interesting though, is that the second most popular post are my thoughts about getting into ACW ironclads.  That one has 220 views.  Of the other posts in the top 10, 4 of them are from the "What Is My Time Worth?" series that I did about how long it takes to build a ship.  In terms of popularity, those are ranked below:

  4) Part 7: Final Thoughts
  5) Part 5: Standing Rigging
  9) Part 4: Painting and Installing the Masts
10) Part 2: Fitting and Filing

I'm not too sure why those entries out of the seven made the top ten, and so will just leave it right there.  I'd certainly appreciate any opinions in the comments.

While I appreciate everyone who visits the blog (as I said earlier), there are some people out there that I owe an extra thanks to.  At the time of this posting, I have a total of 5 followers.  Now, I know that's not a lot compared to other people.  However, I'm impressed that there are 5 people out there who enjoy my scribbling enough to actually sign up for them, as opposed to just dropping by now and again.  I would name them, but I think there might be 1 or 2 that wouldn't appreciate it.  So, let me raise a toast to my 5 followers:   .  You really are appreciated more than you can imagine.

For this coming year, I will be adding a page with reviews of books that I think are useful for Age of Sail gamers.  There will also be a page on how squadrons maneuver, using the Post Captain rules as a basis.  I also need to finally get pictures of the British fleet up, while playing more games and taking photos of them.  Of course, pictures of my new ships as they are built are just a given.

I hope that everyone has enjoyed this brief peek under the hood of how the blog has done this last year.  If anyone has questions that I didn't answer or touch on, feel free to ask me in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Quick Update, and an Upcoming Anniversary

I'm sorry that I haven't posted anything this month.  As we all know, Real Life™ has a way of occasionally interfering with hobbies, and that has sort of been the case this month.  Between the usual inconveniences of life like failing appliances, and the attempt to improve my health by being more active, I'm just not spending as much time blogging or painting as I have been.  Now, this doesn't mean I'm not doing anything, as the picture below should demonstrate.

Yes, the masts are finally in my North Carolina, and it's only taken from September of 2014 to get here, so 3 years and 5 months.  Given that the original was started in 1818, launched in 1820 and commissioned in 1824, I think I'm comfortably ahead of schedule!

My first post on this blog was March 8, 2017 so the one year anniversary is coming up soon.  There will be an anniversary post, looking at the usual stuff: How many posts, how many visitors, and etc.  For the five people who follow this blog, thank you and there will be more frequent postings in the future (I promise!).

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Unicorn Hunting

This is not, unfortunately, a blog about visiting HMS Unicorn in Dundee, Scotland. (  Instead, it's a post about some ships that have been on my "being built" list for a long time, and my plans for finally getting something done with them.

I started keeping track of my sailing ships miniatures with a spreadsheet in September of 2014.  In that first spreadsheet there is a page entitled "Under Construction" where I kept track of ships being built.  That first page listed the USS Pennsylvania, USS North Carolina, a Russian 46 gun frigate, a Russian 50 gun frigate, and 2 French 74 gun ships of the line.  Well, the latest version of the spreadsheet, which is dated 12/27/17 lists the following ships as "Under Construction":  The USS Pennsylvania, USS North Carolina, a Russian 46 gun frigate and a Russian 50 gun frigate.  After almost 3 and 1/2 years on the under construction list, I've taken to calling these ships "the unicorns."  One of my resolutions for this year is to reduce the size of this herd of unicorns.

All four of these ships were ordered for projects that did not materialize, or were not what I needed.  The two Russian frigates were bought in order to do an 1806 Black Sea campaign that is one of my favorite forgotten wars from the Age of Sail.  After buying them, I later bought the excellent reference book Russian Warships in the Age of Sail 1696-1860: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates by John Tredrea and Eduard Sozaev.  While a fantastic English language reference on the subject, it also let me know that all of the 46 gun frigates were out of service by 1800 in the Black Sea.  Along with that, the 50 gun two deck frigates were nearly extinct by the 1806 war.

If you're interested in the Russian navy during the Age of Sail,
then you MUST have this book.
So, the two Russian frigates, while needing only masts and rigging, became members of the unicorn fleet.
The 46 gun frigate

The 50 gun frigate, painted in the post-1801 scheme.
The Pennsylvania and North Carolina were bought for a "what-if" project, where war breaks out again between the US and UK in the 1820s or 1830s.  I don't know why this project went dormant but it did, and did so fairly quickly.  In fact, Pennsylvania is still on the painting stick, and is a long way from being finished.  North Carolina, however, is much like the Russian frigates where completion is concerned.

