On The Rigging and Sailing Of Model Windjammers

by Douglas J. Boyle

(We got this from a lantern slide taken in Nova Scotia around 1912, and titled "The Captain of Tidy Little Ship;" a vistor to the page had a stereoptican view of the same picture, and kindly forwarded the caption on its back:

Harry is a very lucky little boy. He has a kind father and a kind mother. They love him so much that they like to give him things he wishes, when they can.

His mother gave him Curly, his cocker spaniel. Curly likes the water as well as Harry does. He can swim even better than his master. Harry's father gave him this ship because Harry wants to be a sailor when he grows up and sail away in a big ship.

In just a minute Harry and Curly are going to climb down the rocks and sail that ship with Harry's friend Jim. But now Harry is thinking what he will do when he is a man.

He has told his father that he wants to sail across the ocean and find new lands just as Columbus did. His father said, "Maybe you won't find any really new lands, Harry. You see people know more about the world now than when Columbus was alive. There aren't so many lands now that we don't know about. But you can be a brave sailor just as he was and perhaps you can sail your ship way around the world.")

Historian's Note

This section reprints a series of articles on the design, construction, and sailing of model square-rigged ships. The articles appeared in the British Journal The Model Yachtsman and Marine Model Magazine (later renamed Marine Models) from November 1932 to April 1933. As you will discover, Mr. Boyle had some very pronounced opinions, which in my view lead to the charm of his writing; I recommend you perservere past the first section, on the joys of block-carved hulls, and get into the technical meat of the matter. This is the only extensive material we have discovered on the topic of operating model square-riggers.

Readers interested in adapting these ideas to radio control should note that modern materials will permit a much higher ballast ratio than was possible in 1933. There can also be a lesser emphasis on strength, since ramming the side of the pond should be the exception rather than the rule. At first I thought Mr. Boyle's insistence on the winter as the proper sailing season was, to put it mildly, a bit eccentric. On further consideration, I came to agree with him. A smooth pond on a sunny day is an appropriate setting for yacht, which is first and foremost a pleasure boat. A working windjammer belongs under a grey sky, with the smell of a squall in the air.

For readers not familiar with the common racing classes of model yachts, the term "ten-rater" or "10-rater" refers to a sloop rigged racing boat, very similar to the X Class boat whose photograph heads up our page on construction; about 60 to 70 inches long, with substantial overhangs.

The photographs are thumbnails; for larger versions, click on the picture and use your browser's "Back" button to return to the page.

We now hand you over to Mr. Boyle.

The four-masted Barque, "Cicely Fairfax"


Before discussing the main subject-matter of this article a few remarks seem to be called for on the hulls of model ships. The hull of a model ship, regularly sailed, has a rough time of it. We must have a strong hull, and a sound one.

Of the three generally favoured methods of building model sailing ships--the dug-out method, the bread-and-butter method, and the building in ribs and planks, I very much prefer the first one, firstly because the result is a strong hull in one piece, and, secondly, because there is no finality about it: the hull can be refined and improved with every successive re-fit, for twenty or thirty years.

Models built in layers are for ever causing trouble under rough use; and as the real model-yachting season begins in Autumn, and ends in Spring, we must expect rough usage. My experience is that Summer sailing is a dreary business, and I maintain that model yachting is not a Summer sport, owing to the poor winds. We must build for rough usage therefore.

Models built with ribs and planks are too delicate for the clashing and banging of hard and continuous sailing. Soon broken, they are difficult to mend. They oannot grow.

A dug-out hull grows with her builder. It is likely to be better and more beautiful in shape after twenty years than it was when just completed, provided a judicious margin has been left for improvement. Every successive re-fit and rubbing down before painting gives one the opportunity to remove this little blemish in the lines, or that little stiffness in the sheer, which every builder will continually be noticing in his models, if he have any love of ships in him at all. A fine ship grows with her builder; and should continue to grow long after she has been first finished. Her master's love of beauty in ships must have opportunity to exercise itself upon her with every seasonal re-fit: and the dug-out hull best lends itself to this gradual refinement through the years.

Into that ship, growing thus, goes the personality of her builder. She takes upon her, despite all crudities and oddities, the real stamp of genius, the look of energy, of lightness, of beauty and of grace. She becomes a living thing, organic and individual something utterly right and fitting, something that deeply satisfies.

