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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

What Is My Time Worth, Part 6: Running Rigging

I had planned to have this post in place before Christmas, but there were two things I didn't plan on.  They are:

  1. General holiday season craziness, and
  2. A bout with the flu.
I should have known that the holiday season would mess up my schedule; after all, it's not my first Yuletide season.  I am, however, going to plead ignorance about the flu as I really didn't expect to get sick.  I certainly didn't expect it to turn a week of my time into a blur of sleep, coughing and fatigue.  That's enough about my issues though, as I suspect you're here to read about sailing ships and not sickness.

In this post, I'm going to deal with running rigging.  That's the rigging that, in real life, operates the yardarms and other parts of the sail set.  These lines were not coated with tar, because they had to move through blocks in order to operate properly.  This is whey they are called "running rigging."  On my models, they are done with a light tan thread so as to differentiate them from the standing rigging.  Unlike the standing rigging, when doing running rigging we start at the bow of the ship and work our way towards the stern.    Another difference is that, unlike standing rigging, the number of steps in doing running rigging will vary based on which sails your ship has set.  So, while the Langton rigging guide shows 16 basic steps for running rigging (plus more if the model has its staysails set between the masts), some of those 16 basic steps will be ignored as we go. 

So, from this...

to this in only 16 steps or less.
One other picture that should have been included in the previous post, but wasn't.  The picture below is a homemade tool I use to get glue onto knots in tight spaces.  In practice, I use it almost everywhere, given that the nozzle on a container of glue is way too big to get into small spaces.

It's just a pin vise with a straight pin that has a large head chucked into the larger of the two openings.  It is so useful that I'm tempted to buy a new vise, and convert this one into a permanent tool for gluing knots.

Before starting, I should point out that the running rigging on this model is considerably simpler than the standing rigging.  As the Langton guide points out:

we are only showing the lifts, braces and sheets of the running rigging.
Lifts were the lines from the mast down to the yard arms. Braces were
taken from the yardarms to the next mast in order to be able to trim the
sails to the wind.  Sheets were used to haul on the lower part of the sail.

The first step is to run a line from the foremast stay to each side of the spritsail yard below the bowsprit.  In Harland's book Seamanship in the Age of Sail this line is called a spritsail brace.  I refer to it as "another line to keep the spritsail yard in place if the glue breaks," but then I'm not as precise as Harland.  
So that's the first step....
Step 2 involves the sheets for the jibsails, which are those triangular sails out over the bowsprit.  According to the guide, you should use a separate line for each of the jibsails, but I find this to be too fiddly given the small area you're working in.  What I do is to drill a hole in the rearmost jibsail, tie the line there, run it back to the hole where the shrouds are, take a turn and then glue the end of the thread under the second jibsail.

The highlighted lines run inside the line from step 1, and behind the ratlines.
The next photo covers steps 3,4 and 5, and will have us installing the braces and lifts for all of the foremast.  Here, we start from the lowest line and work our way towards the top of the mast.  Step 3 is highlighted in blue, step 4 in green and step 5 in red.  As you can see, each thread provides both the brace from the main mast to the foremast, and the lift for the yard.

Despite what the picture looks like, the lines do not foul each other.
With this sail set, we skip steps 6 and 7.  That's because there is no royal sail at the top of the mast for step 6, and with the foresail brailed up there is no need for a line to the bottom edge of the foresail.

There are different versions of step 8, depending on whether or not the mainsail is lowered or furled. Either way, step 8 is the most time-consuming step of all for running rigging.  I've tried to color-code the picture below in such a way as to let you see the different sub-assemblies of step 8.  Keep in mind that, even though I've used different colors, this is all one long piece of thread.  You start by tying the thread onto the main yardarm, and then taking it back to hole A (dark blue).  You go through hole A, wrap around the bottom boom of the spanker sail, go up the sail and under the ratlines, go over the crossjack boom and then do the same thing on the other side of the sail (teal blue).  Then, go through hole A on the port side and back up to the top boom of the spanker sail.  Take a turn around the top boom, then take the line up through the gap in the standing rigging and back down to the upper boom of the spanker where you take another turn (light blue).  From there, go back down to and through hole A on the starboard side (light blue).  From hole A, go back up to the top of the spanker boom, take a turn and go down and through hole A on the port side (pastel purple).  From hole A on the port side, to up to the port mainyard and wrap the thread around it (dark blue again, on the port side).  From there, take the line over the topgallant yardarm, back down to the yardarm on the starboard side, tie off and glue it (dark green).  Trim off any excess once you're done.

