Flying Cloud

Donald McKay clipper ship of 1851

In mid 2021, having completed the Daisy whaling project models and about a dozen bottle ships, I was ready to take on another sailing ship model. I had a clear directive that I needed to find a project that would take a very long time. After some thought, I decided that a full-rigged clipper ship with sails would be the next ship. I needed good plans and shopped around, finding several possibilities, but then happened upon the plans of the McKay clipper "Flying Cloud" by Scott Bradner. Scott has extensively researched existing models and plans for the ship as well as original source material when available and has produced a very complete set of plans. He is also most generous about sharing his plans and with personal communications about using them to build a model. So I was all set. His plans are available on his server at www.sobco.com. If you are interested in building a model of this or any other clipper ship, review these plans. Even if you don't intend to build a model, the plans are still worth looking over. The amount of information in the plans and supporting documents is impressive and informative.

I decided to construct the model in what is now my ususal technique. I used the plans to draw up frames at intervals consistent with the original ship, in this case, the frames were spaced at 30 inches. Using a modification of the "Hahn method", I first changed the body section plan to make an upper reference line, which will be the same on all frames and on the piece for the keel, stem, and stern post pattern. This reference line corresponds to the surface of the building board. I then used the drawn up frame and keel patterns to cut the parts from 1/4 inch lauan plywood. I also drew up a paper pattern marking the frame locations, including the angle of the cant frames, and the center line. This pattern, glued to the building board was the guide to placing and alinging frames during the set up. See pictures below for a summary of the process.

Once the frames and keel were glued up, they made a very strong and secure base for the planking. The hull is planked with pine cut into 1/16 thick strips about 3/16 inch wide. The shape of this hull is such that the strakes are pretty much a straight run without much tapering required compared to the complexity of planking an eighteenth century warship. One of the interesting things about building this model was learning how McKay designed his ships. He used massive longitudinal timbers, not only for the keels but also for the waterways and designed a hull with a shape and construction methods that must certainly have simplified and shortened construction time while still creating a remarkably strong hull. There are pictures below of the frame set up process and of the planking. I secured the planking with wooden pegs as shown, but did not glue or peg the planks in the waist of the ship. In the area between the forecastle and the quarterdeck, I planned to later trim down the plywood frames and substitute maple stock for that portion of each frame exposed along the bulwarks.

I planked the hull and applied the copper bottom while the model was still fastened to the building board. During my research into the American whaling industry in the late ninteenth and early twentieth century, I reviewed dozens of photographs taken of whale ships in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Some of these photos showed the ships out of the water during a refit, including photos of copper being applied to the hull or replaced after a voyage. In all cases, the copper was clearly oxidized, not bright or shiny. Copper for a ship's bottom was prepared by hammering it into sheets which were of somewhat standard sizes. The sheets were then pierced for the small nails which were used to fasten the copper to the wooden ship planking. These hammered copper sheets were often left out in the weather and according to contemporary descriptions as well as photographic evidence, were not polished but were a characteristic oxidized brown color when they were applied to the ship. Also, in none of the photographs can one see the fastening nails. These nails were small and flush with the surface of the copper and were not visible from any distance. So, although I did use a pounce wheel to mimic fastening nails on the copper foil I used for the model, once the copper was on, I burnished it to flatten and minimize the appearance of the fastening nails. I recognize that current modeling practice is to fashion the copper with prominent nail fasteners, often in carefully researched nailing patterns, so I let some of the mock fasteners show, more as a matter of style than of accuracy. I also put a patina on the copper before applying it. A dilute ferric chloride solution gives a good brownish color and would be my choice for the finish for the entire bottom of a model, but I also like more variation, so I also used vinegar and salt for a greenish "verdigris" color, and left some copper bright. The result is a nice mix of variable patina, which somewhat mimics the appearance of older ship models I have seen. Which was my intent. Again, not authentic, but stylistic. Pictures below.

building board

building board

building board

building board

building board

building board

building board

building board

planking

planking

planking

planking

planking

planking

Once the coppering of the hull was completed, I cut the model off the building board at the point of attachment of the frames and stem/stern posts and set it up on two brass rods drilled into the keel. After removing the model, I cleaned off the glue and paper on the building board and turned it over to use as a working surface. The two brass rods I inserted in a scrap piece of Zebrawood.

With the model off the board, I marked the frames at the level of the main rail and trimmed them. Later, I trimmed the frames in the waist to below the level of the deck timbers and substituted appropriate sized maple stock for the frames along the bulwarks.

With the frames trimmed, I could add the deck beams, waterways, and other timbers and then plank the deck. Then it was a matter of building the deck furniture and adding details such as the windlass, pumps, and deck pads for masts and capstans. I turned the capstans from lignum vitae at the same time as I turned stock for the deadeyes and turned the stanchions for the quarter deck railing. The order of doing things was pretty much as usual, guided by excellent plans from Scott.

About this time, progress was interrupted by spouse's surgical adventure and recovery, and shortly therafter by a move to new quarters. By February of 2022, the ship modeling shop was back in operation.

This first batch of pictures below shows work on the hull starting with the trimming of the frames through the deck furnishings and initial trial set up of the masts, in late summer 2021.

on pedestal

on pedestal

bulwarks and waterways

hull

hull

hull

hull

hull

hull

hull

hull

This second batch shows the set up of the standing rigging and addition of some more details to the hull, including the rudder and the figurehead. I waited to do the rudder until the time I was setting up deadeyes, as I wanted to use the same brass stock for deadeye chainplates and for gudgeons and pintels.

I used maple for the rudder and coppered it with left over material from the bottom coppering. The gudgeons and pintles were made from 0.015 by 0.060 inch flat brass by cutting strips of appropriate length and then soldering a short length of fine brass tubing to one group and a short length of 22 gauge brass wire to the other group. The heat of soldering annealed the brass enough that it would easily bend to conform to the contours of the rudder and later the sternpost. After the soldering, I drilled holes using a number 76 wire gauge twist drill for the "bolts". Then I bent the pieces to shape and used CA glue to attach them to the rudder and drilled holes in the rudder wood to pin the gudgeon strips in place with 24 gauge brass wire, also glued in place. Once dry, I filed the wire nearly flush with the brass strip and painted the brass with copper paint. The pintles slipped easily into place and I could then mount the whole assembly onto the stern post with CA glue.

The masts and yards are of maple. I first made the fore and main lower masts of single stock, but, upon the advice of Scott, I converted them to the built up masts that the Flying Cloud likely carried. The latter looks much better.

Here's the start of the rigging. I also took off some time to make up all the ropes I will need and also all the sails I plan to mount on the model. By late September, I was starting the running rigging.

fore mast pad

deadeyes

fore mast pad

deadeyes

rudder

rudder

figurehead

foretop