|Part1||Part 2||Part 3||Part 4|
Building the Valdivia– Part 3
by Patrick Matthews © 2006
In the first two parts of this series, we built up the hull, machinery, and deck of Robbe’s 1:20 kit of the Valdivia– a Swedish-built schooner of 1868 which still sails off Germany’s Baltic shores. This month we’ll erect the masts, rigging and sails, with an eye towards the maiden voyage in our fourth bonus installment.
Robbe provides aluminum tubes for the main and schooner masts, capped off with machined birch ends that include the squared off portions of the mastheads. Ironically, the wooden mastheads are to be painted white, while the aluminum portion is to be painted as varnished wood. No instructions are given for painting the tubes, except for “brown”. It’s not easy to ensure good paint adherence on aluminum, especially with the mast rings working against the paint, so I decided to depart from the plan here and built all-wood masts which could be stained and varnished a deep reddish-brown. Using a setup that my shop teacher and insurance agent would surely frown on, I managed to use a small metal working lathe to create two masts with their squared mastheads from lengths of 3/4” dowel stock, finishing at 0.470” diameter along the untapered lengths. Anyone skilled with a small spokeshave could likely do as well without the lathe.
The topmasts are built up from more machined wood pieces, tapered fiberglass rods, and brass-tube tips which mount split-pin “eyes” for attaching various stays. Mast cheeks and spreader frames are attached to the mast to locate the spreaders and the lower ends of the topmasts. Mast caps are to be built up by gluing wood spacers between two brass rings. Since the mast caps provide important support to the topmasts, I decided to forego this glued construction, and I silver soldered brass rods between the two rings. The final product might not be fully representative of an iron mast cap, but it’s strong.
The spruce spreaders include details such as kerfs in the ends for locating the upper shrouds, and reinforcing nails through the kerfs to keep the wood from splitting under the shrouds’ loading. Care is needed when building up the cheeks and spreader frames to ensure final squareness for mounting the spreaders. I attached one spreader on each masthead and aligned the ends of the second spreader with clamps off the first. Only when all was square did I run thin CA glue under the second spreader to lock it in place.
A number of brass wire hooks are fabricated for attaching stays and lower shrouds to the masts. Check that each of these not only fits in the required locations, but that it is aligned in the right direction to accept the shroud’s tension. I colored these and most other brass parts with “Blacken-It”, as all these fittings would be black-painted iron or steel.
The bowsprit and jib boom were constructed last time, and now the masts can be temporarily stepped in order to install the standing rigging. The masts are held about 5 mm high with spacers, and the standing rigging is installed under light tension. Later, the spacers are replaced with coil springs at the steps to hold the masts up against shroud tension.
The lower shrouds represent a minor undertaking. Braided nylon line is used for the shrouds, and rigid ratlines are installed through them with use of a special piercing tool. The tool is made from 2 mm brass tube that is cut on a bias like the tip of a hypodermic needle. After piercing a shroud line, a ratline (more braided nylon, hardened with CA glue) is inserted into the tool and drawn back through the shroud. The tool needs to be honed with a sharp point for piercing, yet the edges must all be polished smooth and round to make sure the shroud line isn’t sliced in the operation. Using a spacing gage, the process is repeated on up both shroud lines at each of the four positions. After installing all the ratlines, they are glued in place and trimmed flush with the shrouds.
Upper and lower shrouds are secured to the channels on the hull with lashings through deadeyes. The specified length for the lower shrouds’ lashings is a bit short, and adding 150-200 mm to these eight pieces will give a suitable length to work with. The model doesn’t include any parts to simulate the chains below the channels; if desired, provisions for these should be made before attaching the deck. In a similar fashion, the bowsprit rigging and forestays are installed and tensioned with lashings to the bulwarks near the cathead.
Eventually, all the lashings receive final adjustments to even out the tension in the shrouds and stays. After the shake-down cruise, final adjustments can be made and the knots secured with clear varnish. I was uneasy with trimming the loose ends off, as any future adjustments would be difficult without the extra length. Instead, I wrapped and tucked the ends away to put them relatively out of sight.
