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Bertie Builds HMSV Beagle (1820) - New Materials Experiments


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Ahoy there me hearties!

 

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"Woof! Bertie’s edited this big first post on June 20 because many of his predictions about start dates turned out to be way off. Nothing new there. Woof woof!”

 

Three months ago I discovered the challenge and joy of building 'Old Time Ship Models', meaning sailing ship models made mostly from wood, brass, cloth and string.

 

On opening the box, my first wooden model was quite intimidating, it seemed to be little than a box full of sticks. "Where's the model then?" Well, it turned out that I was expected to shape the sticks into the beautiful shape of the boat. Oh dear, oh dear!

 

Well, it hasn't been easy and I've only just finished that first one, a Scottish herring drifter called Lady Isabella. (Here's a link to the WIP). I'm now fairly confident that with patience and a willingness to mess it all up and then repair it, sometimes several times, these kits are a feasible proposition for any reasonably skilled and experienced modeller, and perhaps even by me!

 

As it happens, I finished that relatively simple fishing boat a lot faster than expected and now I’m starting this much bigger project, HMS Beagle by OcCre, a Spanish model manufacturer based in Barcelona (one of my favourite places). The Beagle is one of my favourite ships too. I think it will take around six months to finish her, though it's still a wild guess.

 

As a teenager, I was given a book called The Voyage of the Beagle by her most famous passenger, Charles Darwin. It was a book in a series called Books which have changed man's thinking. During his five year cruise, starting on 27 December 1831, Darwin discovered the mechanism by which evolution operates, which he called natural selection. Evolution had been known about for generations, Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus Darwin had written about it decades before, and people had been evolving new strains of working animals for thousands of years, but no-one understood how species evolved in nature. Young Darwin was a scientist, a naturalist and something of a genius and found this missing link in man's knowledge. 

 

I've recently bought another copy of that book and of about a dozen more on Darwin, the ship and the trip. Surprisingly little is known for certain about the Beagle herself and there will be a lot of guesswork required in making the model.

 

It's 1/60 scale and will be 72cm long and 48cm high when finished. I said above that I will be starting in around three months but in fact I've already had to begin. When I unpacked the kit to have a look around, I found a slightly bowed critical component which required some long term corrective action so I began that ages ago. It’s now the 20th June as I edit and my decks are clear for action with no other projects in progress. 

 

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Let's have a quick tour inside. There's not a sprue to be seen!

 

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It's nicely packed and nothing appeared to be damaged at first sight. The 'sticks' are separated from the 'boards', the smaller components are packaged in a plastic multi compartment tray and the sails are in a paper bag. The boards, mostly plywood were sealed in a plastic bag, vacuum packed, and that may have been the cause of my minor problem.

 

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This piece of laser cut plywood has been pulled out of straight, I think by the bag designed to protect it from warping due to humidity changes in storage. How ironic! 

 

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It's a very small bend but this is the false keel which will be the spine of the ship so it is important. I intend to leave it held flat under that old oven door for the summer by which time it will be straight again ... probably. (If not there are other things I can do.) 

 

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Going back to the box I found some cast metal components. Not bad. Some clean up required but in this genre of our hobby, everything had to be made to fit so that's normal.

 

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Some half inch nails! I know what they are intended for and may well elect not to use them. We shall see...

 

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The big circles are mast trucks, the heart shapes are for the ends of the stays and the little black beads are parrel beads. Simple. I am beginning to speak nautical, quite haltingly at the moment, but getting better with each volume of Patrick O'Brian's books.

 

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More metalwork. The big pieces are quarter galleries and I don't like them. I would much prefer wooden construction for these 'bay windows' at the aft corners of the ship and might have a go at scratch building them. That's not going to be a decision for 2022 though.

 

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Two compartments full of blocks and belaying pins. Again, not a problem this year. I won't be rigging until well after Christmas unless things go impossibly well. It strikes me as bizarre to be planing over such an extended build and this is quite a small ship!

 

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More metalwork. I think these are ring bolts for tying off the standing rigging but I could be wrong.

 

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Chains, anchors and four diameters of brass rod - purpose unknown.

 

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Four reels of 'rope'. I thought it was quite thick but was relieved that there were only four.

 

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And then I found the other eight, hidden in the packet with the sails. I guess they like to show that string is included, via that cutaway box top, but don't want to scare people off by the vast quantity of the stuff.