Sorry, but I don't think I can make it any simpler than this.

Step 9 is ignored because the main sail is furled, so the next picture shows us steps 10, 11 and 13.  We ignore step 12 for the same reason as step 6: i.e., there is no royal sail on the mainmast.  For the sake of consistency, I've colored the steps in this photo the same way I did the photo for 3 through 5.  This set of steps is a little different, because here we start in the middle, move to the top,and then drop back to the bottom for step 13.  When you look at the model in person, though, this makes sense, because you do the interior lines first and then go back to the crojack line which is outside of the other two.

Light blue first, then green, then red.
The green line in the above photo should be back against the mast like all the other braces, so that's a mistake on my part.  I suspect I didn't let the glue on the knot dry enough before I started running the lines.

Now, we're in the homestretch as there are only 3 steps left.  We can ignore step 16 though, as there are no royal sails on the mizzenmast.  In these last two steps however, are the major differences between British warships and every other nation's vessels.  British warships (and warships only) ran the running rigging for their mizzen sails back to the top of the spanker boom.  Every other nationality ran these lines forward to the main mast.

British mizzen rigging.

Everyone else's mizzen rigging, including British merchants.
With the mizzen rigging finished, the ship is now complete.  Total time for the running rigging was 106 minutes, or 1.76 hours.

There are still some little things, like finishing the ship's base. However, as  I make my own bases and buy the material in bulk, there is no way to directly compare them to buying and painting a resin one.  Because of that, I won't be including the time or cost of the base in the project.  I had also wanted to make this the final post, but given how long it already is I think I'll save the final analysis for one more post.

Monday, December 11, 2017

I Guess This Civil War Thing Is Gonna Happen....

No, this is NOT a post on the current state of U.S. Politics.  Instead, it's about another naval project that is slowly starting to pick up steam (yes, pun intended).

Back in March, I did a post entitled, "Getting My Hands Dirty?" that talked about the 1/1200 scale ironclads I had bought from Thoroughbred Miniatures.  Since then, I've bought quite a few ships from Pithead Miniatures in England and just made another order from Thoroughbred a few days ago.  Instead of taking a scattershot approach like I did with the sailing ships, I've decided to concentrate on the Mississippi River campaign.  The main reason for this is that I have the Anaconda campaign rules by Ray Garbee that focus on the Mississippi River.  That, combined with the fact that our gaming group thought that an ACW river campaign would be fun made my decision in that regard pretty easy.

There have been a couple of changes from the March post.  Now, rivers are going to be dark blue.  As I also haven't really found a river mat I like (or that looks like the Mississippi River), using my blue mats will save some money.  Also, my idea for clear bases won't work because there's no way to apply magnets to the base for storage without them being visible.

The Anaconda rules themselves are available from Wargame Vault, and give the players/gamemaster plenty of room for tinkering.  As they say on the cover (see below), they are a campaign rules set.  That means you will have to provide your own ships and rules for resolving combat.

When it comes to providing your own ships, there are several options out there for 1/1200 scale.  Thoroughbred Miniatures has a small but growing line in 1/1200 that is every bit as nice as their 1/600 products.  Navwar and Red Eagle (formerly Skytrex) have ACW lines, but tend to focus mostly on ironclads.  Stone Mountain here in the US has the old Houston's Ships line, but they are probably closer to 1/1000 than 1/1200.  It seems that if you want the full panoply of oddball vessels turned into warships, then you need to take a look at Pithead Miniatures.  They do a number of different ships organized by area, so if you want something like the Confederate ships that defended Island No. 10, then Phil at Pithead can set you up.  The ships are cast in resin with metal parts and some of them can be quite small, so I would suggest basing them.  I think the Pithead masters are all carved by hand, so if you like miniatures with all perfectly straight lines, then you may not like them.  To me, though, the Pithead models wonderfully depict the sort of ramshackle, make-do character of both sides' navies during the Civil War.  In fact, every time I look at them compared to my sailing ships, I keep thinking, "what grubby little vessels!"  Don't just take my word for it though; here's a picture of the different types of ships side by side.

Another thing about the ACW naval miniatures is that they don't require much, if any rigging.  That, combined with the generally simple paint jobs means you can pick up quite a few and (hopefully) finish them quickly.  Otherwise, you wind up with a traffic jam in the shipyard that looks like this:

There are a couple of others I haven't put together yet.
I'm thinking that as I start getting these painted, I might start a separate page on the blog with just the ACW stuff.  I will also add some info about the ship combat rules I want to use in another post.