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HM Cutter Mermaid 1817 by JamesBhm - Modeller's Shipyard - Scale 1:48


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Hi all,

 

With a little trepidation I'm opening a build log on my HM Cutter Mermaid kit. This is a first build, not counting the hull of an A.L. Swift model I managed to build when I was 13 or so with hardly any tools, expertise, or instructions. I was pretty impressed with myself at the time, but I'm sure it looked appalling. I used to build plastic models back then (planes and ships mostly), and had a couple of model railroads. I've had some fun doing "real sized" projects on my house (furniture finishing, trim carpentry, window restoration) but we'll see if I have any skills that scale down. I'm starting the Mermaid because I've been looking for a nice quiet winter project to putter with in the evenings and on weekends. Job demands can be unpredictable, so I really don't have a feel for the pace I'll work at, but I'm not on any kind of timetable so I'm not worried. Hopefully this log will help keep me on track and be a source of good input. I've already got a lot of questions, but I'll try to pace myself and ask them as I reach them in the build.

 

My workspace is a bit unusual. I've set up a modest little work bench in the corner of a dining room that I had already pretty much taken over as an art studio. I've got a nice sheet of wood clamped to a cheap console table, and I've commandeered several drawers in the china cabinet for tools and supplies. Luckily, I also have a rougher workshop out back where I can do a few things if needed. If the workspace looks freakishly neat in pics, that's partially because having three cats lurking around makes me clean up after each work session!

 

I'm not very far into the build at all, but will post a few catch-up pics shortly to get up to speed.

 

James

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First Stage - A little Research

 

One reason I settled on the Mermaid was some of the historical information I ran across (interesting and woefully incomplete!). I loved the watercolors and sketches in Phillip Parker King’s field journal. They’ve got some good information, but there are also a lot of contradictions in his own portrayals of the boat. I’ve attached a couple of the most helpful images (no longer under copyright, but found in the digital collection of the State Library of New South Wales). I’ve also found logbooks and journals by King, the botanist on board (Cunningham), and one of his midshipmen (J.S. Roe). 

 

These are presumably the same sources the designers of the kit used. Since there are no definitive plans of the Mermaid, the kit designers apparently also used “The Naval Cutter Alert (Anatomy of the Ship) by Peter Goodwin. I suspect the kit is actually a hybrid that captures generalities of the Mermaid and details from the Alert. I’ve seen discussions about deck fixtures that don’t seem to match King’s drawings, but there are a lot of other little things that don’t always match the drawings. I’ll probably be asking for the collective wisdom on some of those things along the way and then maybe deviating from the kit on some small things. I’ll wait and see how my skill level seems to play out. The beauty of it is that unless I do something horribly wrong or anachronistic, there’s no singe definitive Mermaid so I can take some artistic license. 

 

For anyone doing research, here is the State Library of NSW full collection of King’s images:

 

https://search.sl.nsw.gov.au/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=ADLIB110326801&context=L&vid=SLNSW&lang=en_US&search_scope=EEA&adaptor=Local Search Engine&tab=default_tab&query=any,contains,cutter mermaid&sortby=rank

 

And his account of the journey (with links to online Project Gutenberg text):

 

https://search.sl.nsw.gov.au/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=SLNSW_ALMA51172343820002626&context=L&vid=SLNSW&lang=en_US&search_scope=EEA&adaptor=Local Search Engine&tab=default_tab&query=any,contains,phillip parker king

 

 

 

 

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Next Stage - Prep work

 

The kit made its way from Australia to the deep south of the US in reasonable time. I ordered the deluxe kit (with hull copper) so I could have the parts and instructions to copper if I want, although I haven’t decided (not leaning in that direction at the moment). One part (deadeye straps) was back ordered, but arrived about a week later. I did a detailed inventory and sorting of all the kit contents. I was short just a few blocks of a particular size, but that was it. I ordered some replacements along with a few upgrades including:

 

1. Nicer cleats in walnut (a lot of parts in this kit just come in plywood, and I forsee other similar upgrades)
2. Walnut belaying pins (I want more darker woods in the build)
3. 20mm Carronades (King’s journal and letters specifically mentions the Mermaid had two carronades, not clear what size)
4. Some sheet and strip stock to possibly get creative with deck fittings, etc. 