 

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Speaking of sails, here they are. A bit coarse and crude. There doesn't seem to be a really accurate looking sail material yet and many ship modellers build ships with bare poles. I haven't made up my mind about that yet.

 

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There's a specimen of the on line form for requesting replacement parts. I believe the customer service at OcCre is very good.

 

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Now we get back to the plywood sheets. These are the bulkheads that will be mounted on the false keel and will in turn carry the planks that make up the hull.

 

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The deck and my first aerial view of the ship. I was surprised by how broad in the beam she is.

 

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Thinner plywood and more interesting pieces, including parts for the many boats carried on the ship.

 

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A sheet of MDF (ew!) for those small boats. Note that they are built in the same way as the ship with planks on ribs on a keel. The large shapes are just building jigs.

 

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Walnut plywood for some of the fancy bits like the stand.

 

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Now we are getting to the sticks, with those bulwarks of plywood being a bit of a shortcut and having the gun ports pre-cut which is a big labour saver!

 

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These are the first layer of planks which are supposed to be nailed to the ribs of the ship. They make the shape and then the second layer makes it look beautiful.

 

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The dark and very thin planks are the second planking. The rest is as yet, unidentified.

 

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The third bundle is my spars, the masts and yards. 

 

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A thick sheet of PE for ladders and such. In 1/60 it's quite chunky and I can handle it ok. The 1/350 and smaller ships with PE are incredible and well beyond me now (and always really).

 

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The instructions are photos which are cheaper to produce than drawings. There are very few words. OcCre make up for this by having a complete video build in, I think, 161 short episodes, on YouTube. There's a link to this on their website which I linked to above, just in case you want to read ahead. I intend to watch them all before I start serious construction as I'm still such a newb at this.

 

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This page shows how the plywood bulkheads and decks are individually planked and panelled with real wood. It looks brilliant like that. I love these things!

 

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And here's a sneaky peek at the ship's boats.

 

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The masts look complicated. making them straight will be a challenge but then the rigging will help by pulling them into line just as on the real thing.

 

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There are pages and pages of plans. A lot deal with rigging. 

 

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That's probably more than an afternoon's work!

 

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Let go all moorings, we’re off!

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Always exciting, opening the box for the first time. Then the ‘what HAVE I done’ moment. But I’m sure you will be ok, I can’t offer any advice, just encouragement. Good luck in the voyage, I hope you don’t mind if I ‘stowaway’

Jon

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19 minutes ago, Faraway said:

Always exciting, opening the box for the first time. Then the ‘what HAVE I done’ moment. But I’m sure you will be ok, I can’t offer any advice, just encouragement. Good luck in the voyage, I hope you don’t mind if I ‘stowaway’

Jon


This is the second time you have been first and you are very welcome on the Beagle voyage. Let’s just hope it takes a little less time than Darwin’s trip. 😀
 

There’s little in the box that surprised me this time Jon. I’m raring to get started and that will I hope, encourage me to work faster on the Zulu. 

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Great subject!

 

I know from various discussions that, as you say, the exact configuration of the ship is still somewhat open to speculation. Don’t let that stop you though! 

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50 minutes ago, Bandsaw Steve said:

Great subject!

 

I know from various discussions that, as you say, the exact configuration of the ship is still somewhat open to speculation. Don’t let that stop you though! 


That’s right. No plans exist and much of our ‘knowledge’ is based on drawings and book illustrations made by artists who didn’t see her at the time. 
 

I have read that as a small, insignificant vessel she almost certainly carried no figurehead. The only evidence to the contrary is a drawing in an early edition of Darwin’s book that has a shape or shadow suggesting a dog’s head. However that ‘almost’ gives me scope to use the charming puppy supplied in the kit. 
 

Sometimes lack of information is a boon! 😁
 

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Hi Bertie, I am amazed that a kit of such obvious quality in other respects should provide sails sewn with an overlocker.  They won't do your model any favours.  When you get to working that stage may I suggest that you make replacements by hand using a more suitable material and stitching?  I usually make mine from drawing linen with hand stitched hems and sewn bolt ropes and crinkles made from white string dyed in tea or coffee.  Draughting linen was used for mapping, architectural drawings and other high quality drawing. It was made from heavily starched fine linen and when the starch is washed out produces a fine white cloth.  Probably not available from stationers anymore but perhaps an ancient architect.  Rod

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On 5/23/2022 at 7:07 AM, ArnoldAmbrose said:

Gidday Bertie, good luck with 'Beagle', but don't let it stop you from finishing the Zulu maiden first. 🙂 Regards, Jeff.

