Model Boat Building "101" at the 1800 House
Copyright Vladimir Kagan, July 28, 2013
Some people get their jollies watching the stock market; others go into the garden to grow roses. I love working with my hands. I just spent the most enjoyable week building a half-hull model of my sailboat. There is no pleasure like being hands-on. Touching the tactile curves of the hull as it evolves from a laminated block of wood into a sleek replica of a racing boat. You begin to appreciate the delicate lines and ergonomic contours that ease the boat through a body of water.
My "Indian" sailboat "Korduda" which I have sailed for over forty years
I sail a boat called an Indian, designed by John Alden in 1927; its lines are as aerodynamic as any of its modern counterpart. We race these sturdy boats every weekend. I have sailed them for over forty years and have always loved my boat, but never as much as now; having just completed with my own hands, a half-model of its elegant contour.
My favorite institution on Nantucket is the 1800 House, a division of the Nantucket Historic Association, dedicated to teaching indigenous crafts. Building a half-hull boat is one of their many summer courses. I had avoided a face-to-face confrontation with boat building for the past three years. It was only the prospect of building an Indian hull that finally lured me to take this class.
Carving a half-hull model has been the time-honored tradition for developing the design of a boat’s shape. Boat design has been a seat-of-the-pants intellectual and artistic endeavor for centuries. Designers and builders would study a hull’s shape from their half-model and by dissecting them into horizontal and vertical segments; evolve these sections into a full size boat.
Last year, on a visit to the Hereshoff Boat Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island, (see my Blog “Mellow Model T Tour – part 2” July 3, 2012), Nathaniel Green Hereshoff carved hundreds of these models in his lifetime. None of these designs were ever committed to paper, as Mr. Hereshoff was paranoid about the possible theft of his designs).
All of these Hereshoff boats were built from his hand carved half-models
Boat design has changed since the computer has taken over. Now, to create the most efficient shape to slice through the water, pencils seldom touch paper and no one bothers to carve a half-hull, (except as a trophy to hang on the wall). Today’s boats are tested and sailed in virtual reality... But in spite of their infallible computers, Naval architects still find new ways to create faster and faster boats… to whit, this year’s America’s Cup contenders!
Step one and two: working from accurate scaled plans, we cut out each segment on stiff paper and traced them onto the wood.
Day one, we confronted the intimidating task of building a boat model from plans given to us by our instructor, Mark Southerland. Most of the class chose the Alerions, I naturally chose the Indian. When we studied the dissected elements of our boats, their complexity almost became understandable. We discovered that it did not take artistic skill to follow these templates; it does however take patience! In spite of having spent too much of my time wrestling with recalcitrant computers, I have still not developed patience. As a furniture designer, patience should be my second nature … it is not… I was a lousy cabinetmaker – my father admonished me to measure three times and cut once – I would cut three times and never measure! Precision model making was not in my DNA.
my glued up Indian hull and my friend, Martim McKerrow carving his Alerion model
My fellow students, who had spent most of their lives on telephones and computers, sitting behind desks in corner offices and had never held a tool in their hand more complicated that an Alessi corkscrew, all blithely delved into the daunting task of band sawing and using dangerously sharp gauging chisels to carve chunks of wood into a smooth flowing contour. We used Japanese Shinto rasps to rough-shape the hull and palm-sized planes and fine-grit sand paper to fine tune the shape. By the end of the first two days, we were overjoyed to see our clumsy blocks of wood evolve into gracious curves resembling a boat. I would not have believed it possible that I could accomplish this.
Almost ready for mounting, the finished model complete with its skeg and rudder attached
By the end of day three, we had shellacked and waxed our hulls to a fine luster and triumphantly mounted them on a mahogany stained cedar plank. Finally on day four there was little left to do but admire each other’s achievements. The triumphant completion of the course deserved a beer at the Cisco Brewery with our delightful instructor and his charming French wife Dominique.
hand brushed shellac give the finished look to the hull
There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the product of your labors comes to fruition in four short days.
Graduation: the "boys" with their finished models and our teacher, Mark Sutherland proudly looking on. Unfortunately half the class had already escaped before the photo shoot!
Mark Sutherland is coming back to the 1800 House to teach the
“Indian or Alerion Half-Hull Sailboat Model”
Tuesday - Friday, September 3rd- 6th from 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM.
The cost is $400 for members and $450 for nonmembers and will be limited to 8 registrants. Course includes all materials
Jeane Wagley – 1800 House Administrator
Mary Lacoursiere – Curriculum Coordinator
508-228-1894 ext 350