 

I’m not so sure about the ship’s boats. I may revisit replacing those. 

 

I also spent last week reading the instructions, watching the instructional DVDs, and looking over the MSW build logs for the Mermaid (thank you to those builders!). The DVDs were helpful but glossed over a couple of things I was hoping to see more closely. The production values weren’t great, but I liked the guy building and for a first time builder (and visual learner), I think they were worth the price.

 

 

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Building started in earnest this past weekend. (Also, I’m working on getting images down to more reasonable sizes!)

 

This weekend I worked on keel/bulkheads and built a jig to hold the keel. I checked the bulkheads for symmetry by flipping them over in the laser cut ply sheet, then did a lot of dry fitting along with some shimming and sanding to get them just right. I’ve read the cautionary campfire tales of builders who rushed through gluing their bulkheads and I have a mortal fear of accidentally creating a hull shaped like a french horn.

 

The system that worked best for me was shimming my work board/jig until it was level, using a carpenter’s square to true up the keel (it has a little play in the jig), then using a couple of .5” x .5” scrap blocks glued against the bulkhead to help square them up and to leave room for a level to rest on the bulkhead. As a beginner, they also helped me by giving me something with a good glue surface I could “tack” on and fiddle with a bit before clamping it tight with a binder clip. I managed not to glue my level to the frame, so that’s a plus.  

 

The tops of the bulkheads seem reasonably level and flush with the top of the keel (with a bit of sanding here or there). There may be a very slight bend in the keel (but not a twist, luckily). I think I can address it through careful glueing on of the deck. I haven’t attached the transom yet because it’s a little tricker and I don’t want to rush it. 

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Spent the last two days removing and re-gluing two bulkheads that weren’t quite square/level. Two lessons: 1), check things with a good strong light from above. Lighting from one side can create some weird optical illusions as to alignment of bulkheads due to differences in light/dark contrast on each side, and 2) my eyes picked up misaligned bulkheads much quicker in a photo than in “real life.” Not sure why, but I've started to use the camera to double-check my judgment.

 

Also spent a couple of days tinkering with the transom, which is one thing I knew I wanted to modify, even before I ordered the kit. It comes with a basically rectangular transom with rounded corners. King’s paintings and drawings include some baffling and inconsistent versions of the transom, but most are rounded on top. I think part of the problem was that he seemed to have trouble with proportions on a 3/4 view of the boat (i have the same problem in my drawings, so I know it when I see it!). I sketched out a rounded version of the transom that I think will work after reading carefully and trying to anticipate any downstream complications. I think my shape is closest to King's "careening bay" painting (upper left in the images below). It will require a slight inward lean of the bulwarks where they attach to the transom, which may make fitting a few other parts (and planking the transom) tricky. Before gluing, I traced the front and back of the transom so I’ll have a template to help figure things out. I really had to fiddle around to find the best way to stabilize the transom for gluing (the DVD just edits over that part). I finally ended up flipping the boat over on my board, leveling and squaring everything, then stabilizing the dangling transom with binder clips while 5-minute epoxy cured. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

The shipyard workers were up early and ready to go this weekend. I’m taking lots of precautions, but go ahead and start the betting pool for a feline-related debacle of some sort. I already learned not to let the loose end of strip stock wave wildly off the side of your table while trimming one end. 

 

I attached the bow and stern filler blocks this week and this weekend I sanded the tops of the bulkheads down just a bit and glued on the false deck. The deck went on well with just one slightly high spot on the outer edge of one bulkhead. Barely perceptible except when looking at the sheer of the deck from the side, but I think I can take it down a bit with some careful sanding of the false deck before planking. Lesson for the future: don’t just focus on the tops of the bulkheads around the keel. Use a batten or something to check the outer edges as well. 

 

While that started drying, I also spent some time testing a wood conditioned and stain I’m considering using for the outer planking. I’ve read up and realize there are lots of opinions on the subject of natural vs. stain vs. paint, but wide agreement that it needs to be water based and stained before planking. I want to keep the character of the wood but bring it down just a bit darker to be closer to King’s paintings of the boat. I found a Varathane water based stain that knocked it down just a bit without losing the wood grain. I’ve got a little time to mull it over, but will have to make a decision at some point.  