 

I wouldn't dare run two concurrent ship builds! Having this on the dining table is supposed to encourage me to finish Lady Isabella, perhaps a little earlier than otherwise. 😄

 

On 5/23/2022 at 7:25 AM, Bandsaw Steve said:

I think that the figurehead probably started out as something quite simple but, over time, evolved into a beagle. 🤔

 

Groan 😆

 

Maybe it was a typo and she was really HMS Eagle?

 

On 5/23/2022 at 7:38 AM, Rod Davies said:

Hi Bertie, I am amazed that a kit of such obvious quality in other respects should provide sails sewn with an overlocker.  They won't do your model any favours.  When you get to working that stage may I suggest that you make replacements by hand using a more suitable material and stitching?  I usually make mine from drawing linen with hand stitched hems and sewn bolt ropes and cringles made from white string dyed in tea or coffee.  Draughting linen was used for mapping, architectural drawings and other high quality drawing. It was made from heavily starched fine linen and when the starch is washed out produces a fine white cloth.  Probably not available from stationers anymore but perhaps an ancient architect.  Rod

 

Thanks Rod for that suggestion. Unfortunately, drawing or drafting linen is not available here and even if it was, I don't have the sewing skills or eyesight to make my own sails from any kind of cloth. 

 

I think that the strange thick fluffy table mats provided for sails would have been imposed on OcCre by considerations of pricing. This (beginner's) kit was only £110 and economies would surely have to have been made. My current build 'Lady Isabella' from Vanguard Models has only three sails and they cost an extra £36, with boltropes and cringles* sewn in for me. They are quite nicely done but even so, I'm not a fan of sails on a model because they seldom hang convincingly, to my eye at least. Another thing that sets me against fitting sails is the fact that the ship is stationary on a stand and unmanned; sails would seem to be inappropriate. On the other hand, if the sail were off, then the yards wouldn't be hoisted either so this is a rather spiralling line of thought. I'm inclined to place accuracy a very long way behind beauty in making my decisions about this build.

 

*Rough definition: Boltropes are sewn into the perimeter of a sail for strength and to spread the forces imposed by the rigging connections to the sail's corners. Cringles are circular 'eyelets' for attaching the rigging to the sails. All naval definitions are incredibly complicated and shot to pieces by weird exceptions so please allow me a little slack in my terminology. 🤫 Strictly speaking and by contemporary naval definitions, Beagle wasn't even a ship, because she wasn't square rigged on all three masts. In my limited reading so far I've seen her variously described as a bark, a barque, a ship-rigged sloop, and a  brig!

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Hi Bertie, I agree with all that you say and understand the spiralling issue around the fitting of sails.  "Crinkles" was my typo.  My eyes and hands don't deliver at 71 as well as they did 60 years ago but experience and research makes up the difference.  I use the terminology out of habit.  There are a couple of good pictures of Beagle in Australia in Marsden Hordern's book "Mariners are  Warned" on which I modelled a rough kit set conversion.  

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Bertie,

I have recently purchased this kit, I think I will need to make something else first despite the suitable for beginner's status by Occre!

I was impressed by the contents and clear instructions.

 

Regarding the real thing, there is an Anatomy of the Ship volume on Beagle. The author Karl Heinze Marquardt has looked at the available information and the cover of the book includes that Beagle figurehead!

 

Good luck with the build, I will follow with interest.

Regards

Kevin

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On 5/23/2022 at 9:36 PM, Rod Davies said:

Hi Bertie, I agree with all that you say and understand the spiralling issue around the fitting of sails.  "Crinkles" was my typo.  My eyes and hands don't deliver at 71 as well as they did 60 years ago but experience and research makes up the difference.  I use the terminology out of habit.  

 

Yes, I'm learning the language myself and finding it fascinating. There are so many words in common use that have a nautical etymology. We truly are an island nation even if we have forgotten our seagoing connections. Being new to it all myself and finding it a little confusing at times, I'm appending subtitles for the casual reader, which also help me to remember the terminology. My memory is definitely not what it used to be.

