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CUTTY SARK by Tom in NC - FINISHED - Mantua Sergal - Scale 1/78 - After a 45-year hiatus I thought I'd come back and do something easy :)

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This will be my second build log since joining as a member in November 2018.  I started building the Cutty Sark  by Mantua Sergal on September 1st.  Now, in late November, I have pretty much wrapped up all of the hull and deck work and am starting to work on the masts and (gasp) the daunting rigging.  I’ll try to do better with my pictures.


I read the build log by keelhauled, posted back in March 2013, and his overview of the Mantua Sergal Cutty Sark kit is so perfect that I’m going to borrow (plagiarize) a good bit of it and include it here.   I hope keelhauled won’t be offended. His work was too masterful to ignore.





Manufacturer: Mantua
Sergal), Italy


Model: MA 789 (Art 789)

Dimensions: Length 45” (1150mm) Height 26”

Scale: 1:78

Purchased: 2018

Price:  $549 USD (2018)

Construction: Double Plank on Bulkhead: Limewood inner, Walnut outer

Fittings:  Brass, copper, bronze, copper plates, walnut dead eyes and blocks, copper sheet with ornamentation and deck siding,  bronze figurehead, grey cotton rigging line in various sizes, silk flag. 


Instructions: Booklet with translations into English, Italian, French, and German.  In my opinion the translations are similar to what Japanese instructions in the 1950s used to look like.  Not very clear and only marginally useful.


Plans:  Four very large two sided sheets – Eight plans total .  1:1 sheets for the
deck, side, standing, and running rigging.  Other sheets detail building steps.


The parts are generally high quality  but in at least three instances I felt I could

improve on the stuff they included.  I’ll detail  my deviations from what Sergal

Provided as I go along. 


As for reference materials I haven’t yet checked out the books and sources that keelhauled included in his build log, but can certainly recommend a book which has become sort of a bible  for me re the building of rigged ships in general. 


Mastini, Frank. Ship Modeling Simplified: Tips and Techniques for Model Construction from Kits . McGraw-Hill Education. (I have the Kindle edition which allows me to check things on the fly while out in the shop).




I’ve read a lot about various methods for checking the alignment of keel and bulkhead and deck components – and certainly about all of the after-market products that supposedly make this a breeze --  but the laser cut parts in this kit slipped together so easily and precisely that I didn’t waste a lot of time agonizing over that. 


Instead of an after-market vise to clamp the keel I used the large end vise on my workbench to keep things stable while I assembled the parts. 


Many years ago I built a plank-on-bulkhead version of the Vasa (a Billings model), and even though it didn’t turn out very well I learned about soaking & bending planks, and using small pins/nails to hold them in place while the glue was drying.  That was a single layer planking job, and I think that the double planking of the Cutty Sark is much better for obtaining a smooth finish on the hull.


It was during the application of the second layer of planks that I began taking pictures of my work.



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I got pretty cocky at that point, figuring that if I could do a nice planking job like this that this build was going to be a lot easier than I expected.  So, after lots of sanding and filling and smoothing I proceeded to spray paint the hull with matte black paint as directed.


This what the hull looked like when I finished  --  but not until I had stripped, sanded and repainted the dang thing 2-3 times.  I tend to work too fast on almost everything, and this was a really good message that I needed to slow waaay down.





Applying the main decking material (which may or may not have been maple)  was tedious but ultimately very satisfying.  The directions suggested painting the decks with a nice varnish when they were done, and I used a satin finish spar urethane.  I smoothed the work with 0000 steel wool between coats and

after the final coat.

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The directions actually suggested that I start applying the gazillion copper plates to the lower hull before doing the deck work above, but I was a bit discomforted at the way the black matte paint I had applied to the hull was prone to showing fingerprints, so I decided to put that chore off.  My disappointment with some of the model’s instructions started at that point.


Ultimately, once I got the hull finish smooth I painted over the matte black with spar urethane, then restored the matte finish by carefully rubbing it out with 0000 steel wool.  The final result looks great, but it required a lot of fussiness to get there.