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I’ve lined up a few side builds to have little things to keep idle hands busy while I’m waiting for glue to dry on more important things (and to build up a few building skills on the side). I had sketched out an idea for a little binnacle and have been playing with it. It’s basically a little frame of basswood stock with 1/32” walnut sheet stock attached. I still need to add the top panel, some drawer/cabinet pull hardware, maybe some painted on hinges, and some additional decorative molding at the base. The little window frame also needs to be painted brown. It’s not the best looking thing out there, but I don’t think it’s the worst either! Makes me a little more open to customizing some of the other deck fixtures. 

 

To give an idea of scale, the front of the binnacle is 1" square.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Not much progress this past weekend. Took a trip down to Biloxi, Mississippi and took the ferry out to Ship Island. I waded around south of the old fort with stingrays (and an ungodly number of jellyfish) trying to picture the 60-ship British fleet at anchor near the island in 1814 before attacking New Orleans (and facing a couple of my ancestors in the process!)

 

I came home nautically inspired and managed to start working on fairing the bulkheads on one side of the Mermaid. A little tedious, but not nearly as bad as I was thinking it might be. I still need to sand and smooth a little bit, then tackle the other side. I just might be planking soon, but I don't want to rush this phase. 

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I also got carronades in! King's journal specifically mentions the boat having two carronades (although the weight was apparently illegible and not transcribed). The journal of Cunningham (the botanist) also makes reference to carronades. I'll ditch the cannon that came with the kit in favor of the carronades. The journals make no reference to culverins or any kind of swivel guns, and they aren't pictured in King's drawings, so I plan to leave them off. 

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Question for anyone passing through: is there a preferred method of thinning down the deadwood area of the keel (4mm thick down to 2mm in this case)? The instructions are pretty vague (“reduce thickness”) and the DVD doesn’t really cover it. Sanding seemed to take forever. I planed/carved a bit on one side with a hobby knife, but that was clunky. A small wood chisel or Dremel tool would have required a 10-step walk out to the workshop (and let’s be reasonable!) plus I didn’t want to do anything too aggressive and take off more material than I intended. I’m hoping the first layer of limewood planking will be easier to finesse to get the final thickness right. 

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Mixture of progress and setbacks today, but nothing unmanageable. I got the first plank on. First few attempts with the plank bender I felt a little like Frankenstein's monster meeting the little girl by the pond. After obliterating some scrap stock, I found a gentler touch and think I’ve got it. My transom sits a little high (it has a lot of play when you’re attaching it to the keel and the instructions don’t give much guidance as to just how it should sit). The result is a pretty sharp twist in the first plank, and the next plank or two will be tricky. I suspect it will need some sanding and filler in that area. I pinned on the lower guide plank on each side and adjusted one side several times. No matter how I placed it, something just didn’t look right. When measurements in one dimension worked, something was a bit off in another dimension. I decided that I must have lost some symmetry when fairing my bulkheads. As excited as I was about planking, I finally declared a “time out” and removed the guide planks. I think I can take some measurements and do a bit more fairing to make some adjustments to symmetry without having to remove the first plank. 

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Well, I ended up carefully removing that first plank also and spending time checking my bulkheads. I literally traced and cut out index cards for each bulkhead to check symmetry. They were actually in pretty good shape, with maybe a couple of minor spots to sand. I can see better where my measurements for the planks were off a bit. I'm glad I backed up and took stock. It'll give me a chance to build up the underside of the transom just a bit to give it some shoulder, and now I have a better idea how to get those first two planks right. I was eager to get into the planking this weekend, but sometimes you have to listen to your gut when it says something's not quite right.  

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Hi James, I am just finishing the rigging on this model which is also my first. I chose this model because it looked fairly easy for a beginner and was supposed to have good instructions and because I actually knew about this ships wreck before I even thought about building a model. The ship was wrecked off Cairns, Australia where I live. Anyway the transom was not easy. I spent about three hours putting the transom on and it still ended up being slightly out of whack. I had to sand it back into square. All I can advise is be really meticulous and patient with everything to do with this hobby. Some of the instructions for this model are not really very good for beginners and take an awful look of thought to figure out but maybe that is a good thing. I will follow your progress and will be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding this model. My model has turned out way better than I had imagined at the beginning. When I first started I did not think I would have much trouble with the woodwork but was pretty apprehensive about rigging the model. The wood work turned out really well and I have discovered that I actually enjoy rigging the model. It is good that you are taking the time to do a build log, I don’t think I could keep up the motivation to keep a log up to date. Cheers.

