Mak­ing a model

When he’s not restor­ing or sail­ing his Down East 45 Bri­tan­nia, Roger Hughes likes to build and sail yachts of a dif­fer­ent scale

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

A ra­dio-con­trolled Colin Archer RS1 model sail­boat that per­forms like the real deal

Ihave al­ways been a model maker since be­ing an ac­tive mem­ber of my school fly­ing club. I al­ways found model mak­ing to be ther­a­peu­tic, even when the rub­ber band-pow­ered Spit­fire, which had taken hours to per­fect, smashed into the sides of the gym wall.

Later I built a few show­case ships: Cook’s En­deav­our and the sail train­ing ship, Sir Win­ston Churchill – which I ac­tu­ally sailed on as a trainer. I also made a half deck model of Nel­son’s Flag­ship Vic­tory which is now re­sid­ing on my own schooner, Bri­tan­nia.

Af­ter be­com­ing a yacht owner it in­trigued me whether I could build a ra­dio con­trolled model sail­boat which per­formed like the real thing. Af­ter all, what fa­ther doesn’t want to sail a lit­tle boat on the lo­cal pond with his chil­dren?

The multi-chan­nel ra­dio con­trol equip­ment was read­ily avail­able, but the thought of build­ing a boat from scratch, big enough to ac­com­mo­date it all, was a bit daunt­ing. There­fore, When I found a large scale (1:15) kit of a Colin Archer ketch, with a ready made ABS plas­tic hull and all fit­tings I bought it, even at $550!

Colin Archer was a Nor­we­gian ma­rine ar­chi­tect who seemed to like boats with ca­noe sterns, known as dou­ble-en­ders. With­out their im­mensely long bowsprits, (which were de­signed to re­tract on deck), it would be dif­fi­cult to know the bow from the stern. This par­tic­u­lar boat was des­ig­nated RS1 and de­signed as a lifeboat. The orig­i­nal is in the Nor­we­gian Mar­itime Mu­seum in Oslo.

The term ‘kit’ is per­haps a lit­tle mis­lead­ing be­cause apart from cer­tain pre-shaped items like the hull and bulk­heads etc, it con­sisted of a pile of wood and in­struc­tions that I didn’t find par­tic­u­larly in­for­ma­tive. So it was to be a proper test of boat­build­ing skills.

Re­mote con­trol

But be­fore even be­gin­ning to build the boat I spent a lot of time at my lo­cal model shop, pick­ing their brains about ra­dio con­trol equip­ment. Un­for­tu­nately no­body had built a sail­boat with the so­phis­ti­ca­tion I was plan­ning. They were mostly speed­boat en­thu­si­asts.

Even­tu­ally I left the store clutch­ing an eight chan­nel trans­mit­ter and re­ceiver, three winches, an elec­tric mo­tor and heavy 12V bat­tery – sim­i­lar to a mo­tor bike bat­tery – and my pocket an­other $500 lighter.

With the ready made hull, con­struc­tion was re­mark­ably like build­ing a full size boat with a fi­bre­glass hull.

Firstly, I glued the main bulk­heads to the hull with epoxy and in­stalled the mo­tor mount and stern tube. The mo­tor was then bolted to its mount and the stern shaft con­nected with a uni­ver­sal cou­pling.

Like on a full size boat the next stage was to in­stall the bal­last – but how much?

The model was one fif­teenth the size of the orig­i­nal, but bal­last ra­tios don’t scale down like that and there was noth­ing in the in­struc­tions to give any clues. I could think of only one way to bal­last her to the wa­ter­line shown on the hull. I bought a 5lb coil of lead from a lo­cal sur­plus store and cut it into 2in wide by 12in long strips, then laid them in the bot­tom of the hull, plac­ing the 3lb bat­tery on top.

I then filled our bath tub with wa­ter and low­ered the hull in to see how it floated – she was hope­lessly high.

I bought an­other 15lb of lead and kept adding it un­til the hull sat at ap­prox­i­mately the wa­ter­line. I then placed all the ra­dio con­trol equip­ment on top, along with other bits and pieces, deck tim­bers, masts, and even the sail­cloth. When I had her float­ing at the cor­rect wa­ter­line I

sealed the bal­last with epoxy resin and built a floor for the bat­tery to sit on. The model draws 6in, equiv­a­lent to 7ft 6in. The real boat ac­tu­ally draws 7ft 3in – so we’re not far out.

Be­fore lay­ing the deck beams it was eas­ier to po­si­tion all the ra­dio con­trol equip­ment, prin­ci­pally the steer­ing servo, the re­ceiver, and three winches which would con­trol the jib, stay­sail, main­sail and mizzen. The con­tin­u­ous coil drum winches were po­si­tioned for­ward: as the jib winch ro­tates, the sheets are pulled in one side and let out the other, haul­ing the jib from one tack to the other.

It’s also worth men­tion­ing here that all the tiny blocks through which the lines pass ac­tu­ally have ro­tat­ing sheaves.

Hav­ing in­stalled and con­nected all the con­trols, I de­cided to test the boat ‘at sea’ be­fore lay­ing the deck. There is a lake be­hind my house in South Or­lando, Florida, which would seem to be ideal for test­ing model boats, ex­cept for one slight prob­lem – it has a res­i­dent al­li­ga­tor and I had ab­so­lutely no idea how it might re­act to hav­ing an in­truder in its ‘loch.’

