Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Brief Interlude 2: Signal Flags

This isn't directly related to my models, but it is a cool website:

http://www.goblinrevolution.org/widgets/popham_encoder.cgi

Type in a message, and this website will translate it into the Popham flag code in use by the Royal Navy (1806 version).  For example, the title of my blog looks like this:

163                       756                       85 

The signal is read from left to right and top to bottom.  The red/white flag is the telegraphic flag that says the code book is being used.  The diagonal blue/yellow flag shows that the signal is finished.  That graphic may turn up elsewhere on this blog later.  If you're interested in the Popham code, the 1803 book is available on Google Books.  Just search for "Popham signal code" and it should be the first result.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

What Is My Time Worth, Part 2: Fitting and Filing

Before doing any painting, I think it's necessary to fit everything together and see if it works, or more likely, does not.  Mast holes in the hull might need to be drilled out ever so slightly, or the masts might need to have the bottom trimmed so that they will fit securely and the fighting tops will be in the right positions to each other.
The fighting tops on this diagram of Constitution are circled in black.  Note that they are at different
heights to each other.
Along with drilling out the mast holes ever so slightly, I decided to grind a little of the hull down at the waterline.  For whatever reason, this model has the gunports sitting about 12 feet above the water, which is just too tall.Fortunately, some coarse grain sandpaper followed by some finer grain took off the small amount I needed quickly enough.  Cleaning and grinding the hull,along with fitting the masts to the hull took 1 hour and 2 minutes total.

I don't normally glue sails to the masts at this point, preferring to wait until after the hull is painted.  For this model though, I had to drill a hole for the bowsprit which meant that I needed to make sure that the headsails on the bowsprit would fit correctly against the sails on the foremast.  The best way to do that was to glue the sails to the foremast.  Well, with that done we may as well assemble the whole sail set.  It took about 22 minutes to assemble the masts and sails.  While doing that, I managed to break the headsails off of the bowsprit.  I have figured out how to fix this using a piece of wire, so I will make sure and show some pictures of that at the appropriate time.

So, where are we now?  I've spent 1 hour and 24 minutes on this frigate, and not a single lick of paint has been applied.  The next entry in this series will cover painting the hull.  As a reminder, to buy this frigate already assembled, painted and rigged would cost about $86.00.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What Is My Time Worth, Part 1

There's no doubt that 1/1200 scale sailing ships can be very labor-intensive compared to other miniatures.  Even if you don't rig them, you still have to paint the hull with all its tiny details.  Then you have to assemble the sails and masts, paint them, and glue them into the hull.  Once that's done, then you have to make a base for them, or buy a pre-made one which will still have to be painted. If you do decide to rig them, then that's even more work.

So then, it's not a surprise that there are few places or people that will paint and/or assemble them for you.  When you can find one, their services don't seem very cheap.  For example, a rigged British 36 gun frigate from ModelJship.com with white metal sails and a base costs 73 Euros, not counting shipping. At this writing (early August 2017), that is approximately $85.96 US.  A three-deck ship of the line like HMS Victory costs 138 Euros/$162.47 US.  By comparison, that same $85.96 will get you anywhere from 42 to 85 to 122 painted 15mm infantry figures from Fernando Enterprises in Sri Lanka (http://www.miniaturelovers.com/15mm.html).  The wide variance in the number of 15mm figures is because Fernando Enterprises offers three different painting levels to choose from.

I now realize that I have no idea how long it takes me to build and rig one of my models.  What this series of posts are going to do then, is to try and figure out how long it takes to build one ship, and how that compares to the prices above.  I'll build a British 36 gun frigate, and record my progress in this post.  When it's done, we can see what my time is worth by comparing it to the ModelJShip price.  I suspect (and am a little afraid) that I won't like what I find out very much!

First up is the miniature itself.  A British 36 gun frigate hull from Waterloominis.com costs $6.50, the sails costs $7.25 and the ratlines costs $3.00.  I've used the same spools of threads for years, so won't count that.  I can make many bases from the plastic sheet I buy, so to price that we'll use the cost of a resin base which is $3.50.  That makes the total cost for the raw material $19.25.  In the next post, we'll take a look at how long it takes to paint the hull.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Brief Interlude: Cannon smoke

Like most people, for years I have used puffs of cotton batting or stretched out cotton balls to represent ships firing their guns.  Not until I started taking pictures of my ships did I realize that this method has some side effects.  Said side effect is that quite a few of my ships have little tendrils of cotton or batting hung in the rigging.  For whatever reason, I had never noticed it before but it is VERY clear in photos.  So, I started looking around for something else to represent that ships were firing their guns.