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Hello James, I'm keen to follow this build as it was my first "real build " of as POB kit a couple of years back.

Reading your build log made me think of a number of similar issues you are now facing with the Mermaid. Saying that, after six months of solid trial and error I finished it and was pretty happy with the results. 

I'm not sure how accurate the model is to the real thing (I don't think anyone does) but it does look good finished and sits on a shelf in my grandsons bedroom where hopefully in years to come he will appreciate the handiwork of his grandad (he is only 8 months so his parents are keeping it pot of harms way!) :10_1_10:

 

Enjoy the build as over time you'll get to see the model come together........in the meantime keep up with your build log and, like Chook, will be happy to answer any  questions you may have.

 

Cheers..............Fernando :cheers:

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Hi Chook and Fernando...thanks for the encouragement. Good to hear from other members of "Club Mermaid." I've been pleased with the kit so far and I think it was a good choice for a beginner. I'm learning lots of new things, but not feeling overwhelmed. The parts where the instructions are vague have made for some challenges, but it seems like that's par for the course in lots of kits. The DVDs have helped a lot. When I was a young modeler I tended to get "go fever" but now that I'm getting old and mellow, I don't mind taking my time, slowing down, and figuring out a problem (my favorite line from the DVD: "Take your time. It's a hobby, not a job").

 

Chook, that's interesting about the wreck. I just recently found the online blog of the team working the site. I love it when history makes a model come to life!

 

I'm off to do some reconstructive surgery on the base of the transom. I'll post updates.

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Yesterday’s time-out was worthwhile. My bulkheads checked out ok, but my measurements for the first two planks were a little off. The bottom of the transom definitely needed to be built up a bit. I put down two strips of 1/32 sheet stock and then trimmed and faired down and gave it a bit more shoulder. to match the other bulkheads.

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Back to planking once the transom was sorted out. Got the first plank and the guide plank in place on each side. This time instead of putting one guide plank on entirely then putting on the other one, I went bulkhead by bulkhead, pinning and comparing each side. No more “something’s not quite right” feeling. The planks also attached to the new transom with MUCH less groaning and straining.

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Hi - I guess you've found the older build logs on the Mermaid with our own variations and problem solving. I seem to recall a particular problem was with the gunwales.Instructions advise "identify and fit" with no mention of the fact that there is a (from memory) 1mm different in height front to back. Gunwales sit nicely either way but if you get them with the high side to the bows it stuffs up the rest of the fittings at the bow. I had a short discussion with the mfg. of the kit and was told this would be rectified in the next redraw of the instructions. Note also the runof the anchor cables - starboard side leads onto the drum incorrectly so that when turned on anchor raises whilst the other is lowered!!

 

Rick

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Ooops - gunwales should read bulwarks!! I ended up having to add a couple of mm to the stem to allow for the bowsprit and rigging holes. As you've rounded the transom this may well also affect the fit at the stern for the bulwarks. 🙂 As for positioning all the deck furniture I used Kings cut-away sketch as a guide assuming he had a fair idea of his own ship. Blew it up to 1/48 and worked from there.

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Rick...yes...very glad to have seen the bulwark issue and will have to double-check if there has been any change in the instructions. That never would have occurred to me. I'll proceed very cautiously with that part. Also...the DVD specifically tells you to do the weird run of the anchor cables. I did a double take and just assumed I must not know much about these things but the physics of that didn't seem right!

 

Your Mermaid build looks great. I hope to do as well. 

