Pimp my Pirate Ship


111216wickedwench15sI’ve been asked how I got started on the Pirate gaming side of the Club. My response was that I had a few Pirates lying around and it started from there! Then I was asked how I happened to have a few Pirates lying around? I’m still stuck on that one.

Well, every Pirate needs a Pirate Ship – even a sinking dinghy such as Cap’n Jack had at the start of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. And, even though my crew are technically Privateers, I wanted a ship for my crew.

The completed sloop is shown at right (Photo 2), with its crew aboard. Read on to learn how the ship was constructed.

Enter John Bunce – Bunce of Birkenhead shipyards – with his lovely little cardboard creation (Photo 3). This was an ideal sloop for those of us needing our first ships to suit the Legends of the High Seas rules. To my mind, however, it was cardboard and just wouldn’t float. So, I decided to buy one of the Bunce of Birkenhead hulls and use it as a starting point.

John’s design and construction is for a single-deck sloop with four gun ports, a pair less than his prototype. The sloop is gaff-rigged and very tidy but I knew that some sloops included a square topsail and had the rat-lines that crewmen scrambled up to make sail on the square-rig’s cross-trees. I decided to rig my ship this way and perhaps add a fighting top – a platform at the lower cross-tree for musket men to snipe from.

My sloop started with the usual cardboard hull with a metal tube insert where the mast would drop in. John provided a length of dowel for the mast and also supplied a few chopsticks to make the topmast, the jib sprit and the mainsail booms. I would go on to chop up a couple of extras to make up the spars for the tops’l. Additionally, my hull included an extra, shaped piece of balsa wood which would be used as a poop deck at the stern of the ship.

I must at this point mention the great staff at Float a Boat, 48C Wantirna Road, Ringwood, who put up with me on a few occasions and were willing to pull bits out of their enormous range for me to check the fit against my cardboard hull and sample crewman. Adrian was a great source of info and Rhonda was very patient with my lengthy decision-making process as I sorted through various items, often in more than one scale. If you read this, Rhonda and Adrian, thank you very much for your help.

And what did I get at Float-a-Boat? The list is enormous but I started off with wooden veneers, 6 mill wide for planking and 3 mill wide for detailing. I planked the whole of the outer hull and most of the internal hull (except for where the poop deck would be), the main deck and the deck and front wall of the poop-deck. Photo 4 shows this exercise under way, external hull planked and internal hull planked back to the poop deck, which sits planked, in the background.

Photo 2 – The completed sloop
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Photo 3 Photo 4 Photo 5

As well as the hull, mast and spars, John had supplied some plastic mesh for deck grates. So much, in fact, that I cut some off for use as stern-gallery window (see Photo 5) which was fitted just before the deck was planked (Photo 6 with the poop-deck test fitted). After planking, I removed the mast dowel and spray-painted the whole thing with Citadel’s Chaos Black undercoat, then painted the hull a salacious red colour (Photo 7), the ideal hue for a ship to be called the ‘Wicked Wench’.

Before glueing the poop-deck in place, I detailed it with some of the 3 mill planking to show where the door and slide were. This provides access to the top of the stairs down into the cabin under the poop deck, and is shown with the freshly completed guns in Photo 8. By now, the Wench was starting to take ship-shape.

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Photo 6 Photo 7 Photo 8

I glued the poop-deck in place and while it dried, set to work on the anchor and bilge-pump which were to detail the hull and deck, in the latter case with the guns, a barrel, buckets, stairs, ship’s wheel, capstan and bell, all being worked on at the same time. I also set about making a couple of pin or fret boards and mounting a small fret ring around the top of the metal tube that the lower mast fitted into. This is visible in Photo 9, which shows the door to beneath the poop-deck, stairs onto the poop-deck port and starb’d, the fret ring aroung the mast tube, the bow sprit tacked in place and the deck painted.

With the poop-deck having a little height, the hull-side was no longer high enough to stop my crew from toppling overboard. However, I’d also bought some balustrades. 3 mill decorative strip was glued around the top edge of the hull to provide a level surface and the balustrades were glued on top. The rail was then made from the same 3 mill strip glued across the top of the balustrades, and it was also used around the top edge of the hull and in decorative strips around the hull itself. An additional balustrade went across the front of the poop-deck, between the stairs to the main deck. The deck grates were cut to size and glued in place, as were my fret-boards either side of the mast outboard of the hull, and short anchor-booms were positioned extending either side of the bow. My ‘rope’ would be fed through one of these and go back to the capstan from my anchor. All of this is evident in Pics 10 and 11, with the ship’s wheel and stern-lantern also evident.

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Photo 9 Photo 10 Photo 11

The trouble with a square-rigged vessel is the need for ratlines and I thank Neil for his suggestion that I lay out a pin-board and produce them on that, then relocate them to the Wench. Photo 12 is of a ratline in preparation on the pin-board – there would be one each, port and starb’d – while Photo 13 shows my first attempt to rig one on the ship, with other rigging evident.

Photo 14 is an attempted close-up of the how the transverse rigging is fixed to the hull; it is looped around a belaying pin stuck through the fret-board on either side of the hull. The three strands of the ratlines and the line holding the spars of the cross-trees in place each loop an end around the ends of individual belaying pins protruding through the fret-boards, port and starb’d.

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Photo 12 Photo 13 Photo 14

It’s a bit of a task but gives a very pleasing end result. Photo 15 (brightly sunlit) shows the fully-rigged Wicked Wench sat on a stool in my kitchen. Now, she needed teeth and I set about fitting my gun-ports. I also fitted the last of the rope bearing items, the capstan, the anchor and the davits for the ship’s boat, as well as the pump and water barrel. If you look carefully at Photo 16 you can perhaps see these, while Photo 17 shows the Wench with her boat slung over the stern from the davits and her teeth hidden behind the gun-ports. Of course, she still needed a figure-head and I had to make sure the crew fitted amongst all of the ‘extras’.

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Photo 15 Photo 16 Photo 17

Thanks to Nic at Eureka for the lady from his ‘Gentlemen’s Collectables’ range which now adorns the bow of the Wicked Wench. This was fitted and ten crew were placed aboard for the final shot (Photo 2 near the top of the article). Thanks to Ian Hemmings for the bases upon which my crew are mounted and the colouring of which I was able to match to the Wench’s deck.

This exercise took a few days over the Christmas 2011 break when the wheather was too hot for modelling and glue dried rather quickly. But, still, that kept the work rolling along on the tide as it were, and the whole process was great fun with a decidedly positive outcome.

I would recommend that you all get out there and pimp your ship to suit your tastes but with a caution: as I recall, if you’re any good as a Pirate, you’ll graduate to bigger and better ships. You may need a couple of weeks off work to do those!

So, until you bump into the Wicked Wench on the High Seas, may your winds be fair, your course true, and your booty aboard the Wench, where good booty belongs! Ya–haaar!


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