A little touch up here and there, some base work, and it will be time to put in the masts
(well, after I repaint them).  Maybe North Carolina is not as finished as I first thought.

Clearly then, this is the USS Pennsylvania. She's obviously a long way from
the water.
Part of the reason my "what-if" 1820s-30s project faltered is that the US ships really have a very limited usage outside of that.  As the pictures show, the hull shapes are very distinctive.  With their rounded bows and sterns along with other design features, they would look completely out of place in a line of battle with older ships.  With the black/white paint job and distinctive hull features, I suspect that these ships will spend most of their career fighting under Russian colors and not American ones.  However, no matter what their future careers may take them, I'm determined to cut down on the size of the unicorn fleet.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Building a Storage Box

A few months ago, I had a follower of the blog ask me how I stored my ships.  I told him that I stored them in boxes I built with steel bottoms, so that the magnets on the ship bases held them in place.  I also told him that when I built another one, I would put up a blog post on how I did it.  Stew, this post is for you.

My first boxes were built quite a few years ago, and were really simple in execution.  I cut the metal by hand so that it would fit the inside of the box very closely.  I held it in place with Liquid Nails, and went around the edge of the metal with  expanding foam.  This was done so that any small pieces that came loose would not get under the metal.  What I didn't count on is the fact that the plastic of the boxes eventually let go of the Liquid Nails, so that the sheet of metal is just sitting inside the box.  It works well enough for everyday storage, but I don't know how well it would protect the ships if dropped.  So, in building this box I plan to (hopefully) avoid the mistakes made with my earlier ones.

An underside view of one of the old boxes.
An interior view showing the foam.  Yes, this anchorage is getting a little crowded.
In the second picture, you can see that there are spaces between the different ships.  While it looks wasteful, there is a reason for this.  If they are too close together, then it's impossible to get a hand inside and overcome the grip of the magnet without knocking around the other ships.

The first thing to do is get together all the raw materials you will need to build the storage box.  Before the work starts, let's take a look at what I'm talking about.

The plastic box itself costs $4-5.  The piece of sheet steel costs about $8.75, the foam backer rod was $3.50, and the bag of nuts and bolts was 1.25.  So, the total cost of materials is $18.50; call it $20 with tax.  That's about the cost of one Langton kit when you order the hull, masts and ratlines.  I also bought a new hot glue gun to attach the backer rod to the bottom of the box, but I will use the glue gun for more than one project so I'm not counting that here.  The idea for the foam backer rod is that it will go around the bottom edge of the box with the steel plate on top of it, thereby serving the same purpose as the expanding foam in the older boxes.  Then, I'll drill holes in the steel plate and the plastic box, screw them together and cover the screws with hot glue so that there are no holes in the box itself.  Also, that should prevent the screws from moving around and making a larger hole in the plastic box.  Will it work?  Well, to quote Indiana Jones:

The first thing to do is measure the inside of the box to see how big a piece of backer rod will be needed.  A quick measure with a cloth tape shows the inner perimeter of the box to be roughly 60 inches.  Since the backer rod inside the bag is 20 feet long, there's no problem there.  So, we cut a piece and glue it into the box.

OK, that came out looking pretty good...
Now, we just put the steel in on top of it, and ....

We should be seeing foam around the edges of the steel.  Oops....
Well, that didn't quite work out as intended.  The foam should be visible around the edge of the steel, sealing it so that small parts don't fall into the gap between plastic and steel.  Not a fatal problem though; I will just get the steel sheet installed and then figure out how to fill the gap.

At this point, I go ahead and drill the holes needed to screw the plate to the box.  I realize that the foam is of no use where I have glued it, so I go ahead and rip it out.  After looking around the internet, the closest size drill bit I have to a #4-40 screw is 7/64, so that's what I use.  It's important
that the screw holes are drilled just inside the raised rim on the bottom of the box that serves as a foot.  You'll see why in the next photo.

You may see holes plugged with hot glue (yeah, like the ones circled).
Ignore them.  They are FAKE HOLES!
Once you have holes drilled in the proper places, take the screws and secure the steel plate to the plastic box.  Once that was done, I covered the screw heads on the bottom of the box with glue, so as to try and stop them from pulling through the plastic. (EDIT: This will also prevent them from scratching anything like tables or your other boxes.)