I found this chore to be a nightmare.  If each little plate wasn’t perfectly aligned with the waterline or the surrounding plates it looked really crappy.  Avoiding getting glue on the plates was very difficult too, and even when a line of plates was firmly glued on there was a tendency for some of the plates to bow out a bit, and some even popped off while I was working.  Worst of all, when it came to tapering the plates I had no clue re how to do that.  Tapering or trimming stiff little 1:78 scale copper plates with scissors or a small grinder just was an untenable answer.  I suspect that anyone who has installed copper plating to a model of this scale will probably be nodding with understanding.


In desperation I went hunting for advice online, and that's how I discovered Model Ship World and its fantastic group of members who can provide great advice on any phase of model ship building.  I found the answer for my copper plating problems with a fellow that had ditched the little plates in favor of copper electrical tape.  Sheer genius.  I got some of that tape, stripped the lower hull of copper plates (for the second time) and applied it.  Using an Xacto knife I carefully added slits to emulate the plates, and it worked great.  I had to forego the rivets on the copper plates that were provided, but on a 1:78 scale ship it was no great loss.  


After I had the tape applied I finished up the lower hull with two coats of satin finish spar urethane for protection and enhanced bonding.  I didn’t take specific pictures to document all of the above, but the one below should give you a rough idea about the results.





Now let’s get on to another gripe I have with this model.  Beautiful brass hull decorations are provided, as well as a whole sheet of doors and decorations for the deck crew quarters and hatches.  The directions tell you to spray paint these bits with either black or white paint and then, when dry, to lightly rub the raised surfaces with a 600 grade emery cloth to (theoretically) rub away the paint on the raised surfaces and leave a decoration or component with a bright brass accent surrounding the colors.  As it turns out, rubbing the paint, even very gently, results in you removing the very thin brass plating and exposing the copper underlayment.  It just ruins the piece.  I was beside myself, because there was so much of this work to be done.  I had to finish the hull decorations with a very fine brush and some gold flake model paint.  Looks OK, but they would be better with a real brass finish.

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The initial work on the deck housings and other deck components started with the stern deck house.  Here is a picture showing a partially completed deck house, along with  the various decorative brass pieces that are to be attached.  I didn’t even think of spray painting and rubbing – I once again wielded the smallest brush I could find and filled in the sunken areas by hand.  Yeah, I know they look OK in this picture, but I was not happy with them.


Here is a picture showing the stern deck house completed and installed.  The brass stanchions and railings came out nicely.  Note also the rudder control housing and the ship’s wheel.





Before tackling the other deck accouterments I went to work on the preliminary assembly and installation of the bowsprit and the hawse supports.   Also note the two small lavatories (er, outhouses) on the main deck and the bits on the bench that ultimately became the two cargo hatches.


Work on the rest of the deck structures went pretty well, and I think the various components look very nice.  Shown below:  one of the main hatches, a windlass, belaying pin holders and a very nice bilge pump assembly. 

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The decorative panels and doors on the crew quarters shown in these photos require some better  explanation – because I think I managed to solve the hand-painting of brass pieces problem in a rather unique and satisfying (to me) fashion.  After carefully measuring the surfaces to be covered by the brass panels, I turned to an old friend – PowerPoint – and designed similar decoration panels for the crew quarters.  It’s easy to size things in PowerPoint, and it also has the capability for dragging in colors from photographs. I took a picture of one of the brass pieces and used it to make the designed panels really look authentic.  Here’s the brass picture and the designs I worked up to replace all of the brass work on the whole deck.





I printed the page above on glossy photo paper on my ink jet printer, trimmed everything with scissors and glued them each in place with Goop rubber cement.  Authentic?  Maybe not, but a satisfying solution for me that I think looks way better than the glue-on brass pieces provided. 


Note the comments about properly orienting the crew cabin doors to account for wind direction.  I got that tip from Mancini’s great book. It seems counter-intuitive, but the wind comes from behind on a sailing vessel, and doors that open the wrong way can be ripped right out of a seaman’s hands. 




So, I went on feeling my way through the rest of the deck details, and that finally included building and mounting the lifeboats.  They are also plank on-bulkhead construction, and were fun to make. 




Laser-cut wooden parts are a huge improvement in model boats since the last ones I built years ago.


Here are some other pictures of deck construction ...

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… and on to adding support chains to the bowsprit and installing the anchors.  Yeah, I know the figurehead is supposed to be white, but I like the bronze color better. 