Langton makes a set of "ship fired" markers, and they are very nice.  They come in a package with three "fall of shot" markers for about $3 US.  The fall of shot markers are also nice, but not really useful in any of my rules so I see no need to buy more of them.  The cheap side of me also has a problem paying about 1$ each for these:

Nice, but not that impressive by itself...

As I said though, they look very nice.  Maybe just not 1$ each nice.
I decided to see if I could make something that would look similar, and prevent the problem of stray hairs getting stuck to my ships.  I took a small piece of basing material, trimmed one of those chenille craft sticks (I still call them "pipe cleaners"), and glued it to the base.  I then took some little cotton tufts torn from a cotton ball, rolled each of them into a smaller ball and glued them to the base.  The result is below:
Trust me, it looks better in person.

Does it look as good as the metal one?  Oh goodness no.  However, when you put it up against a ship:
Not so bad now, huh?
Of course, that's just the unpainted prototype.  I lightly hit it with some gray spray paint, painted part of the pipe cleaner yellow and red to simulate gun flashes, and got this:
A little darker than what I wanted, but it's a prototype.

When placed alongside a painted ship, you get this:
I think that will work for me.
As a bonus, there's a sneak peek at the next ship up on the blog.
Does it look OK?  I think so.  Is it cheap? Definitely.  Is it a solution looking for a problem? Maybe.  The nice thing is, I can make a double height one for three-deckers that should really give a feel for how much throw weight they can put out.  Just add another row of cotton on top.

This doesn't mean the cotton batting is going completely away.  It will still be used for drifting gunsmoke.  This is just a way of trying something new, and a quickie project when you just don't feel like doing anything else, for whatever reason.  Cutting the base was probably the most time-consuming part of the project. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

HMS Agamemnon; Nelson's favorite...

. . . but maybe not mine, so much.  I found the "Eggs-and-Bacon" in a Langton boxed set for sale on eBay.  Since I need it, and all the other ships in the box for Trafalgar, I went ahead and picked it up. The Agamemnon was already painted and assembled (but not rigged); however, I wasn't happy with how the masts had been done.  So, I disassembled, stripped, repainted and reassembled the ship.

Rigging was where my problems really started.First I tried a different type of thread from what I normally use. Other people get good results with it, but I didn't, as it frayed and unraveled at the slightest provocation.  So, I cut all that out and went back to my normal thread.  Then, I discovered that I had rigged part of the stays incorrectly when using my normal thread , so had to cut all those out again.  No excuses here, this was completely my fault.  After all, "I've built almost a hundred of these things, so I don't need to look at the instructions."  WRONG!  I got that part redone, and all the ratlines on her.  That's when I dropped the ship.

Rather than let it fall, I tried to catch it.  That meant it bounced down my legs and THEN hit the floor.  Fortunately, the standing rigging worked like it is supposed to, and I was able to pull all the masts back into line without anything breaking.  There are no pictures of this, as I suspect my obscene language at the time would have turned any photographs a fine shade of blue.  There were some minor mistakes in the running rigging, but I was able to catch them before they were baked into the ship.  I guess the moral of this story is either:
  1. No matter how many times you've done this, read the stinking instructions, or
  2. if you're a beginner, don't be afraid of making mistakes.  We all still do, no matter how much experience we might have.
Now, with all that out of the way, let's get to some photos.  In my attempt to get at least one blog post up this month, I didn't set up my usual system of lights for taking photographs.  However, I still think they came out OK.
Looks like there might be some debris on the Captain's sternwalk.
Even with all the issues and my clumsiness, she's still a pretty good looking little ship.  Credit for that goes to the original design and the sculpting skill of the Langtons.

While it sounds like this Agamemnon might be a hard-luck ship, I'm hoping that isn't the case.  In fact, unlike many of my ships, she will make her first appearance on the game table next month in a "what-if" scenario that, had it occurred, she would have been a participant in.  I'm hoping she can extinguish some of the bad luck from her building on the game table.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

They're Not Targets, They're Merchants!

Too often, naval gamers are guilty of thinking about merchantmen only as targets for well, pretty much everything else on the table really.  In fairness to those gamers though, game rules usually treat the lowly merchantman as nothing more than a target.

I think it takes a campaign game for the merchantman to truly come into its own.  We think of supply convoys as belonging to World War I or II, but this is not the case.  Even in the Napoleonic Era, armies had to be fed and supplied  and navies did as well.  After all, sometimes the most convenient ports for your naval strategy are not the richest ones where supplies are concerned.  Escorting a convoy of food and supplies through a rapacious enemy squadron can be a fun scenario for us,  but was a recurring duty that Admirals from all nations faced during the Age of Sail.  No matter what sort of naval campaign you want to run, the simple fact is that you're going to need merchant ships.