 

On 5/23/2022 at 9:36 PM, Rod Davies said:

There are a couple of good pictures of Beagle in Australia in Marsden Hordern's book "Mariners are  Warned" on which I modelled a rough kit set conversion.  

 

I googled Beagle and Australia and found a lot of illustrations. I have to wonder how many of the illustrators ever laid eyes on the ship though. There was on one in  particular that made me smile. It had a blue-jacketed crew populating the deck but the funny thing was that they were all at least 20ft tall. The sloop looked like a rowing boat! 🤣

 

I'll look out for that book. The title is intriguing.

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44 minutes ago, Flintstone said:

Bertie,

I have recently purchased this kit, I think I will need to make something else first despite the suitable for beginner's status by Occre!

I was impressed by the contents and clear instructions.

 

I agree! I wouldn't like this to be my first wooden model. I've been struggling with the learning involved with a much simpler herring drifter. 😱

 

44 minutes ago, Flintstone said:

Regarding the real thing, there is an Anatomy of the Ship volume on Beagle. The author Karl Heinze Marquardt has looked at the available information and the cover of the book includes that Beagle figurehead!

 

Good luck with the build, I will follow with interest.

Regards

Kevin

 

Another book to look out for. Thanks for the tip. And thanks for the good wishes. Remember, I probably won't be starting for a couple of months yet - got to finish the drifter first!

 

 

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A very interesting build there Bertie. A thought for your sails, you could make the sails 'furled', it's what I plan to do when I build the 'Bounty' plastic kit?

 

Stuart

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19 minutes ago, Courageous said:

A very interesting build there Bertie. A thought for your sails, you could make the sails 'furled', it's what I plan to do when I build the 'Bounty' plastic kit?

 

Stuart


Indeed that is an option I am considering. Furled or clewed up perhaps? I’m wondering what might be done with carefully shaped and painted lead foil. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Slimmest of updates.

 

The false keel has straightened to an extent under its glass pressure plate but as the bend reduces, the straightening effect does likewise. I have today dampened the plywood very slightly and wrapped it in kitchen roll before putting it back under glass. If that doesn't quite straighten it up I will use struts in triangles in the spaces between the bulkheads to push it all into line.

 

I have possibly found my sailcloth. There is a material used by the builders of flying models called variously silkspan, modelspan or starspan which seems to be a non woven cloth/paper hybrid. It takes acrylic colours and pva glue and is mouldable when wet. No overscale stitching is required and boltropes etc can be glued in. Seams and reinforcements can be simulated by double layers made from thin strips glued on. Sounds perfect except that I can't yet find a UK supplier with stock. Plenty of time to sort some out though.

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23 hours ago, Bertie Psmith said:

The false keel has straightened to an extent under its glass pressure plate but as the bend reduces, the straightening effect does likewise. I have today dampened the plywood very slightly and wrapped it in kitchen roll before putting it back under glass.

 

The keel is now straight enough to use. 🙂

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  • Bertie McBoatface changed the title to Bertie Builds a Beagle - Starting Today (June 7)

With the keel straight and my first boat project moving rapidly towards the rigging phase, it's time for me to begin work on HMB Beagle. This decision was at least partly made by my subconscious, which woke me at 3AM last night from dreams of woodworking geometry and would not let me sleep again until I had made a reasonable plan for planking the deck - my way.

 

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The kit instructions prescribe laying long thin (0.5mm) planks along the plywood underdeck and then marking off the joints in pencil.

 

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These are the underdecks in laser cut plywood. The main deck, poop deck and the forecastle all require planking.

 

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And this is one of the kit supplied planks. It's 5mm wide and 0.5mm thick and I think it's lime, also known as boxwood. Theres nothing wrong with this; it's the right colour, straight grained and easy to work with. However, I want the deck to curve slightly from side to side, as all ship's decks do in order to shed water. It's a small difference but I think it will be noticeably more realistic than a dead flat deck. Not only will it be more accurate but it will be less machine-made in appearance and give the ship more soul.

 

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I have some hornbeam planks (cut on a hobby bandsaw by my son from a woodturning blank bought from my local exotic wood supplier). I think the pale grey colour is even better than the boxwood. I'm comparing it to pictures of the deck of HMS Victory in a reference book. The grain is tight and there's a little more figure (pattern) which will really make the separate planks stand out. They aren't long enough to do the whole length of the main deck in one piece so I'll probably lay them in 60mm lengths like the real thing.