 

 

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There are a few other areas of "dissent" that I came across. I did make some notes on the plans as I went so if you'd like I can dig them out and post them here. My knowledge of rigging etc. is also pretty much zero but given that basic physics applies right down the line "if it ain't going to work then it can't be right". 😉

 

Rick

 

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On 10/21/2018 at 10:33 PM, Rick01 said:

There are a few other areas of "dissent" that I came across. I did make some notes on the plans as I went so if you'd like I can dig them out and post them here. My knowledge of rigging etc. is also pretty much zero but given that basic physics applies right down the line "if it ain't going to work then it can't be right". 😉

Rick, I'm open to hearing about any issues you ran across but don't go out of your way. I'm kindof looking forward to learning more about the rigging (whether I'll enjoy DOING it remains to be seen, but I think I will). I got the Lennarth Petersson rigging book for fore and aft rigs and it has a pretty good configuration for a typical cutter, which will hopefully help sort out any snags I run into. My knowledge of rigging is basically all of the odds and ends I've picked up through immersion in reading all of Patrick O'Brien's novels. 

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Planking started in earnest this week. I’ve gotten into a rhythm each night after work where I bend, bevel, adjust, and attach a pair of planks cut the previous night - then measure and trim down a new pair for the next night. A few thoughts:

 

1. Trimming the plank width using a vise and small hand plane (like the DVDs) just did NOT work for me. I don’t think I have a well-suited vise and probably didn’t have the depth of the blade quite right. The planks looked like I gnawed them with my teeth. I ended up just marking the planks and then trimming them with a straight edge and hobby knife. Really not that time consuming. Any consensus on the “best” way to trim planks or do people just do what works for them?

 

2. Mixed feelings on the crimp style plank bender. I’ve gotten much better with it but not convinced I’ve mastered it.


3. Each successive plank is fitting tighter so I know the learning curve is kicking in.


4. The transom area is still giving me some headaches (although I suspsect it’s just a tricky area on lots of kits). I’ve got some clinkering going on around the curve of the transom, possibly because the limewood planks are so thick, but I’m also getting a better appreciation of how the planks need to behave as they curve (and how to make them behave!). Pretty sure I can sand/fill to smooth things out, but would have liked for it to be a little tighter in the first place. 


5. The limewood planks in the kit are of varying quality. Some are darker and harder to bend, some are lighter and very easy to inadvertently chop or kink. Not sure if this is normal variation or just the quality of the kit. It helps to pair up similar looking planks for each side.


6. Still feeling very good about this as a beginner’s kit. I’m feeling challenged and having to learn along the way, but not feeling overwhelmed or discouraged at all so far. 

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There's a good basic planking tutorial in the Articles database on the home page which is worth reading a couple of times before you get too frustrated and I found a short soak in water then clampling to a curved mould to be much easier when plank bending. I also had some trouble with mixed quality timbers in this kit so sorted through ALL the planking to get a selection that I was happy to use. All the ply fittings I dumped and replaced with solid timber - ply just doesn't stain smoothly. 

If you haven't already then check the National Maritime Museum for models of cutters. This link is what I used for additional information http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections.html#!csearch;authority=subject-90254;collectionReference=subject-90254;innerSearchTerm=cutter;start=0 

Decking needs a waterway and using Kings sketches I repositioned the gunports, also using his cut-away to reposition all the deck furniture hatches etc. As for the hobbit home main gangway - total redesign and build. The top mast spreader (8.7 in the instructions) will need the lower mast cap rebuilt as it has no provision for the spreader to sit properly (see page 17~18 of Petersson) and the fixed top yard should be omitted as all King's paintings/sketches show it as a flying gaff.

There are probably more items that I missed as it was my second model only and I was still learning and attempting my own research.

One thing you will find useful is a scalpel and a few dozen no. 11 blades all quite cheap on Ebay (plus a pack of bandaids) and a small steel rule. Makes cutting planking very much easier. Don't be afraid to make your own tools along the way either I think we all have a number of home-made items that we've found essential.

 

Rick 

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Hi James....your planking is coming along nicely.

 

As to using a hand plane and a vise....I started doing that and, like you, ended up with some very jagged edges so went the hobby knife and a steel ruler. It worked just as well as the wood for the first layer of planking is soft and easy to cut with a sharp blade.

 

Don't worry too much about how the first layer of planking looks like as it will be sanded down, wood filler added where needed and will be covered by the second layer of planking :piratetongueor4:

The transom area can be a bit messy but once the first layer of planking is finished and sanded it does come up nicely!

