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.


  1. Hey well we all have those miniatures that sit in the paint table longer than they should... I have a Viking standard bearer primed and waiting for painting for so long that I moved him to another room just to avoid the staring... least the ships don’t have eyes.

    And nearly extinct doesn’t mean there couldn’t be 1 or so hiding about...😀

    1. Oh, absolutely! By no means are these the only unicorns hanging out around here. They're just the only ones in the sailing ship division. I've definitely got figures in other genres that are waayy overdue to be finished.

      And extinct? Nah, probably not. I mean, look at the poor old Pennsylvania up there. She will probably be the one that hangs around from here on out. While I talk about using her as a Russian ship, the truth is that there were only 3 three-deckers in the Black Sea Fleet during the time I'm interested in. And, I've already got one built. So yeah, I suspect that Pennsylvania will be my single unicorn for a long time. At least the 46 gun frigate can be pressed into service as a transport for other navies....