In several locations, Robbe asks us to connect braided nylon lines by putting “spliced” eyes in their ends. The splicing is to be done with a darning needle, piercing the standing part and drawing the loose end through several times. I found that this was doable with the smaller 0.4 mm lines, but I couldn’t force the doubled 0.7 and 1.0 mm lines through with a needle. But by using an awl for the piercing, and by feeding the CA-hardened loose end through, it’s a bit easier to create these spliced loops. It’s worth the effort, both for appearance and as the spliced end can be adjusted to set line length, prior to locking the splice with glue. But I’ll admit that I used a few bowline knots instead to secure some of these lines!
Somewhere around this point in the build I realized a couple of facts: 1) It’s amazing how quickly 10 am turns into 5 pm with so little visible progress, and still in the middle of the same build segment; 2) When focusing on some detail, it’s ridiculously easy to stick one’s head right into the rigging.
The booms and gaffs are built up from various combinations of aluminum and tapered fiberglass tubes, with several split pins for eyes, and some wooden “lacing rails” on the booms. These rails are merely glued to the tubes, so it’s good to sand the paint off of the fiberglass and to thoroughly clean the aluminum. I clamped each rail in place with a multitude of clothespins, and wicked thin CA into the interface– this seems to hold acceptably. The booms and gaffs are all attached to the masts using prepared fittings and parrels, which means it’s now time to start working on the sails.
The seven sails are precut from a fine synthetic fabric, and have heat-sealed edges to prevent fraying. Full size template drawings allow each sail to be finished with a set of die-cut adhesive reinforcing tabs and strips. Applying these tabs can be tricky, due to the aggressive adhesive used and the static attraction between tabs and sail, so it’s best to use double-sided tape to hold the sail down on the drawing during this operation. I found that a number of the sails were distorted and somewhat larger than indicated on the templates. In most cases, the shape difference wasn’t an issue, but you’ll do well to familiarize yourself with each sail’s placement to ensure that key rigging points align correctly.
A pointed soldering iron is used to melt a series of holes in the sails for mounting grommets at the corners and S-hooks along the luffs. By placing a piece of soft balsa under the sail, it’s easy to poke the iron through to the correct depth, creating the desired hole diameter.
Brass rings are provided as mast hoops, to which we solder small S-hooks for attachment of sails. Robbe expects us to use low temperature electrical solder, which I’m sure is fine, but I went ahead and used silver solder. The heat tends to anneal the brass rings, and I needed to reform them over a round tapered plug after bending the S-hooks to shape. When applying the brass S-hooks to the sails, make sure that each loop is completely closed to avoid unwanted disconnections. Mast hoops are actually formed from riveted wood strips, so the finished parts should be painted a suitable brown.
Halyards, stretchers, and sheets are spliced (or tied) onto the sails, and we can then start bending canvas to spar. The main and schooner sails go on first, which requires unstepping the masts and feeding the sails’ mast hoops on from below. The foot and head of the main and schooner sails must be laced onto their respective booms and gaffs. The gaff lacing is straight forward, but the text description of the boom lacing lost something in the translation. And given a view from only one side in the instructions, I was stuck for half an hour before I finally worked out the puzzle.
We are provided with a number of turned brass belaying pins which fit into holes in the boom supports, the cathead, and the pin rails mounted to the lower shrouds. Like the mast hoops, these should be painted a wood color. The halyards, stretchers, topping lifts and lazy-jacks are belayed to the pins, and since the halyards are cut to a scale length, there is plenty of extra length to be coiled up when the sails are in the raised position. Robbe shows us the correct method, but it’s not easy to get the coils all neatly hung on the pins, and the lines with shorter ends are just as much trouble, as they can’t be coiled. I merely belayed the short ends with multiple wraps on the pins. I’m appreciating even more now what static-sail modelers can accomplish, working in tighter quarters with models one-quarter the size!
The jib and flying jib’s sheets need to be attached to the endless loop running from the fore-winch and aft around the deck. The winch is exercised from close-hauled on one tack to the opposite position; at each extreme, the jib sheets are tied onto a clip on the endless loop with a light tension. You’ll need a radio with end point adjustment for the jib winch in order to set the limits of jib sheet travel. When hauling the jibs from one side to the other on the workbench, the jibs’ clews tend to hang up on the stays below, only freeing themselves with a resounding bang. In operation, it looks like a breeze should help lift them over.