More FAKE HOLES!  Remember, I said I was making this up as I went along.
Once the steel was in place, I decided that I didn't like the raw edges of the sheet.  It was the same trouble of small pieces getting under the metal, along with the possibility of cutting one's fingers.  So, I took another piece of backer rod and glued it between the sheet steel and the edge of the box, so that it covered the edge of the steel.  The final result looks like this:

Is it pretty?  Heavens, no.
Will it work?  Heavens, yes.
And with that, the box is finished enough to use.  There are still some modifications that could be made.  I'm thinking of possibly cutting off the screws and capping them with glue.  Also, i may fill in the space between the foam and plastic walls with something, so as to guarantee that nothing gets under the metal.  The biggest change to the next one will probably be to not drill so many holes!  Also, I may go back to a galvanized steel sheet, as this one wound up being quite heavy.  Still though, this is how I will be building storage boxes for my ships going forward.  It took maybe three hours, including the breaks to write this post.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 Shipyard report

With the end of 2017 upon us, it's time to take a look back at what was built this year.  This report only applies to the sailing ships, as I don't keep detailed records about my other projects.  My sailing ships, however, I keep in a spreadsheet.  I've done this since 2014, and consistently since 2015.  No, it's not a mental disorder.  This is how I can tell where I am  regarding the Trafalgar Project, and what I need to buy next.  (That's MY story anyway, and I'm sticking with it.)

At the beginning of the year, there were 94 ships in the collection, and they broke down as follows:

  • 21 x British
  • 21 x French
  •   9 x Spanish
  •   4 x Russian
  •   4 x US
  •   2 x Dutch
  • 18 x minor warships (brigs, schooners, gunboats, etc.), and
  • 15 x merchantmen
As 2017 ends, there are now 101 ships in the fleet, and they are:
  • 24 x British
  • 21 x French
  • 12 x Spanish
  •   4 x Russian
  •   4 x US
  •   2 x Dutch
  • 19 x minor warships, and 
  • 15 x merchantmen
At this point, I can see the end of the Trafalgar Project.  I need to assemble 10 more British ships, 8 French and 4 more Spanish ships, for a total of 22.  It sounds like a lot, but that includes every frigate and unrated vessel present at the battle.  If I focus on just ships of the line, then that cuts it down to 9 British, 5 French and 4 Spanish ships, for a total of 18 ships.   Hmmmm, maybe the end isn't as close as I first thought....

"But wait!" I hear you saying.  "Couldn't you use those other country's ships you have to make up some of the numbers?"  My response to that is, "Eh, not really."  The whole idea behind the Trafalgar Project was to refight the battle with the correct models of the ships involved.  The other nation's warships I have won't really do much to fill in for the ships I need.  It's a good idea, but one that has already been looked at and passed over.

But this post is about the past, not what's coming up in the future.  So, let's take a last look at what joined the fleet in 2017

A Spanish Montañés  class 74 with her teeth bared. Built between 10/02/16 and 2/23/17,
so before the blog was started.
A small galley, built for a possible Barbary Pirates campaign.  Also built before the
blog was started.
Another Montañés class 74, but in a bit more of
a hurry than the other one. Built in March of 2017.

A generic Spanish 74, but painted after Pocock's painting of San Nicolas at
Cape Saint Vincent in 1797. Built between March and May, 2017.
HMS Agamemnon, Nelson's favorite ship.  Built between May and July of 2017.

HMS Britannia, one of the three 100 gun ships at Trafalgar.  Built between July and August, 2017.

Finally, the British 36 gun frigate that starred in the "What Is My Time Worth" series of blog posts. Built (slowly)
between August and December 2017.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

What Is My Time Worth Part 7: Final Analysis and Thoughts

So, it's taken a while to go from this:

The actual hull number is NB16. I didn't think to take a picture of the original packages.

to this:

Now, with the project finished, it's time to take a look at the numbers.  How long did it take?  What would it cost me to buy one pre-assembled?  And, finally, what is my time worth?

So, How Long Did It Take?

In looking at the build time for this project, we can break it down into four parts: Hull, Masts, Standing Rigging and Running Rigging.  So, let's look at the parts of the project in that order.  

