JerseyCity Frankie

Yawl Dulcibella by JerseyCity Frankie - scale 1:48, 1897 fictional vessel from the novel Riddle of the Sands

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The fictional vessel Dulcibella is the vessel the protagonists use in the sailing spy novel The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service written in 1903 by Erskine Childers (born1870, executed1922). here is the wikipedia page for the novel:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Riddle_of_the_Sands

A brief synopsis of the novel is that Charles Caruthers is summoned by his old school friend Arthur Davies to accompany him on a sailing excursion to the Frisien Islands in the North Sea just off the coast of Germany near Wilhelmshaven-  the German North Sea naval base. Skulduggery ensues. Caruthers is played by Michal York in the film version and that tells you all you need to know about his charachter- kind of a white glove rich guy who brings too much luggage and is more suited to larger fancy yachts. Davies is more salt of the earth and is an enthusiastic self reliant practical seaman, not the yachty type at all.

Childers was an enthusiastic yachtsman and owned a vessel called the Vixen, which was a converted lifeboat. At the time it was not an uncommon practice to acquire and then convert a surplus lifeboat by adding a transom and decking over the otherwise simple laminated plywood open boat hull. Fortunately, photographs  exist of the Vixen on the hard at the end of her career.  Erskine fictionalized the Vixen and made her the Dulcibella of the novel. We learn in the novel that Davies has recently converted Dulcibella from a Sloop to a Yawl by adding a mizzen, and all the action in the novel takes place in the very shallow waters of the many small, sandy, hard to navigete Frisian Islands.

Sailors have always loved the novel because it is clearly written in their language, Childers loved sailing and his comprehension of the subject brings authentic detail and atmosphere to the novel. Dulcibella becomes a character in the book and by the end of the novel you have a very good feel for what she is and how she handles.To this day its hard to find a fictional craft that comes across so clearly to the reader. So I decided to try to build a model of her.

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The entire novel is in the Public Domain and the full text is available online as well as an unabridged streaming audio version available on Librvox.org. A film version of the novel was produced in 1979 starring Michal York, Simon McKorkindale and Jenny Agutter.

A German Language television version was produced in 1984.

In 2015 two guys in London started a podcast based on the novel: http://riddleofthesands.net/wordpress/and there is a podcast for each chapter. The premiss of their podcast is that Childer's novel is curiously specific about dates and times- the novel unfolds in what feels like real time and deals with real places and conditions. The two podcasters dissect each chapter and research all the products places foods and clothing and everything else mentioned in each chapter. THIS is how I came to the novel as I am a big fan of podcasts, and the two podcasters are fun and dedicated to the material. It is on this podcasts website that I found a simplified three view drawing of the 1979 movie version of Dulcibella and that was the final input I needed to start thinking about building a model. I searched the web and was surprised that I could not find photos of any MODELS of Dulcibella. Which is odd since I am certain if one asked 100 sailors who loved novels of the sea to make a list of their ten favorite fictional vessels, most would have Dulcibella on their lists. But its not the first time I have noticed that real-world sailors and ship model builders each live in worlds that do not intersect as much as you would imagine.

 

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Visual Cues for the model builder: Childers makes it clear that Davies does not care for fancy yacht culture and is concerned only with having the strongest and most seaworthy and practical vessel. In the novel his dialogue is often dismissing speed and beauty in a vessel in favor of utility and practicality. Dulcibella is a work in progress and has seen a near catastrophic grounding in bad weather and subsequent repair.  He apologizes at one point for the Dulcibella's lack of fancy touches, but the other North Sea sailors met in the novel all praise Dulcibella for being strong and suited to inshore sailing in the difficult Frisian Islands. But the novel does not go into a lot of specific visual detail. For instance I do not think the color of the hull is ever mentioned. We learn of the Drop Keel from Caruthers complaining about the Centerboard Trunk taking up legroom in the cabin, and the fact that she is often left on the mud as the tide goes out. She has a small boat that plays esoteric and dramatic roles in the story, so I look forward to building a nice little boat to be Dulcibella's tender.