One last job on the sails—main, schooner, and foresails all require reefing points—80 of them. Best to approach this as a production job. I cut all 80 to length, using up some 12 meters of line; tied the first knot in each, and then started poking them through the sails with a large sewing needle. On the reverse side, use the needle to run the line through itself once and then tie off in a knot. Finally, the reefing points are all cut to length with the help of a cardboard gage, and combed into a somewhat orderly array.
There are a couple pennants and a German national flag that we can fly. Since Valdivia is visiting a U.S. port here in my workshop, she’s also flying the Stars and Stripes in the courtesy position off the forward starboard spreaders. This flag comes from BECC and is finely printed on cotton. I also replaced Robbe’s German flag, made from heavy woven nylon material, with a BECC flag. The instructions suggest that we hang the German flag off the mainsail leech with short leaders, but I’ve rigged a proper halyard from the gaff’s peak down to the boom’s yoke.
Robbe also gives us a clear plastic sticker for applying the name to the hull. I’ve opted for dry transfer lettering of a similar font applied to clear decal film. The decal should be applied to a gloss surface to prevent “silvering”, and should be sealed with a layer or two of clear.
The anchors are nice aluminum castings fitted with brass stocks. We’re told to lash the anchors to the anchor chains, but I did the only sensible thing and formed proper shackles from brass wire and brads. After painting, the anchors are weighed and lashed to the cathead and railing. Robbe supplies four plastic cleats that are to be glued to the wood stanchions inside the bulwarks. The two forward cleats are for lashing the anchors, and the two aft are for belaying the back stay tackle. I wasn’t happy about merely gluing these nylon parts to the stanchions, and they didn’t look appropriate to my eye either. Instead, I laid pieces of brass rod into the stanchions to make cavils for belaying these lines. This would have been easier to install earlier, when the bulwarks were under construction.
We’re provided with four nice ship’s lanterns with clear lenses. All could be rigged for working lights, but you’d want to plan for the required wiring before the deck goes on. The stern lamp sits on the cap rail aft, and poses a snag hazard for the main sheets. Robbe provides a clear plastic rod which is to be made into a low hoop over the lamp, and inserted into holes drilled into the rail. Rather than install this awkward item, I chose to make the lamp removable, installing it only for display, and leaving the rail clear for r/c operation. Several other areas pose snag hazards for the jib and schooner sail sheets, and these are protected by tying some 0.4mm line between strategic points.
A few other deck top items are easy to finish and attach– the vent funnels, life ring, and boat hook. Now it’s time to stand back and admire!
Closing Comments on the Build
My last few projects have been either scratch-builds, or tricky r/c conversions of plastic models never intended to float. I felt almost guilty putting this kit together– sort of like being given the answers on test! No doubt that there is a lot of work involved, both challenging and satisfying. But the kit’s design is well thought out, and the quality of the materials is excellent, so assembly is a pleasant task. This is what a great kit can be– no design and engineering left for the modeler to complete on his own, yet it’s possible for the advanced modeler to introduce personal touches if desired.
Just a few of the items that the adventurous can contemplate include:
- Adding an auxiliary keel to allow sailing in heavier weather. The structure needs to be built into the hull at the earliest stages.
- A different auxiliary drive can be installed, with one of the latest quiet gearboxes and a brass prop.
- Plenty of options exist for batteries and wiring. A larger NiMH pack will offer more capacity and easier maintenance.
- The aluminum masts are strong and light, but I like the appearance of all-wood construction.
- Planks could be laid inside the smooth plastic bulwarks, and rods can be laid into the stanchions to add places for belaying lines.
- The decking could be back-dated with use of black caulking in place of the striking white filler strips.
- The heavily grained spruce used for the cabins and various trim work can be replaced with a finer-grained species.
- Brass crimp sleeves are used in several places to secure eyes in lines; seizing these lines with thread would look better.
- The sails are a much brighter white than one would expect for weathered canvas; I don’t know if the synthetic fabric and adhesive tabs can be easily dyed, but this would add to the vintage look.
We have one more piece to this story—what does it take to get this big beautiful model out the door and to the pond, and how does she sail? The topmasts and then the masts themselves come down, and the upper sails can be taken down to help handling in a stiff breeze—I think I’ll drill in private a few times before trying these tasks at the pond!
Read about it in Part 4.