 

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Most importantly, I have them in 1mm and 2mm thicknesses. The (midnight) plan is to take advantage of this by laying the thicker ones in the middle and the thin ones towards the edge and then to round off the entire decks with cabinet scrapers giving me that side to side curve.

 

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This will look fabulous but will raise the height of the decks along the centreline of the ship by as much as 2mm and require me to adjust the fit of everything that is attached above it if I'm to avoid embarrassments like the drawing above. I think it will be worth the extra effort.

 

The geometry of the decks of the Beagle and her sister ships is a historical curiosity. These ships were known as Coffin Ships due to a number of incidents where they capsized in heavy weather due to the bulwarks trapping tons of wave driven water on the deck and raising the centre of gravity higher than the centre of buoyancy. During one of her refits, possibly just before the Darwin voyage, the decks were raised by eight inches to reduce their capacity to hold water. I have no idea why they didn't just open the gun ports, but perhaps they did, and it wasn't enough?

 

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With this point in mind, I'd quite like to incorporate scuppers which are absent from the kit.

 

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The deck should have a margin plank running around the edges and this will be made from the boxwood kit planking. This will help me avoid scraping the hornbeam too thin at the edges and the different wood will give me a nice subtle contrast. I have no idea yet how I'll cut the snipes but I dare say that will come to me at 3AM tomorrow morning. 🛌🏻

 

My immediate challenge is to build a jig that will enable me to consistently cut my hornbeam into 5mm strips and then I can really get started. 

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1 hour ago, Courageous said:

Blinking heck Bertie, you're definitely throwing yourself into this one!

 

Stuart


Yeah, maybe my reach exceeds my grasp at the moment. I’m suddenly feeling like I need a rest from all this ‘harmless fun’. 

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On 5/22/2022 at 9:26 PM, Bertie Psmith said:

 

 

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More metalwork. The big pieces are quarter galleries and I don't like them. I would much prefer wooden construction for these 'bay windows' at the aft corners of the ship and might have a go at scratch building them.

 

I'm not building yet but I'm reading a lot and it appears certain that these quarter galleries are inauthentic to the point of being fictional. Small ships like HMB Beagle (His Majesty's Bark) simply did not have such ostentations. They were the 'white vans' of the nineteenth century Navy, doing important work for sure, but with no pretensions of grandeur. 

 

It seems likely to me that this model is based on a replica of the Beagle built as a tourist attraction in Patagonia and which may have certain inaccuracies... The model build which was already very exciting just got a lot more interesting too.

 

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The drawing held in Cambridge is annotated by the meticulous Mr Darwin himself, which suggests that it's accurate. The water closet is inboard - no galleries. The stern bulkhead of the cabin is lined with bookcases - no stern windows.

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Anchors aweigh! We are moving at last. While research continues with some fascinating reading I've also begun some actual physical experiments which I count as building time. I'm noting the time spent at the bench on this ship because it's always the first of those inevitable questions, "How long did you take/waste over that?" Closely followed by, "Does it float?" "Is it the Victory?" and "Darwin who?"

 

The time elapsed is something that I'm curious about too. I can't find anyone else's figures for this but one YouTuber said "hundreds of hours over 6 months". So somewhere between 100 and 999? Six months or so would be good. A nice tidy finish at the end of the year.

 

Anyway, back to the now and planking experiments for the decks. 

 

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This is my simple plank cutting jig. It turned out that I had a 3cm wide steel rule and a 2.5cm one so I simply stuck them together with double sided tape. Both rules are slippery so I faced the 5mm rabbet with 240 grit wet and dry to hold the wood while I hack it into strips with a Stanley knife. This will take ages. Hornbeam is very dense, hard wood and the 1mm thick and 25mm wide pieces that my son was able to bandsaw for me take up to ten strokes with the knife before they separate. And then a couple of swipes with sandpaper. 

 

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But I'm not in a rush and I think the results will be well worth the effort.

 

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That's the deck of the Victory. It's been refurbished a few times since Trafalgar but I believe it's about right. Note that you cannot see most of the trunnels or tree-nails, the big wooden dowels used to hold the decking down to the deck beams and carlings. They are the same colour as the deck. You can't miss seeing the caulking between the deck planks, the dark grey lines of waterproofing and that's what I've been trying to replicate.