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For the past two weeks I’ve been working on the masts.  Here is a shot of what I’ve done so far.  See if you can detect the problems I’ve had that are going to lead me to start all over again next week.  Note the completed and installed life boats that came out quite nicely.




The masts themselves are pretty much OK.  But the yards are a disaster in my eyes.  Shaping them and gluing them together was not bad, but the attachments of the lower yards to each of the masts is “amateur hour”, and the rope supports that sailors stand on to work on the sails are all grossly out of scale.  Also, I used the spar urethane on the masts and yards, which are supposed to be matte black, and it just came out way too shiny.  No good.  Last but not least, when trying to drill holes in the yards it is almost impossible to keep one’s drill bit from wandering off-center. 


Bad, bad, bad. 





To solve the hole drilling problem I’ve ordered a drill press assembly for the Dremel, along with a machinist’s vise to hold even the skinniest of dowels firmly while I drill.  I found all kinds of cheapo attachments like that ($30-$40), but somewhere I ran across a link to a review of a small company in CA that produces what appear to be real high-end accessory attachments for rotary tools. https://www.evilmadscientist.com/2013/drillpressplus/


If you’re interested in accuracy, and you aren’t totally constrained by costs, you might want to take a look at this guy’s work.  Some really neat ideas for the small home machine shop, all powered by rotary tools. http://vanda-layindustries.com/html/drill_press_plus.html  I am looking forward to taking delivery of my new drill press station next week.  I’ll let you know if it’s as good as it looks.


"He who dies with the most tools wins."


So ends my rather lengthy narrative re stage one of my Cutty Sark build.  From this point on I’ll try to do a much better job with photos and update my progress as I go -- and maybe not be so wordy.  I’ve already gotten several responses to my previous posts from model shipmakers around the world.  Really neat.  I hope to continue tapping into this fine group -- not for approval of my work, but for suggestions re how I can do everything better.


Phase 2 coming soon.


Tom in NC

November, 2018





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  • 2 months later...

You're a very fast builder!  Very nice work!!!:dancetl6:

Looking forward to following your progress!


Regarding Drilling holes on the spars; if you create an indentation where you want to drill, It will make it a great deal easier. The drill will slide into the indentation instead of wandering across the round surface.  If you don't use a punch or awl or some tool to make the indentation, your drill bit may still wander (if it is a small bit) even using a drill press.  Also another tip is to drill from one side but stop about half way, turn the dowel to the opposite side  where you want the hole to exit and start drilling from this side.  The bit will shift in the shaft such that it comes out the first hole.  If you only drill from one side (not using a drill press) you most likely will not come through the other side exactly centered.





Edited by keelhauled
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Thanks for your comments.  Your tips about drilling centered holes through round dowels were great.  I'll employ those.


The Holidays slowed me down, but I'm getting back to the Cutty now.  The Foremast is almost ready to be glued in place, and the Main Mast is getting close too.  In the past week I've been tying the middle and upper ratlines, and getting past the monotony that involves is a struggle.  I counted 154 tiny knots on the Main Mast lines, and I probably missed some.


I've been contemplating how to create the lowest (and largest) ratlines to the deadeye shrouds -- getting all of the deadeyes to be spaced evenly and tied off is a mystery so far, but I've been collecting "how-to" ideas and will get it done somehow. 


Thanks for your interest,  It's motivating.



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This has been a difficult build for someone starting over, as it were.  But the whole package from Mantua Sergal is quite nice, I think.  High quality bits & pieces indeed.  Some things get lost in translation, but with perseverance I'm making good headway.  The large diagram sheets are excellent, and the written instructions (about four pages worth) can be puzzled out.  When I finish (not if) I think I'll be very proud of this model.


Thanks for your interest.



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  • 3 weeks later...

you think you have a  gripe with the brass decorations...........I wish my Thermopylae was done in your scale.  it's a Sergal kit and it's 1:124 scale.  I've had to size down,  size up,  and scratch build most of the fittings so far.  the trailing boards and the stern decorations are almost a quarter of an inch thick!

   gonna take some doing to bend them to fit.  if it wasn't for the fact that it looks as good as it does,  I'd have filed it a long time ago.  of course,  with the way I jump from project to project,  it would appear that I've done just that  :D  :D   I'll get back to her sooner or later ;) 


you've done a great job so far.........and if your following Marc's log,  your in good hands.