 

Looking forward to further updates.

 

Cheers..............Fernando :cheers:

 

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21 hours ago, Rick01 said:

Decking needs a waterway and using Kings sketches I repositioned the gunports, also using his cut-away to reposition all the deck furniture hatches etc. As for the hobbit home main gangway - total redesign and build. The top mast spreader (8.7 in the instructions) will need the lower mast cap rebuilt as it has no provision for the spreader to sit properly (see page 17~18 of Petersson) and the fixed top yard should be omitted as all King's paintings/sketches show it as a flying gaff.

Rick - thanks for the tips. I'll definitely keep a close eye on those parts. With regard to the gunports, what are your thoughts on the fact that King's drawings seem to show six gunports down the side of the boat? I know he only carried two carronades, but I've wondered if those are disused gunports. The history of the boat doesn't clarify things. It was bought for King's use out of merchant service, not clear if it was originally built for the service or to be an armed cutter, or what. It wasn't very old at the time the colonial government bought it and it's origins in a Indian shipyard are murky. Thanks also for the maritime museum link. 

 

16 hours ago, Fernando E said:

As to using a hand plane and a vise....I started doing that and, like you, ended up with some very jagged edges so went the hobby knife and a steel ruler. It worked just as well as the wood for the first layer of planking is soft and easy to cut with a sharp blade.

Fernando - Glad to hear I'm not the only one with that experience. I immediately switched to the hobby knife and steel ruler and am happy with it. I'm trying (trying!) to be fairly precise with the first layer of planking just to build planking skills, but it's definitely a relief to know I've got a good margin of error. If I post pics I might just land an endorsement deal from sandpaper and wood putty companies!

 

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As for the gun ports it seems that often extra ports were "painted" on to give the impression that the ship was better armed than it actually was. I'm afraid I can't quote the source for this but it was information I gleaned from a thread on this forum. If you check the first print on this pdf https://silentworldfoundation.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Signals-86_pp14-20-30-31-Mermaid-2.pdf you'll see that there is one port open at the stern with a gun barrel poking out which is where I chose to place a cannon (I wasn't aware of the carronades!!) and looking at the cutaway you'll see that he has sketched a launch stored on deck where at least 3 of the foremost ports appear, leading me to believe that they would have been false ports. The first sketch also clearly shows the flying gaff not a topsail yard as per the instruction sheet.

 

Rick

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2 hours ago, Rick01 said:

As for the gun ports it seems that often extra ports were "painted" on to give the impression that the ship was better armed than it actually was.

Rick,  I'm on the fence between that explanation and the idea that they were just plain ol' disused gunports that weren't needed when the ship was re-purposed for merchant work then survey work. I can't find any reference one way or the other in the documents I have (other than confirming two carronades). The ship was finished just after the end of the Napoleonic wars. I wonder if it was planned for service as an armed cutter but then sold out of the service by the time it was done. The model in the Australian National Maritime Museum (below) has some darker planking -- but not even the two guns we know it had. I'm not sure if that's supposed to suggest gunports, covered gunports, or what. Still haven't decided how to approach that (but I'm not there yet!). Thanks for the link...I didn't have that image. 

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It's an interesting one. I opted for two ports only as the placement of the launch well and truly blocked even a carronade from operating forward of skylight. I forgot to mention that mast rings were omitted from the kit. One item I'm unhappy with on my build is the fact that the anchor when brought up to the cat head then fouls the bowsprit guy if you try to bring the flukes up to the cap rail as it should be when not in use. At some point I'm going to have to re-hash that whole section!

 

Rick 

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Planking continues at a casual pace. I’m lucky to fit and attach one pair each evening, but this weekend I’ve hit breakneck production and done two pairs per night. I’m trying to measure and fit each plank carefully for the practice, even though it’s just the first layer. I’ve got some small gaps and mild clinkering (some of which is just varying thickness of planks). Nothing that can’t dealt with through sanding, etc. My technique still needs practice but I’m pleased with the symmetry and flow of the lines I’ve got. I had originally intended to just plank according to the DVD instructions, but after a while I got much more comfortable and I’ve been freestyling more in line with the planking tutorial from this site. 

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