Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Whatever floats your boat....

Usually, people who are into scale models have a fairly narrow band of interests. Probably because they can only give their time to a limited number of projects.
Those of us with unavoidably wider tastes or the good fortune to have (or, it must be said, organise,) more time, often find ourselves being fascinated by more than one topic.

I can't help it, I'm just intrigued by many aspects of what's old and consequently, like to make models of them. Also, of course, when one let's it be known that a modelmaking service is available it becomes likely that potential customers will ask for a wide variety of subjects to be considered.

As it happened, my first truly professional commission was indeed for a boat, a small ship in fact, called the MV Peterna, a coastal sand carrier. I recieved the commission when I was just 18, had not the first idea how to set about it, but finished for a derisorilly low quotation and delivered it to it's owner, by chance on the last day of its legal service in British waters. My friend and I struggled with the model in its heavy 1/4" plate glass case on the train from mid Devon to the Essex coast and onto the vessel itself via the ship's dinghy.

We unveiled it proudly in the skipper's cabin over a warming mug of hot chocolate. The owner's wife immediately burst into tears. She hadn't seen the old girl look so good since they bought her and started their business and their married life aboard the 1915 carrier.

Strangely, it was to be many years more before I took such an interest in ships again, at least actively, by making models of them. By then I'd become a real fan of classic speedboats and record breakers. I wanted to make models of them for sale and that wish came about by my old chum in Florida e-mailing me with a potential customer in Washington DC.He wanted a model of Miss America X and Baby Horace III for permanent display in Arty's restaurant in the city, which was being refurbished with a record boat theme.
And so I built the two boats, in 1/8th scale, which is big. So big, the MA X model had to be built on the dining table because it wouldn't fit in my shed!
Now, MA X has four Packard aero engines in it, geared together as two pairs. Each engine has two superchargers, each supercharger has two carburettors. There are two plug leads per cylinder, each 2500M power unit having twelve cylinders. An exhaust stack emerges elegantly from each pair of cylinders. The steering is by a chain drive, all on view. The hull and deck is mahogany planked. It scaled out at 5ft.-3ins. long!

At the very last minute I left marks on the freshly painted seats which I couldn't remove, so I quickly carved the two toy teddy bears that its driver, Gar Wood, always carried with him for luck and covered the marks with them.Flown west by FedEx, it was safely delivered and installed in its place in a booth at the diner, where, I assume, it still is along with its much humbler brother Baby Horace. The family could eat again!

I also made some Rive Aquarama Special speedboats because I had the plans and found a real one, the last imported before Riva stopped producing them, to measure and photograph. As ever, it turned out that the works drawings were wrong, so I used my own taken from the actual boat near Southampton. My own choice of scale is always 1/12th. One inch to one foot. Beautifully Imperial. The models all had detailed engines under hinged decks, working cocktail cabinets with hand made Morano glasses and one of them even had working steering, involving a hand made worm steering box with two universal joints. Over 150 seperate parts were made in brass and nickel plated. The cloth used for the floor covering was miniaturists' canvas, hand painted. The wood, as with MA X and Baby Horace was steamed Pearwood to look just like mahogany in scale.

But I found that it seemed people were keener to throw their money at the hole in the water represented by their real boat than the mark on the mantleshelf represented by one of my models. I made a 1/6thscale model of an aluminium Albatross speedboat for a collector, which I enjoyed, but nothing further came of it. Promised articles in national magazines never materialised.

And so I gave it one last go with an all aluminium model of Miss Britain III, the salt water World Record Holder. It had a completely detailed Napier Lion W 12 engine and was impressed with nearly 10,000 screw heads with a special tool.
It sold at auction for a measly £2800, of which the thieving auctioneer took another £500 for commission and a whole raft of other "costs" of which I was never forewarned, but which I had no option to pay if I wanted my pathetic remainder, which I recieved after 6 months!

My chum in Florida also had to come to the same conclusion...there ain't no money in model boats, unless you happen to just "fit in".


  1. If I have learned anything in my 66 years upon this blue/green orb that is to strive for perfection is never ideal. Because as you and I have found, mediocrity pays far better.
    Nobody wants perfection; they just want it now and as inexpensively as possible.
    But to give in would make us no better than common streetwalkers.
    Perfection is a great idea, achieving it might just ruin creativity

  2. Beautiful creations...
    Would you have additional pictures of your Albatross model? I own an Albatross (lifesize), and as a RC modelist, I plan on making a model of it, I'd love to see how you achieve that.

    Best regards,