The film version of the vessel has the ODDEST little cockpit, really just an oval hole in the otherwise flush deck just big enough for the knees of two people to fit into and no other nods to seating near the tiller, nothing at all like any similar sized vessel I have ever seen. I wonder how common this complete lack of comfort was back in the 1890's? But as mentioned above, the conversion from lifeboat to Sloop involved the instalation of a transom- a lengthening of the deck aft. This would have involved some odd interior framing to cover the double ender lifeboat stern into a short cantilevered deck extension aft, seen on Childers actual Vixen conversion. Here is the photo of the hull of Vixen which shows this conversion pretty well:

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mtaylor, IgorSky, robin b and 4 others like this

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Here is a scene from the film showing the odd small cockpit. It must have been difficult shooting with a big 1970's motion picture camera on a vessel under 40' in length. As you watch the film it appears most shots are taken from the perspective from all the way aft or all the way forward- the only places big enough to set up the camera. Also most of the shots naturally frame the actors and deck details never become visible. This is the only shot in the film that I could find that shows the deck aft.

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I started carving a solid hull from a block of "mystery wood" I had in my scrap pile. I got it from a finish carpenter from Red Hook Brooklyn and it looks and feels a little like cedar, but harder and less aromatic.

I am still poking around on the internet and I have turned up this information about the prop Dulcibella built for the film: http://www.brookvillagehistory.co.uk...rooke-lifeboat
In which it is claimed that the lifeboat Susan Ashley was retired in 1937, converted to a motor yacht, and then later converted into the Yawl seen in the film. Another internet forum yielded a clew that there was an article in Classic Boat (Issue 3 Summer 1987) about the conversion. But I doubt I will be able to uncover this issue, its not online.
I found this quote on YBW.com: ...."I don't know what happened to the original, but the year after the film was made the boat used for filming was in Lymington Yacht Haven. I think Laurent Giles had some part in the design.- it was a shell containing only a huge Mercedes engine to get it quickly to the right place at the right time."...... which sounds like a plausible comment, right? Laurent Giles is a very well known yacht designer with hundreds of vessels under his belt. Here is a photo of a lifeboat of the era under restoration. Its got a plywood skin.

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The scale hull Between Perpendiculars is about 8 3/4" long and I carved it conventionally. But I had no hull sectional stations on the plan so I have to eyeball it all while referring to the screen shots I made of the film Dulcibella. Tinny wood chips all over my apartment. I cut a slot for the keel and stem and added those while pausing in the middle to consider the drop keel's location and dimensions. More guesswork and deduction based on hints in the novel. Caruthers describes his displeasure at having to go below to raise and lower it and notes that it makes gurgling noises and spits mud if he does not stuff rags into the chinks of the centerboard trunk.

I got a bit lazy with the deck planks and decided to use the stock I had without regards to deck plank width- I had 4mm strips so I used it. Then I got ambitious and decided I wanted to lay the deck using a nibbled king plank with curved planked deck. I had never  done any kind of nibbling or joggling so I wanted to try it. I'm a little embarrassed at my scale two foot wide king plank at the bow though, I am sure it would look odd on an actual vessel, it should be eight inches or less I think. The one at the stern is much better. On the other hand I did the best I could with the skills I have. I will try to hide much of it with deck equipment at the end of the process though. I do like the way the run of the planks look otherwise.

Next I had to gouge out the interior of the cabin. This is also when my attention turned to the weird little knee-sized cockpit. I will line the inside of this with paper I suppose, its kinda rough.

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IgorSky, hexnut, yvesvidal and 3 others like this

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There is a low bullwark running around the entire deck. Rather than try to edge glue it onto the deck I cut a rabbit for a larger plank about 1/4" down from the line of the deck. I steam bent the two pieces after I made a paper template of the shape I thought I would need. I knew it would be hard getting the port and starboard side to butt together on the centerline aft, plus the run of the bullwarks flairs out from vertical at the bow to a dish at the stern.

I cut the wood then wrapped the two pieces together in tin foil with the ends open on either side. One end I jammed into the spout of my teapot and steamed them that way.

