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New England Stonington Dragger by FriedClams - 1:48 POB - A 1920s Western-Rig

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A “dragger” is a fishing vessel that tows a trawl net.  A trawl can be dragged along the bottom of the seafloor, just above the bottom, or in midwater depending on the target species.


In the early 1920’s the Connecticut fishing industry began producing what is known today as the Western-rig dragger.  These boats were not the first pilothouse forward fishing boats built in New England, but due to their small size, the design was affordable and perfectly suited to independent fisherman working the local inshore waters.


These small fishing draggers were typically less than 60 feet in length.  Built of steam bent oak frames and planked with yellow pine or white oak, they were both light and strong.  The popularity of this Western-rig design quickly spread and by the 1930’s could be found in many ports of southern New England.  The use of these boats for ground fishing was so prevalent in the port of Stonington, Connecticut, that the design commonly became known as “Stonington Draggers.”   


Western-Rig  -  Winthrop Warner Collection,  Mystic Seaport Museum

Western-Rig vs. Eastern-Rig 

The difference between a Western-rig and Eastern-rig boat is one of deck arrangement and not the gear used in catching fish.  Western-rig boats have the pilothouse positioned in the bow with the working deck aft.  On Eastern-rig boats the working deck is positioned mid-ship with the pilothouse in the stern.  


Eastern-Rig  -  Albert E. Condon Collection,  Mystic Seaport Museum


The Eastern-rig deck arrangement evolved from the New England fishing schooners and  “auxiliary schooners” which required the helm to be over or near the rudder. But once fishing vessels became fully powered with a tiller system and rudder quadrant installed, the pilothouse could be positioned anywhere.  Enter the Western-rig. 


Western-Rig  -  Winthrop Warner Collection,  Mystic Seaport Museum


The Western-rig has some advantages.  With the pilothouse forward in the bow, there is easier access to the fo’c’sle and the engine room.  It also provides better visibility for the captain, and the crew is somewhat safer in bad weather working behind the pilothouse rather than in front of it.  One disadvantage to having the pilothouse in the bow is that the windows are more vulnerable to being smashed out in bad weather.


In the early days, the Western-rig boats were small and only used for inshore fishing while the larger more powerful Eastern-rig boats fished offshore.  In time however, the Western-rig boats grew in size and power to become today’s offshore stern trawlers and the dominant fishing vessel type. 

The Otter Trawl 

Even though the Western-rig Stonington boats had an open aft deck and a square stern, most continued to drag off the side.  And like the Eastern-rig boats, the gear most commonly used was the “Otter Trawl.”


Otter trawling was invented in England and came to America around 1910 – give or take.  It derived its name from the “otter board” which was the name given to a sheering device that was being used for “hook and line” lake fishing in Ireland.  Like a modern day planer board, this rectangular wood board would sheer on the water surface and course away from the direction it was being pulled.  In commercial fishing, the otter boards are industrial scale and can weigh hundreds of pounds.  Two such boards (commonly called doors) are used to hold open the mouth of the trawl net.  Like underwater kites, the otter boards are setup to push outward, away from each other, as the hydrodynamic pressure of moving water acts upon them.  This was a major advancement over the “beam” trawl, which as the name implies requires a beam of some sort to keep the mouth of the net spread open.  Needing a beam also severely limited the size of the trawl being towed and was cumbersome and impractical for a smaller boat.  Now with the otter trawl, a single small boat, like the Stonington dragger, could tow a net limited only by its engine power. 


The Otter Trawl - above & below  Copyright Seafish



The drawings, inspiration and photos for this build come from several sources and the model built from them will be a vessel typical of the design but not of a single example.  The hull will be built from one source, while some detailing and features may come from elsewhere.  All features and details will depict what would have been found on actual boats – nothing will be added for the sake of visual interest.


This model will be weathered to show honest wear.  It will not be a wreck, but I have never seen a pristine commercial fishing vessel.  Hard working fisherman worked these boats hard.  I hope to capture that feel without making a caricature out of it.


Thanks for taking a look.



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Hello Michael and John.  Glad to have you looking in. 


Some CAD Work

The hull dimensions come from an article by Charles S. Fox published in Ships in Scale magazine (Volume XII, No.1. 2001.)  The article and plans are cursory and give little in the way of details, but is a good place to begin.  The boat is 45’ in length, which equals 11.25” in 1:48


This build begins as most POB models do with developing bulkhead stations.  So first I photograph the plans, straighten, clean and brighten them in a photo editor and then import into CAD.  After more adjustments, I scale the images and trace the body plan onto a separate layer.  I then make corrections, apply some line smoothing and mirror the bulkhead halves.






This model is being built upside down, so each bulkhead will have a tab included to reach the platform base.  The length of the tab will of course be different for each station.




In profile it looks like this.  As per the drawing, each station is 5’ apart.




The body plan lines are to the top of rail, but I’m redefining that point as the top of stanchions.    The aft deck is 18” lower than that point, so those bulkhead templates are modified to reflect that.  So for example,  #7 station ends up looking like this.