 

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I painted one edge of the first plank cut with this stuff. It's pre-thinned for airbrush use so it will be consistent, the colour is about right and this Mecha range is supposed to be tough stuff once dry. It laid on the side of the plank with no sign of soaking in. I said hornbeam was dense. It grows really slowly so the grain and growth rings are very close together which makes it hard and heavy. It's used for mallet heads among other things. The paint stuck but didn't penetrate. So far so good.

 

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I planned to cut it into plank length sections with this flimsy machine designed for balsa. Not a chance. The best I could get was a score line at right angles which might be a useful guide for manual sawing. At this rate it will take as long to plank the decks as on the real thing.

 

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I roughly cut up my practice plank with snips, losing the first piece which flew out of sight like the shrapnel from an old man's toenail clipping. Stuck down on a piece of MDF I found the first problem was that the planks could only be fitted one way, so I wasn't able to vary the lay of the grain as I wanted. On the positive side, hornbeam sands like resin because of its hardness. It comes off as fine dust and doesn't clog the paper. It did clog the microscopic inter-plank gaps though this disappeared when I put a layer of shellac over it and the painted black line poppped back into view.

 

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A water based acrylic varnish (Humbrol Clear) on the right, didn't have the same effect on the lines and it made the surface rough with raised grain. Well, I did try to be less smelly.

 

Looking back at the Victory pic, I decided that the caulking was too narrow. I cut another plank and painted both edges. Now I knew that soaking in wasn't a problem, I could splash the paint on a lot faster - the sanding would clean any paint off the faces.

 

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The caulkiing is wider and I think that will do the job ok. But painting it on the plank ends was not good. On the end grain I had a serious soaking in problem. I'd cut the planks with snips and that left torn out grain and a very absorbent surface. Sawn ends might be better but I'm inclined to simply revert to pencilling in the end to end joints.

 

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Alternately, I can put the planks on full length, score the joints with a scalpel and rub in some pigment before sanding it clean.

 

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But that's hard to control and left pigment in unpredictable places. Fail!

 

This might seem like a lot of work just to get the waterproofing right but it's important to me as I'll explain in a minute after a visit to the seat of ease.

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I've already mentioned that the class of the 10 Gun Brig was notorious for rolling over in heavy seas due in part to water being trapped on the deck between the gunwales. One of the crew wrote that the Beagle was "one of his Majesty's bathing machines" and another name widely used to describe the ships was "a half tide rock" because they were mostly underwater. They rocked and rolled like Chuck Berry on a Saturday night, taking water over both sides and the bows too. I wondered why they didn't open the gun ports to let the water out that way. 

 

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Well I found the answer in here. This is the book I have decided to rely on whenever there's controversy or confusion over the Beagle. The author was a professor at Yale University and they don't give those jobs away to people with poor research skills. Admittedly, he's a palaeontologist not a historian or naval architect but that discipline is based on building a story on incomplete information and while working on this book Thompson found a few crucial primary sources which had been overlooked for a century or two. He's not dogmatic but is not shy of making an evidence based guess and I will take him as gospel.

 

It seems that the gunports were kept shut because Fitzroy the captain of the Beagle, said so. Until the ship was very nearly lost and only saved by the carpenter opening a gunport  on his own initiative, though he had previously discussed it with Sullivan the Second Lieutenant of the boat.

 

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I think that this little detail of the voyage and of the ship needs to be built into the model and reproducing the waterproofing of the decks is my way to do it. 

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On 6/5/2022 at 8:44 PM, Bertie Psmith said:

I have possibly found my sailcloth. There is a material used by the builders of flying models called variously silkspan, modelspan or starspan which seems to be a non woven cloth/paper hybrid. It takes acrylic colours and pva glue and is mouldable when wet. No overscale stitching is required and boltropes etc can be glued in. Seams and reinforcements can be simulated by double layers made from thin strips glued on. Sounds perfect except that I can't yet find a UK supplier with stock. Plenty of time to sort some out though.

 

I ordered my Silkspan from the manufacturer in Iowa, as the supposed UK distributor doesn't even list it!

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  • Bertie McBoatface changed the title to Bertie Builds HMSV Beagle (1820) - New Materials Experiments

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