I used weldbond glue for this and I am now a convert.

Once I trimmed the bullwarks to shape and the proper height my little Dulcibella started to look convincingly like a boat and not a block of wood.

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pete48, dadodude, tadheus and 6 others like this

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Careful as I was, I had to use some kind of filler. I had drywall spackle and I may have some carpenters wood filler somewhere but I decided to try Liquatex acrylic modeling paste. It works fine and is sandable so I am happy enough with it.

I started in on the deckhouse construction- just four pieces of basswood strip. I mitered the corners fairly easily and effectively by dragging their edges across a sanding stick, doing it by hand and eyeballing the angle. I have not glued them yet but the corners look nicer than a butt joint would have. Drilling the portholes took longer than I thought since I wanted them consistent and crisp. I wound up using a lot of different tools to get there.

I have been re-listening to the audiobook, trying to glean more clues about the visual appearance of Dulcibella. Carothers goes for a swim then climbs out of the water "hugging the smooth black sides". I was glad to hear she is black hulled, the white hull in the movie looks to pretty. I bring it up because I also knew Davies wouldn't have brightwork all over his working boat yacht. But what color for the deckhouse sides? I went with a toffy collor that will look good with the black hull and which suggests to me an English yacht from the late 1800's.

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RichardG, russ, KenW and 13 others like this

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I  decked the deckhouse with four basswood strips. My vision of how Davis would keep the wet out of the cabin is that he would cover it in painted canvas, which was and still is a typical solution for this age old sailboat problem. I will stretch some material with some sort of VERY SUBTLE texture over the house then paint it. But what color? White seams appropriate but why not the toffy color I have on the rest of the upper works? It doesn't seam right, can't say why.

Anyway, I wanted to sing the praises of Sanding Sealer, a product I have hardly ever used in the past. If you have not used it, get a can. Mine is water soluble and dries and can be sanded within fifteen minutes. The effect this stuff has on the wood I am using is amazing. If you are like me, you use basswood because it is cheep and available, but you always feel like you are cooking with hamburger while the big boys are using steak. Its likely I will never plunk down the money for boxwood and until I started using the Sanding Sealer I just figured I would have to make do with Basswoods fuzzyness whenever I was going to sand some. Each patch of fuzzy not-perfect residue reminding me my materials were at the low end of the scale. But when I paint on the Sanding Sealer the basswood instantly takes on a warmer yellow tone that makes it stop looking like it is a popsicle stick. Better still, now when I sand the sealed baswood, the sandpaper perfectly polishes the surface, the dry grains of powdery sawdust are unrecognizably dry and dusty. There is no fuzzy grey area between what is being sanded and what is being removed- the dust falls right away from the gleaming wood. The resulting surface is better in orders of magnitude than the same surface without the sealer.

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That odd cockpit. As I re-view the film I am starting to get a sense of it but I am very curious what is down in there. Does it drain in any other way than bailing it? Due to the limitations of where the filmmakers could set up the camera, I have found no shots at all-even blurry hazy or at a distance shots- that look down at the deck from above, unless they were shot with the camera on the Dulcibella herself. And then there are only two places to place the camera as already mentioned, and the views presented from either vantage point do not cover the portion of the deck immediately aft of the house. For shot taken from another vessel while underway, the cameras perspective is low. Clearly the camera boat had the same or less freeboard as Dulcibella, which is a shame since I really want shots of the deck layout. The closest shotI could find showing the after deck are this one and the one on an earlier post above, screen grabs from the film playing on youtube.

Just barely visible in this shot is a sheet Horse and a pair of crude posts Port and Starboard for making off the sheet.

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I had carved out the cockpit and here is a shot of it getting planked with some veneer I had. Then I got down to some painting. I think the underwater hull needs to be a bit more red, its too brown. Black is always a pain since it shows every flaw on a surface that should be perfectly smooth. It revealed to me some issues I still have with filling around the stern, but not as bad as it could have been. I glued on the rub rails and also some other little details, drilled the hole for the bowsprit through the bullwarks.This will raise a rigging question further down the line: If the bowsprit is offset, is its outer end canted inboard so that the tip of it will fall on the center line of the vessel? I can't make up my mind about this, anyone have a strong opinion?