Finally, I need a way to cut the completed planked hull away from the base.  A horizontal cut through each bulkhead that can be reached with a Dremel cut off saw will do the trick.




The keel and stem are taken from the drawing and traced.  It is cut into two pieces and arranged to take advantage of grain strength, then rejoined and installed as a single unit.  Later in the build it will be incised to imitate/suggest actual joinery.




The bulkhead and keel templates are printed onto full sheet labels (blank 8.5 x 11 copy paper with an adhesive reverse side and peel off backing.)  The bulkheads are cut from 3 mm craft plywood.  The templates are arranged so the straight mounting edge lies along the factory edge of the 3 mm plywood.  The transom (station #9) is cut from 1/16basswood sheet.  This is necessary because the transom has a gentle convex arc and the plywood is too stiff.  The transom will be held in that shape with a temporary form and will eventually have an outer plank layer. The keel/stem is cut from 1/8” basswood.


The next post will be the lining off and a compression (not a skip over) of the complete hull planking which will bring this log up to where I am today in real time.


Thanks for taking a look.



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Posted (edited)

Thanks Keith


Lining OFF

Beginning the sawdust phase, I cut the bulkheads out with my scroll saw leaving the piece large (cutting to the outside of the template line.)  I do this because I have no skill with the saw and cannot keep to a line.  I then use a bench top disc sander and work back to the template outline.  This works great with the convex edge and I use a Dremel sanding drum for the inside curves.


I glue these forms to the platform base and attach the keel/stem.  Before the keel went on, I cut a rabbet on the stem.




Using a batten to see how the bulkheads faired, I found a problem.  Station #8 was too small and #7 was ridiculously too large.  Looking back at the body plan it’s hard to see how I missed it.  But, that’s the point of going through the fairing up process.  So, I built up #8 and went after #7 with a file.




Based on photos and drawings, the planking widths for this vessel seem to vary in the 5” to 7” range.  I have a stash of stripwood that scales to approximately 6.5” wide x 1.75” thick so decided to use those.  Because station #7 has the longest edge length of any bulkhead, it will be the location where the planks are at there full width.  From here they taper to the stem and taper back to the stern.  It will require 23 courses of planks per side.


There will be 4 belts per side of 6 planks each.  Belt #1 beginning at the keel will have only 5.  From station #7 back to the stern, 4 planks are lost in belt #1.


I measure the length of each station edge and check it against what my CAD drawing says it should be.  Knowing how many planks will be required, I generate the following plank width tick mark strips for each bulkhead edge.




The width of the planks at the bow is just under 5.25” which satisfies the “not less than half” plank width guideline.  No steelers or drops are needed.


The strip marks are temporarily taped on the bulkheads and a batten strip is used to get a general sense of the curve following the tick marks.




Happy with the way it looked, I transferred the tick marks to the stations with pencil and temporarily attached thread at each belt as a final check to see how the plank courses run.  After a few minor modifications, I was ready to start planking. 





The coloring and weathering the model will receive will not only reveal but also accentuate the planking on the hull, so I won’t be using any filler or putty.  On a previous model, I planked the hull somewhat haphazardly, knowing that I was going to slather Bondo on it and sand it smooth.  I’m happy with the way the model came out, but it would have been more realistic with the planks showing through the paint.




I set up a little jig to hold the stripwood firmly in place as I slice the taper into it - then sand to fit


I begin planking at the keel with the garboard and lay on two belts of planks on one side.  Each course is tapered on the upper edge of the planks so that each successive course starts with a straight edge.


Each course of planks is made from a single strip of wood.  After it is tapered and test fit, it is then cut to simulate the butt ends of two individual boards.  The joints are reinforced on the reverse side. 


Two more belts are added to the other side.





Then the last 4 belts are added minus the top three courses.





At this point, I cut the hull from the platform.






The next course of planking requires the scuppers.




Finally, I sand the hull and finish it off with a soft brass wire brush.  The wire brush removes the sanding shine and any cross grain scratches and in general sort of unifies the look.  It will also help with the weathering later on.


These final photos were taken in full direct sunlight in hopes that the effect of the wire brush can be seen.  A few final licks with 800 grit paper will take the remaining wood fuzz off. 






This post brings me up to date in real time on this model.  


Thanks for taking a look.





Edited by FriedClams

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Here are a couple of photos of the transom backing taken after the hull was cut away from the base and before the top three courses of hull planking were put on.  The tab that secured it to the building base hasn’t been removed yet.  You can see the temporary jig holding the transom backing to the required curvature.  Now with the hull planking on but still running past the transom, I am able to remove the temporary jig and apply the three transom boards that will make up the outer surface of the transom.



First I cut the boards from the basswood sheet leaving extra material to sand and fit each board.  Unlike the transom backing where the wood grain is vertical, these boards are cut so the grain is horizontal.