With that in mind, here are some pictures of those unloved workhorses, my merchant fleet.  At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I'm not going to show individual ship photos in this post.  Instead, I'll break them down by manufacturer, and only show an individual photo if it's a one-off ship.

Most rules break merchants down into different sizes, and so it makes sense to start with what most rules call "small merchants."  There's not really a hard, fast rule about where the size break is between a "small" merchantman and their larger relatives.  For our purpose here, if the maker of the miniature calls it a small merchantman, then it's a small merchantman.

First up are the models originally from Skytrex, now sold by  Red Eagle Miniatures (http://www.redeagleminiatures.co.uk/). These first two are called "bark" on the website, but as you can see in the photos, the mizzen mast is not fore-and-aft rigged. 
The sterns on these ships are completely smooth, so you can detail them however you like.  Looks like the owner of the left ship didn't do a very good job of fake windows.

Skytrex sold the ship pictured below as the troop transport Buffalo, but Red Eagle just calls it a generic troop transport.  I think it makes a perfectly good small merchant, and Red Eagle must agree with me because that's what they have it listed under..  I don't like the Skytrex sails and masts, so for this one I replaced them with a small frigate set from Langton.


Another one-off ship is the West Indiaman from GHQ.  As with all the GHQ sailing ships, the hull is beautiful but the masts are flimsy and I find their ships hard to rig without bending the masts.


Next we come to the mainstay of my small merchantmen, the Langton small merchant.  The hull form is very similar to the Skytrex bark, except that the Langton hull has side galleries and decorations on the stern. 
The ship on the far right of the photo is a purchased one.


Even my Langton models have a one-off, however.  The ship below is a small Great Lakes schooner that I bought just to see how small they are.  As you can see from the photos, the answer to that is, "pretty darn small."


Up next are the medium merchants, and I only have two of those. The first one is from Langton
This is a purchased ship, and I just realized there is no running rigging.  Oops!


When I bought the ship pictured below from Skytrex, it was listed as, "medium merchantman The Pitt."  Red Eagle lists it under the same name, but calls it a medium East Indiaman.  To me though, she looks a little small to be an East Indiaman, and so that's why it is on a base size that Langton recommends for unrated vessels.


Finally, we have those big boys, the Large Merchants.  When handled aggressively, they can even convince a cautious enemy commander that they are ships of the line, instead of targets.  For a quick  example of this, see the Wikipedia article about the Battle of Pulo Aura, fought on Valentine's Day in 1804 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Pulo_Aura).  In looking at the pictures of these large merchants below, it's easy to see how a case of mistaken identity could come about
Fly the right flag, maneuver aggressively, and it just might work.

I think there is only one stern design for the Langton large merchant


This is a purchased vessel.
Skytrex/Red Eagle also puts out a large merchant, and while smaller than the Langton one, it still looks the part.

I do have some other ships that could be used as small merchants: poleacres, xebecs, and a lateen-rigged barque.  They are more limited in where they could be used though (they are primarily Mediterranean rigs), so I will put them in the post on unrated vessels.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Quick Thanks to A Reader

In a discussion on TMP, there was a general agreement that shore batteries and forts without some sort of  crews around the guns just don't look right.  At the same time though, there was some disagreement on the best way to make sure those guns are manned. A consensus seemed to form that most 1/1200 gun crew figures are, at best, lumps of lead.

One suggestion I found interesting came from Vol, the owner of a sailing ship blog located at: http://volsminiatures.blogspot.com/.   He suggested using some 1/800 scale photo-etched brass naval crew figures from Eduard, a Czech company that specializes in accessories for plastic model ships.  At first I was afraid they would be way too large; after all, 1/800 scale is 66.7 feet/inch while 1/1200 is 100 feet/inch.  In metric, that means that 1mm in 1/800 equals 2.62 feet while 1mm in 1/1200 scale equals 4 feet. That still sounds too big.  However, when you divide it down some more, a 6 foot tall man is 2.28mm in 1/800 scale while that same man is 1.5mm tall in 1/1200.  That's a difference of less than 1mm, which meant I was willing to take a chance on them.  I found a set on eBay, and they arrived while we were away on vacation.

One thing's for sure: They are small.  They come pre-painted, and there are about 500 of them on a fret.  This means that there are plenty of spares when you drop one after cutting it out (and you will drop a few; trust me on this).  The main question though is, how do they look in a shore battery?

Well, they look pretty good actually.  Below is the two-gun battery that I showed in a post about some ACW ships that I bought.  As you can see, it does look pretty bare:

Now here's how it looks with some of those Eduard figures glued in:

Now that battery looks like it's open for business!  So, a rousing "thank you" to Vol, who turned me on to these figures.