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I am a little embarrassed to say that this is my 1,000th post on MSW. Have I really said so much? At any rate I hope that some percentage of what I have written in this little text window has been worth reading or helpful to other ship model builders! Back to Dulcibella: I'm working on the deck house or dog house or whatever name it goes by on a vessel this size. I know from experience that the roofs of such structures on wooden boats often leak and in fact in the novel a leak is mentioned. A typical way to seal out moisture on a roof of this sort is to cover the wooden decking with canvas, then paint the canvas. And this is what I imagine Davies would have done. TO replicate the canvas I glued wet tissue paper over the roof and painted it an off-white canvas color, then stippled or dry brushed an even lighter shade over that in an organic and mottled way and I'm pleased with the result. The tissue paper gave it just enough tooth to convey to the eye that this is a different material than the wood elements of the model. I was not so pleased with the skylight I built, nor the one to replace that one, nor the one after that. I finally had one I thought I could live with then LOST IT for four days. Thinking it gone for good I started work on another one, only to find the "good one" under the radiator while vacuuming today. I was reading Philip Reeds book Period Shipmodel Making in which he describes using a piece of wire instead of forming a wooden cap rail on a model so I gave this a shot using some copper wire. I was very surprised at how easy it was to accomplish getting the wire bent to the correct shape and glued to the top of the basswood bulkhead. The Zap a Gap medium cyano just GRABBED the copper wire and held it instantly. I had anticipated a struggle to get the materials and glue to play nice but there was no trouble at all. The wire will wind up painted black.A side benefit of the wire is the strength and resiliency it will impart to the bullwarks which otherwise is made of very thin basswood sheet which would have been easily damaged.

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More work on deck fixtures. Kevels aft port and starboard and a horse for the sheet. A tiller.  A pair of bilge keels. I'm also turning some of the spars. "brass"portholes. I had some gold colored metallic foil and I used two hole punches to make the porthole brass. I had imagined I would have put some very small bits of scrap foil at one side of each port to represent the hinge but this may never happen as the feature would wind up being very very small. On the other hand its just the sort of feature that could "sell" the foil discs as portlids. Speaking of faking metal, I often use the "lead foil" from wine bottles, I never throw it away and keep scraps of it around. The better variety is soft and maleable and it cuts easy with an exacto. Its better that ordinary household tin foil as it is a bit thicker and less brittle and a lot less shiny. I cut thin strips of this for the pintles and gudgeons and glued them in place with Tightbond. When I painted the skegs I smeared some of the red ocher bottom paint onto them then wiped it off to give a weathered appearance- a bit of the metallic surface shows through.

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ccoyle, hexnut, KenW and 9 others like this

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I'm depicting the vessel of the novel, so I feel I must also include the two characters from the book, they are part of the picture, they are part of the story. 1:48 in figures are available I guess but I have not even looked to see what is available, I'm making my guys out of wire. I intend to flesh them out with modeling paste and acrylic gel and paint.

This is my first time adding figures to a model. I have complained elsewhere that figures on model ships often ruin the effect- one often sees garish out of scale lumpy cartoonlike figures on models. On the other hand they bring the size of the vessel into context for the viewer. Even I, making the model, could only REALLY see what the cockpit area would feel like when I put the simple wire figure into it. Now that space is more relatable, now that I can see where a hand or a knee or an elbow will or will not fit.

You can see I started work on a wood and wire figure too. We will see which is more realistic.

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IgorSky, captainbob, KenW and 6 others like this

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If you have ever read any of my build logs you will see I am a staunch advocate of sails on models. No bare poles! I saw a guy eat a hamburger once and he threw away the bun first, which in my opinion is EXACTLY like building a SAILING vessel model without sails. Above the deck of any sailing vessel there are volume of cream colored arcs of canvas that DEFINE what a ship is and what she looks like. Leaving all that off the model is in my opinion stopping short of making a full representation of what the ship is. In a square rigged ship there is plenty of gear aloft to fill the void over the deck, plenty of things for the eye to take in and appreciate. But on a schooner or sloop, with masts that are relatively unadorned with gear, a bare poled model looks particularly naked.