The Hull:

To get the hull put together, cleaned up and make sure the masts would fit into the holes in the hull took 50 minutes.  I decided that the guns were a little too high above the water on this model, so I decided to grind the waterline down to the proper height.  To measure that and get it ground down took about 12 minutes.  This isn't normally a step I would take, but in this case I decided to do so as I thought it was too far out of line.  These times were minor compared to painting the hull of course, which took just a touch over 3 hours, or 185 minutes.  The total time in getting the hull ready was a total of 247 minutes, or 4.12 hours

The Masts (Including the bowsprit):

It only took 22 minutes to clean and assemble the masts.  Once again, painting was the main amount of time here, which took 152 minutes or 2.53 hours.  Because I made sure the masts would fit into the hull before assembly started, it took only 6 minutes to install all the masts including the bowsprit.  When all the times for the masts were totaled up, it took exactly 180 minutes, or 3 hours.

Standing Rigging:

Including drilling all the holes for the rigging, it took 106 minutes to install the stays between the masts.  It took 48 minutes to paint and install the photo-etch ratlines. To do the backstays for all three masts took 88 minutes, and it took 29 minutes just to put the rigging around the outside of the bowsprit.  When added together, the entire set of standing rigging took 261 minutes, or 4.35 hours.

Running Rigging:

Surprisingly enough, this turned out to be the quickest part of the whole project, which I did not expect.  To do all the running rigging took 106 minutes, or 1.76 hours.

Totals and Grand Total:

  1. Hull:                                    247 minutes/4.12 hours
  2. Masts:                                 180 minutes/3.00 hours
  3. Standing Rigging:              261 minutes/4.35 hours
  4. Running Rigging:              106 minutes/1.76 hours
          GRAND TOTAL:            794 minutes/13.23 hours

What Would It Cost To Buy One Prebuilt?

For purposes of this comparison, I'm using the prices found at the Model J Ship website (  The basic cost from the website of a ship like I just built would be 60 Euros.  Julian (the website owner) charges 15.00 Euros for a base, but he hand-sculpts his and I don't do that any more so I don't think the comparison there is fair.  He also offers an accessories kit for 25 Euros that includes anchors, towed boats and flags, but I didn't build my ship with any of these.  Consequently, the best comparison from the website is the basic model.  Using the exchange rate website, 60 Euros equals $71.39 US.  So, $71.39 is the amount I will use to determine the answer for the next section.

What Is My Time Worth?

So, now we've come to the big reveal and it's just a question of simple math.  Take the cost of $71.39 and divide it by 13.23 hours.  That gives us a total of:

$5.39 per hour

Hmmmmm.  Well, it's a little more than what I expected, since I originally expected it to be about $3 something an hour.  When I started this series in August of 2017, the same frigate from Model J Ship would have cost 73 Euros, or $85.96 US although that includes a base.  If I had included a base in the price above, it would have still been 73 Euros, but $86.86 US due to the different exchange rates over time.

What Does It All Mean?

My first thought here is that it means no one is getting rich in the model shipyard business!  For other meanings, I have to go back to some of the comments on the very first post in this series.  One comment said that he suspected the final analysis would show that while commercial prices seemed high, they might turn out to be a pretty good deal on a per-hour basis.  I would have to agree with this.  Also, I said in response to another comment that the last entry in this series would probably have a disclaimer about how we build these for love, not money.  That seems true too, so let me repeat it in a larger font:


For a closing thought (OK, thoughts), I think that Age of Sail gamers are different from other wargamers.  First of all, we realize that we are a niche within a niche within a niche [war-gaming > Naval war-gaming > Age of Sail naval war-gaming].  Secondly, we all seem to have read Horatio Hornblower or Jack Aubrey novels at some point in our lives, and identify with them somehow.  Something about the gentility of the period appeals to us; you don't seem to find the "win at all costs" mentality among serious Age of Sail gamers.  

I game in other periods, of course.  Rare is the wargamer that doesn't dabble in several periods of history.  I can tell you though, that my WWII Soviet infantry doesn't evoke the same feelings for me that my sailing ships do.  If I lost all my other miniatures but kept my sailing ships, I would keep playing.  If I lost my sailing ships, I would probably be out of the hobby altogether, as it would be too hard to start over.

In a way, my miniature sailing ships are a lot like real ships: They're labor-intensive, they cost a lot of time and money, and you can never get back what you put into them.  Another way they are just like real ships is this:  Once they get into your soul, you can't just walk away from them.