How­ever, the test went with­out in­ter­rup­tion from the ‘ga­tor, and I found the en­gine drove her along at a brisk walk­ing pace.

Back in dry dock I fit­ted the deck beams, then glued sep­a­rate planks over the ply­wood deck, caulk­ing them in­di­vid­u­ally, just like the real thing.

In or­der to be trans­ported any­where the masts and sails had to be re­mov­able, so both masts were keel stepped and the rig­ging hooked to the dead­eyes. The masts can now be lifted out of the deck.

The sail cloth sup­plied was white, but I wanted tan­bark sails, so I boiled the cloth in wa­ter with ten teabags, which stained the cloth per­fectly.

The pat­terns were then de­liv­ered to a seam­stress who worked in the Walt Dis­ney cos­tume depart­ment near where I live, and who did a su­perb job dou­ble stitch­ing them to sim­u­late in­di­vid­ual pan­els. The sails are han­ked on and hal­yards run through sheaves down to be­lay­ing pins. The tops’ls are lo­cated in pin­tles and can be re­moved if the wind is too strong.

As the model came near to com­ple­tion some­one asked me: ‘Shouldn’t there be a crew?’ This sim­ple ques­tion set me on a search for sailor fig­urines. I could eas­ily have crewed her with Amer­i­can Civil War sol­diers, cow­boys on horse­back or World War II sol­diers, but not sailors.

I wor­ried the boat would re­main crew­less, un­til some­one sug­gested I try The Doll’s House. Well, there is a Thee Doll­house in the red light area in Or­lando, but I don’t think they sell model sailors...

The name I was look­ing for was Ron’s Minia­ture Shop, but as I en­tered this amaz­ing mag­i­cal em­po­rium of doll’s house fur­ni­ture I was still not at all hope­ful for my spe­cific re­quire­ment.

‘Yes, we sure do,’ replied the as­sis­tant to my ques­tion. I could hardly be­lieve my eyes when she slid open a drawer full of sail­ing fig­urines of all shapes and sizes. There were naval of­fi­cers, pirates and

even ship’s cats. I came out with a skip­per, three crew and two cats, all very close to scale size. They do add a cer­tain some­thing, es­pe­cially the cap­tain as he stud­ies the set of his jib.

As a fi­nal touch I had also fit­ted work­ing nav­i­ga­tion and cabin lights, which shine through the cabin win­dows.

I also have a spare un­used ra­dio chan­nel, and won­der to what use it might be put on the boat? Per­haps PBO read­ers might have some ideas.

Maiden voyage

As with all sail­ing boats, there comes a time for the maiden launch.

I first pre-tested all the elec­tron­ics, steer­ing, sheet winches and mo­tor, then gen­tly low­ered The Old Gaffer, as I had chris­tened her, into the wa­ter. The breeze, per­haps an ac­tual Force 3, cre­ated slight rip­ples on the sur­face, and I had no idea if this would be too lit­tle or too much to sail in.

I eased the sheets un­til the sails shook and started the mo­tor to power Gaffer away from the shore un­der en­gine on a broad reach. I then shut down the en­gine and slowly hauled in the sails un­til she heeled, ever so slightly, and be­gan to ac­tu­ally sail.

It was an emo­tional mo­ment, see­ing her sail away on her own for the first time. As I slowly sheeted the sails home she heeled more and started to move quickly, when it sud­denly struck me that I didn’t know what the ac­tual ra­dio con­trol range was...

She needed to be brought about now, to head back. I eased the tiller con­trol to star­board and as she swung into wind I tacked the jib, and within sec­onds she was on an op­po­site course, hav­ing made a flaw­less tack.

Since that first in­trepid trial I have learned to han­dle the boat on any point of sail­ing, in­clud­ing goose-winged and hard on the wind in quite big seas – well, at least three inches!

The boat is a de­light to han­dle and I have not had to make any ad­just­ments to bal­last or sails. When the wind gets up, I ship the tops’l and she be­haves hand­ily un­der gaff main, mizzen and jib. I hardly ever use the mo­tor, but it might be needed if our res­i­dent al­li­ga­tor ever shows his an­noy­ance.

When on a de­liv­ery to the Mediter­ranean a few years ago, I called in at Gi­bral­tar and in the ma­rina was a real RS1 called Capri­cor­nus from Sta­vanger, Nor­way. It turns out my model bore a very close re­sem­blance to the real thing.

Roger Hughes’s model is very faith­ful to the orig­i­nal

Shiver me tim­bers... Roger gets face to face with his model ship’s cap­tain

En­deav­our was one of my first at­tempts at in­tri­cate model boat­build­ing, but re­mote con­trol added an­other di­men­sion al­to­gether

The ra­dio con­trol equip­ment laid out in­side the boat be­fore the deck was laid

In­di­vid­ual planks were laid over ply­wood, just like in a real boat, and then the planks were caulked

The con­tin­u­ous coil drum winches pull the sheets in and out and tack the jib

A care­ful float test was con­ducted, in case any­thing needed to be al­tered be­fore the deck was laid

Roger found sailor fig­urines which were very near the scale of the model

Roger Hughes gives some scale to his 1:15 model

These pic­tures show the dif­fer­ent points of sail that can be achieved, even re­motely con­trol­ling the boat from a dis­tance

Roger spot­ted this Colin Archer RS1 in a Gi­bral­tar ma­rina and was pleased to see his model bore a very close re­sem­blance

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