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Recent sails I have built for my models were made from single sheets of paper or canvas with the seams of the Cloths drawn on. Each time I went through the process of drawing on the seams it would cross my mind that one day I should investigate actually building a sail out of individual pieces of material, as in actual practice, so that each seam was a real seam. I also felt that assembling a sail this way would allow me to build in the curved shape of the bellied canvas of a sail drawing wind, as in actual practice too. Actual sailmakers sew in the gentle curves to get the sail shape they want.

With a vessel of the size of Dulcibella, there are not that many panels of Cloths making up the sail so it was easy for me to decide it was time to build a sail completely from its constituent components.

I chose paper. Even at the scale of 1:48 the texture of a fabric would have to be amazingly rough to be noticed at this scale. I decided the width of my constituent cloths would be three feet. Over a translucent plastic form I built up the sail by gluing strips of 3/4" paper together along their length with as small an overlap as possible, mimicking the look of an actual flat felled seam. After the sails main canvas was complete I glued on tablings and reef points and reinforcing patches. I coated everything in acrylic medium. I wanted to limit puckering so I pulled the strips tight across the form but I still got wavy areas but I am happy to live with them as they lend an organic aspect to the sail. Later I will paint the sails the proper cream color of actual canvas. As you can see I wind up with a sail that has its curved shape built in and is slightly translucent. I imagine I will not have to worry about the sail losing its shape and I hope that the several layers of acrylic medium will prevent oxidation of the paper over time.

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More sail thoughts. I think I am going to have to scrap the sail in the above photos. it turns out the cloths are too wide for the period, I had selected a cloth width of 36" which did not seem outrageous until I looked further. One can find many photos of similar rigged traditional vessels with only a few cloths in their sails, but these were modern photos of modern sails. In looking at period photos I was noticing sails with a LOT of narrow cloths, cloths that appeared to be as narrow as 10" sometimes. Never seen in modern photos. The reason is the sails on pleasure craft of the era were NOT using the same sort of canvas the big square riggers were using but in fact were using cotton fabric that was much lighter. Thick canvas sailcloth of the type used on the square rigged ships of the era would have been too much bulk and the sort of strength it gave in return for its weight and bulk was not needed for the forces involved in small craft- or at least that is the wisdom I am hearing from other online historic vessel forums. So the cotton fabric they were using would weigh a LOT less and presumably be much more easy to procure. The problem is that this sort of fabric had too great a potential to stretch. So the reason I was seeing such narrow cloths in period photos was NOT that this was the only width available, the cloths were deliberately cut down to a narrower width to defeat the stretchiness of the fabric. The idea that yachtsmen would go to this sort of trouble to retain sail shape rings true to my ears as the same mania exists in today's yachtsmen. Here is a contemporary photo that shows an extreme example of the sort of cloths I am talking about.

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The topsail is made up of wider panels.  On the jib there is a whiter section, about the same width as the panels on the topsail, and seem to be made up of four narrow panels.  Is it four narrower panels or are there three reinforcing seam in a wider panel?

 

Bob

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I love being able to pick out details of sail construction on old photos. Modern sail fabrics are the product of chemistry and seldom need a patch. Older material was just ordinary woven fabric and was subject to wear and tear and ultraviolet deterioration and even mold. Those old sails are full of patches and the newer material is always paler and cleaner and easy to spot. The Jib in the photo above may have started life on a different vessel then got recut and extended for this boat and maybe thats why the newer cloths? Topsails, in my experience, are never as worn as the rest of the suit since they are not flown nearly as often, so they don't see as much weather and wear and tear. I too noticed the cloths were wider in the above topsail. Maybe a topsail is permitted to stretch more than the lowers? They do always appear more curved than other sails.

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