 Test fitting these outer boards was rather tedious and fiddly because I couldn’t cut the hull planking flush until the outer transom boards were on.  They also had to be pre-bent against the grain to fit the curvature of the transom backing.  One at a time they were fitted, held in position with clamps and glued with very thin CA.  A few drops of the CA applied to the upper edge of each board were all that was needed to secure them.  The watery CA raced down between the two wood surfaces, effectively creating a two-layer plywood.


At this point the base tab was removed and the hull planking trimmed and sanded flush.



Marking the water line was simple by placing the model back onto the base.  The irregularity of the cuts when the boat was separated from the base allowed it to key back into place exactly and perfectly level.





There are several problems with the keel, stem and area around the sternpost that need to be corrected.  They will be addressed on the next post.


Thanks for looking in.



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Thanks to all for the hitting the like button - I appreciate it.


Keel Correction

Whether it’s a scale model or a bathroom re-model, I expect to encounter problems in just about everything I do.  For me, finding solutions to the unexpected is part of the fun of model building.  But it’s not fun when I cause the problem.  


There should be a minimum of 6 inches of keel showing below the hull planking – there is only 2.  So I added on 5 scale inches to the keel.  I also added one scale inch to the stem.  This brought the keel back to the proper exposure.


Some sanding and some paint will cover the patched-on wood.


Here is a before and after: 



In the next photo, notice how the lowest hull plank swings upward away from the keel as it approaches the sternpost.  It should remain parallel with the keel.  Sometimes my desire to push ahead causes me to lose focus on the task at hand.  I should have either tapered those lowest planks wider as they ran toward the stern or added steelers. 


Rather than pull the lower 5 planks off each side for a re-do, I opted instead to mitigate the error with a cosmetic alteration.  Also, I sanded down the planks that are lying flat against the sternpost to a thinner profile so that they appear rabbeted in with a slight reveal.




Thanks,  Gary 

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Thank you Druxey and Keith for your words of encouragement.  And thanks to everyone for looking in and hitting the like button.




To begin, I make up the deck beams by cutting 1/8” square basswood stock into approximately 4” lengths.  Each beam is allowed to soak in ethyl alcohol for about 15 minutes before bending them to match the arc of the CAD printout.  For gentle sweeping bends like this, I prefer alcohol simply because it dries so quickly.




Only 9 beams total are needed.  As soon as the beams are dry, they are cut and sanded to fit, then glued into place.  The beams are installed beginning at the point where the hull is the widest and then installed toward the bow and stern.  If a beam is inadvertently cut too short, it could still used at the adjacent narrower hull position.


Additional stanchions are needed beyond those that are provided by the hull bulkheads; so intermediate stanchions are placed at the aft deck.  Acrylic gray is applied to the stanchions and bulwark as a base color.  Next, the covering boards are notched around the stanchions and checked for fit – then adjusted and re-checked over and over and …    Finally, they are painted off-white acrylic as a base and glued into place.




Before the decking can begin, a socket for the mast is made up and installed.  A short mast placeholder is inserted.




The deck planking used on this model scales to about 3.5” wide by 2” thick, which is in line with what I found to be typical for this boat. 


The deck boards are placed on a piece of waxed paper and pre-stained with a mixture of India ink and alcohol.  They are stained unevenly so the decking has a wide range of light to dark coloration.  This is a base only and is applied to accentuate the wood grain and provide depth and visual separation between individual planks.  When the decking is complete, it will be sanded and color washed.


At the beginning of every modeling project a decision about level of detail must be made.  This is often driven by scale.  The deck planks are .072” wide and a total of 62 planks make contact with the covering boards, so I decided not to nib them in.  This model is not being built to celebrate its beauty - it is a working boat built to depict gritty reality.  Or at least that is the goal.  If this sounds suspiciously like a justification of laziness posing as a reasonable explanation – you might be right.


The king plank is the first to go on and then the planking proceeds to the covering boards.




With the aft deck completely planked, it looks like this.




After the deck is sanded, a wash of gray gouache is applied.  It is thinned down considerably with water.  Unlike watercolor, gouache is opaque but can be made translucent.  It is also very flat, even dusty looking when applied in this way.  And it is very forgiving and can be re-worked. 


Here is a before and after of the same section of deck.






There will be more work done to the deck surface once equipment and hatches are installed and wear patterns established.




It’s hard not to look at the top of the stanchions and bulwark, but the weathering and wear to the covering board is the purpose of this photo.  The acrylic paint was picked at with a dental tool and ink/alcohol applied.  The alcohol bubbled up the paint and the ink stained the wood beneath.  Loose paint is then scraped off.  




Next, an area for the pilothouse is framed in the forward deck.




The planking and coloring is applied same as the aft deck.





Thanks for taking a look.



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1 hour ago, FriedClams said:

If this sounds suspiciously like a justification of laziness posing as a reasonable explanation – you might be right.



I say "never let the perfect be the enemy of the good".


The deck looks great and your staining techniques are very interesting, but tell me how do you do it so quickly?

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