I have a great suspicion of plans. To those who can faithfully interpret them they are well enough; and it is good that the shapes of former successes should be put on record. and be preserved. But that a man should always do his building to a plan I cannot for a moment believe. Plans of real sailing-ships embody many precautions which it is quite unnecessary to consider in the model. For instance--one example--a 2,000 ton ship is built to carry, say, 3,000 tons of wheat. Her sail plan should give her 10 knots on a bowline; and that means a head sea. It is obvious that the bows of of that ship will have to be made fairly blunt underwater, if every man jack on deck is not to be swept overboard at the first dive.

Not only that: it is not the function of the model-maker, in this case, to reproduce exactly the great ship on a small scale. It is for him rather to suggest it; and to do this he must subtly exaggerate; give his model more sheer than ever a real ship had, for instance; or sharper bows, or greater beam. Plans are meant for our guidance, for the preservation of successful examples of ship-designing, to give us an idea of what is wanted, not for our slavish imitation.

One of Mr. D.J. Boyle's Ships racing against a model Barque.

There is another point. I look upon the carving out of a model ship's hull as sculpture, an art, as freehand drawing, where the vital thing is not mathematical accuracy but beautiful suggestion. I presume no sculptor ever worked out his statue of Hermes from section plans on different levels; and I fail to see why a model shipbuilder should be a slave of plans and water-lines. If a man has a real feeling for beauty in ships he will surely carve out of the solid log a lovely creation, without any plans whatever, provided that he has, fixed in his mind, that ideal creation, or dream ship, which every model shipbuilder ought to have glowing in his imagination.

We are told that carving from the solid log, without plans or templates, is laborious; and an old woman's way of building. Don't believe it! On the contrary, it is happy work; and a freeman's way of building. As his fancy prompts him, so the builder carves. He exercises his own genius; he does not eopy the work of somebody else. He designs his ship as he goes along, trying to get this beauty here, and that point there, and my experience is--that the vessel gradually evolved in this way sails the best.

Patience and time are required, a good eye and a dogged spirit, certainly: but for hard use and good sailing, aye, and good appearance too, give me the dug-out model! Once carved out, you have it. You may judiciously alter it, and go on refining it for twenty years, and you still have something left to which you may cheerfully attach a two-inch-deep false keel, and a two or three stone lead keel; both, in my opinion, essentials to a sueeessful model windjammer of any size.

There is the rub. A model windjammer must of necessity be heavily keeled, since she carries a great deal of top-hamper in a wind. Ballast is very unsatisfactory, laborious to handle in and out of the ship; and it slides about inside the hold with every squall, despite every precaution: and you forget where you put it for that particularly good bit of sailing you onee did. Hence, a keel and keelson are necessary; and good substantial ones too. This means that strength is required in the hull; and the dug-out hull gives you that strength. You ean crash on to the rocks, or the conerete, or be crashed into by other models, without much fear of starting joints and planks.

But you must have sound hatches, with high coamings. A windjammer is very wet in a wind; and constant sponging-out on a bitterly cold day leads to corruption of language. The model needs to be as tight as a submarine on her various decks. And don't forget the scupper-holes through the bulwarks. The ship must rid herself quickly of the deck-wash, especially in the waist. She has quite enough to do without carrying half-a-gallon of water about on her main deck. One old two-deeker I have sailed could have carried a full gallon of water on her decks, so high were the bulwarks, and so tight: and, until I pierced them for scupper holes the old ship was sadly laden in a blow, merely by the deck-wash. Little things like these ean mean a great deal in action. Ships are not yachts. Their main decks and well-decks become small swimming-baths if not given rapid clearance.

Let your ship have beam; and a full midship section. A length equal to five or six beams is amply fine enough. The depth of the hull itself apart from the keelson and keel, should be about two-thirds to three-quarters of the beam. Avoid flat surfaces and straight lines as much as possible in the carving of a hull. Go in for curves; think in curves and graceful sweeps. While the ends of the underwater body should be sharp, the mid-ship portion should be very full, generous and round, well down into the water, to give firm support to the ship; for it is obvious that if at each quarter fore-and-aft, the vessel has a good bold cheek or haunch to sit on, she will be the more seaworthy.

Be sure give her a noble sheer, or upward curve towards the bows, and a good sweep out over the water at the stem. They are the birthright of the windjammer, the noblest of sailing vessels.

Be sure likewise, when fitting the keel, to keep the ship down by the stern a little. A windjammer is peculiarly sensitive to the placing of weight on her hull. With weight forward she is for ever swerving into the wind, and going aback. She is always happiest sitting down by the stern.

The right stowing of the cargo on the old racing clippers, so that they rode a little down by the stern, was always an important preliminary to a record run. It was not sufficient that they were merely level. They had to be definitely down by the stern.

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