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Popeye:  I'm impressed that you can take on more than one of these projects at a time.  The Cutty is plenty for me, and it's been going slowly of late as we're trying to sell our home and move to smaller quarters (quite a distraction).  I've gotten a number of good tips and encouragements since signing up as an MSW member and I really appreciate it.  


Re the Cutty; I'm almost done with the pre-work on the masts and will soon be installing them,  Then the rigging process will really begin.  As a comment on learning, the first mast mast I did (rat lines, spars, etc.) took me about a week.  The second (main mast) took even longer, but after discovering that the ratline process could be made much easier using small homemade wire guides to ensure that the deadeyes were properly aligned (a tip from an MSW blog) the foremast took me only 1-1/2 days and looks great.  I may have to go back and redo the other two masts as a result.  Two steps forward and one step back.  Just like life.


I hope someday I can talk about the large variety of projects I've undertaken, but right now The Portland (by Bluejacket) and the Cutty are my two big efforts at relearning boat-building skills.  Thanks again for your encouragement.



Edited by Tom in NC
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  • 1 month later...




At the end of my last post (way back in Nov 2018) I was almost done with assembling the masts and yards, and I was not very happy with the way they were coming out.  I went back and did a re-do on much of that work.


One of my bugaboos was drilling many centered holes in the round dowels that made up the yardarms. These were there to hold a variety of eyelet pins that contain the sailors rope foot supports on each yard.   Thanks to Keelhauled for suggesting that I use an awl to create indentations in the dowels that would keep the drill bit from wandering off line.  Duh.  How did I not think of that? 


The picture below shows the high quality drill press fixture for rotary tools that I used to drill a number of well-centered holes in the yards, and if you look closely enough you can see some of the eyelets installed.

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Next step was installing all of the lower dead-eyes that would eventually connect with the lower ratlines and shrouds.


Below is a shot of one of the reworked masts that I think shows my much improved technique on dead-eye connections and ratlines.



Below is a picture showing my own process for attaching shroud lines to dead-eyes.  I insert a steel pin (the same size as the pre-drilled holes on the dead-eyes) into my makeshift assembly board.  I slip a dead-eye over that then form a simple half hitch loop at the end of the shroud and slowly close it around the dead-eye.  When it's tight I secure it with a small drop of super glue.  After it's dry I trim off the excess line before installation.


I find it more productive to make up a whole set of shrouds w/dead-eyes so that once I start attaching and spacing them I can get into a rhythm and work right through a sequence without stopping.


Connecting the prepared shroud lines to the lower dead-eyes was a complete mystery to me when I got to that point.  I was dreading the chore, but thanks to a trick I picked up somewhere on the MSW website I felt ready to proceed.  I realize that my skill at this is still pretty crude, but I'm getting better as I go along.  First I had to finally glue the masts in place -- and the fear that I'd screw that up was great.  There's no going back and redoing that.


Establishing the right spacing between upper and lower dead-eyes was accomplished by inserting a small wire guide into holes on each dead-eye then slowly starting the "weaving" process.  I don't have any idea what the correct term for that is, but "weaving" seems to make as much sense as anything else.  In the pictures below you can see the initial hook-up with the wire guide, then the beginning of the "weaving". When two strands of  "weaving" are in place you can put tension on the top of the shroud line to hold the right spacing and finish the process off by running the line through the remaining holes and tying the line off at the top of the upper dead-eye.



Another valuable tip I found on MSW is this Sequence of Shrouds illustration.  If you do not follow it your shroud attachments will look awful.


Once you've connected the first dead-eyes in a row you can dispense with the wire spacer and just adjust the size of the next connection to match.  Be sure to put the spacer in a safe place.  You'll need it again.


Here's a peek at my next part of the project -- the many shrouds that are part of the standing rigging on the rear deck.  I'll just post one picture here because this report is getting waaaay too long. One observation here is that the makers directions had me installing the brass railings around the rear deck way back when.  That was really stupid because boy do they get in the way when installing the shrouds and ratlines here.    


Thanks for following along.  having figured out several puzzles re rigging I'm having more fun with the Cutty and perhaps I get too long-winded.


Sailing ships.  Long-winded. Get it?








Edited by Tom in NC
Removing extra pictures
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  • 3 months later...

All Followers...


I sent a question to Dan Vada (I thought) asking how I should go about adding a third and final phase to this build log.  Didn't get an answer, and it was probably because I did something wrong in attempting to contact him.  I don't always find this website's tools to be as transparent as an old man would like.  But that's neither here nor there.  Here's my third and final report, as well as several pictures of the final result.


The project took me nine months. The finish was a tad less difficult than giving birth, but not by much.  I’m quite proud of the result.  Along the way I was stunned by a report from Bone Doctor who sent pictures of his Cutty project.  He has essentially finished the hull and deck details (beautifully) but it's taken him nine years.  Yikes !!!


Along the way I had a number of kind comments and encouragements from several of you, and I really appreciated them.


I started the project Sept 1st last year, and by January I had the deck and crew quarters pretty much done … the task of rigging lay ahead.  I started out with great anticipation and enthusiasm, but I’ll have to admit that by mid-month I was seriously wondering if I could ever catch on to the enormous challenge of making lines go where intended (and when).  Tying even the simplest of knots was an epic struggle for me – perhaps I’m dyslexic in that way.


But enough of that, I DID get through it and I DID learn to enjoy it.  You may be sure that the next fully-rigged ship I build will be MUCH better.




As I looked at the detail of this particular bit of rigging, my heart sank.  How does a guy with fat fingers do that I wondered?

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Step one – prepare upper & lower segments

image.png.2eb89f184cafac598a1fde02f3ca9047.png   image.png.dc96e2fdea9ed8b1167c73801fbbf89f.png


Step two – attach them with a simple connection; and Step three, weave the lines through the double blocks in the way shown in the plan drawing.  Simple.



Life Boat Rigging


The rigging on the Cutty Sark is awesome to behold, but that don’t make it easy.  How the crew handled the complexities is a mystery to me.  This phase of the project was a dizzying array of line after line, and knot after knot.  You have to be very careful to think through each move or you’ll find you’ve installed one line that gets in the way of another line later.  The instructions aren’t much help at this point, so you have to think 3-4 moves ahead and study the drawings really well before committing.  No mention at all of how you should rig the lifeboats, for instance. What you see above is my best guess.



Details around the rear deck make it pretty clear that you should not attempt to install the brass handrails around the deck until you’ve finished rigging.  Straightening those rascals out every time you attach another line gets pretty tiresome.  Note the fine lettering on the side of the helm box, and the little rope coils that are all over the deck to lend some authenticity.



Almost done here, just adding a few lines that reach out to the bowsprit.



As mentioned earlier, the rigging of the lifeboats was never well-explained in the directions, so I jury-rigged them in a way that I thought they might actually work.



That’s about it.  The Cutty Sark now occupies a place in the middle of our Great Room where no one can miss it.  The table is a fond leftover from my furniture making days and I think it and the ship are quite compatible.









My next project will be Model Shipways fine presentation of the paddle wheel steamer, Chaperon.  It has excellent packaging, excellent drawings and excellent instructions. 


New back story:  When I get done with her she will no longer be the Chaperon that burned and sank in 1922.  In my story she will have been saved from such an ignoble end by a young Kentucky entrepreneur who recognized that Hot Springs, AR and Newport, KY were just two of several cities along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers that had become playgrounds for the major gangs out of Chicago during the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition eras. It seemed to him that a properly equipped river boat, with all of the accouterments that gang members and others of loose morals could want (booze, gambling and girls) was a hot and potentially profitable idea. 


Thus was Jezebel born.  I’m sure there is no truth to the rumor that Al Capone may have caught the syphilis that finally killed him while he was aboard.


Check it all out in my next build log.  It oughta be fun.


Tom from NC










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Thanks Hof.  When I was still woodworking I built a library in one room of our house, and it has plenty of shelf space for model ships.  I'm going to put it in there next week since several young grandchildren are coming for a visit.  Then I'll put it back where it is because it's easier for people to see and appreciate.   don't plan to store any models in display cases. 


All best,


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superb job!..........she's not a bad ship to build,  but is rather complex in the rigging :)   cases do take up a lot of room,  but saves the model from an early demise ;)  {sometimes the cleaning can be unbearable}.  I'll be sure to look up your Chaperon project........I have one too,  languishing on my other table.  one day I'll get back to her :) 


fine looking model!

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