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Blue Ensign

H.M. Cutter Alert by Blue Ensign - Vanguard Models - 1:64 scale

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Post 54


There are four yards to be made.

T’gallant Yard, Topsail Yard, Square-sail Yard, and Spread-sail Yard.

The kit follows the dimensions of the drawings in the Alert Book.

There is a problem in correlating sizes to other sources as not all described yards are included.

The Adm Plan only includes the Topsail Yard (4’ shorter) and the Square-sail Yard (2’ longer)

I have decided to follow the yard dimensions as per the kit/Alert Book.

I start with the Spread-sail yard, the largest spar. Altho’ the kit instructions don’t cover the detail; the centre sections of most yards were octagonal in shape and for this reason I am making the yard from square stock.



To form the octagon the yard is put in a ‘V’ jig and thereafter the arms are rounded on the lathe, tapering down to 2mm ø.


The Square-sail and Topsail yards are made in the same manner, but the T’Gallant is made simply from dowel as there is no octagonal section.


Not indicated in the kit but Alert carried a Mizen mast. This slots into iron brackets attached to the face of the stern platform.



Simple enough to create one.




Made from 3mm ø dowel with a length of 170mm.





This won’t be displayed erected on the model but stored on the deck.


The yard furniture consists of Sling cleats and yard arm cleats, provided in brass etch form in the kit.



I initially had mixed feelings about the kit pieces; on one hand they are a neat and effective way of adding these items but look a little thin to my eye and will need painting.

On the other hand, making these items is a fiddly business, and only a wood like Box or perhaps Pear is suitable, and they are very tiny.



When I tried the etched items, I thought they looked ok, so the kit items it is. I chemically blackened them before use.

Had I intended to varnish rather than paint the yards, then the wood option would have been necessary.


One other item to consider is the addition of thin battens covering the octagonal sections.

To batten or not to batten, that is the question.

Goodwin in the Alert book writes that in ‘all probability’ the Square sail yard was made from two pieces and had battens; but was ‘not altogether certain’ that the Spread-sail yard was similarly made but thought it likely.

Lees indicates that the battening of yards which began in 1773 related to two-piece yards on larger ships, and that the practice was normal on most ships after 1805 except for small vessels.

David Antscherl also omitted them from the yards in his rigging book on the Sixth rate Sloop. (Vol 1V) I didn’t add battens to my Pegasus build.

Apart from some historical doubt and the absence of this feature on contemporary cutter models I have some reservations about adding these simply from an aesthetic viewpoint.

 At model level there is a tendency for them to make the yard centres look too bulky to my eye, even tho’ at 1:64 scale they would be a mere 0.3mm thick.



Even so out of curiosity I mocked up an example starting with some 0.5mm strip.



I prefer the unbattened look and am happy to omit them on this build.




Completed Spread-sail Yard.



The Yard set for Alert.








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Post 55

Finishing off the mast.


There are sheaves to be cut, cleats to be added, and the mast surface to be finished.

Below the cheeks are the rigging stops; these are what the shrouds and other tackle sit on.


The kit provides (4) etched cleats to perform this function, they are the same type as used on yard arms and look a little light weight to my eye. My concern is are they enough to stop slippage of the shrouds down the mast.


The Alert Book shows what is called a rigging stop (iron hoop) to perform this function.

It is very difficult to determine what was used from models as all the mast head tackle hides this support from view.




I opted for a hoop style rigging stop and fitted this 44mm below the trestletrees which is some 5mm lower than the kit plan.

I need to make sure that there is enough space to fit all the rigging between the stop and the cheeks. There are a dozen or more large diameter served lines seized around the masthead at this point.


At the base of the mast 7’ above deck (kit dimensions) is the saddle to support the jaws of the boom.




I remade this out of Boxwood to add a profile.

I note that the Alert book drawings at 1:64 show the saddle only 5’4” above the deck (25mm) which barely clears the winch bitts.


At deck level the kit provides an octagonal ‘mast base’





I built this up and covered it with microporous tape to represent the mast coat.





The kit also provides an etched spider band placed below the saddle about 4’ above the deck.




I’m not sure about this and I used cleats around the mast in preference. 5mm Boxwood cleats from Syren are spot on for the job.


Main Boom


I have already modified the jaws of the boom, but I preferred a stop cleat atop the boom for the sheet tackle.



Lees suggests that up to 1818 a ferrule and eye were fitted to the end of the boom and a sheave cut in about six inches from the end.



I adopted this arrangement rather than the kit set up.







As with the boom, the jaws have been modified and in the case of the Gaff the inner face is angled somewhat to suit the angle of the Gaff in normal use.


T’Gallant Mast





Two small detail additions are made to this mast; eyebolts beneath the mast cap, and the top rope sheave at the mast heel.




Apart from the black painted masthead area, wipe-on poly is used to seal and enrich the colour of the birch dowel mast.


So, the full masting set is now complete, and the second build part can begin.


Once the mast is in place keeping the model dust free becomes more of a problem, so at this point I have ordered the case.


For a relatively small hull size the model case dimensions are quite large; Internally 750mm long x 555mm high x 280mm wide.

This is not very much smaller than the case for Pegasus but is explained by the lofty rig and long Bowsprit of Alert.





Edited by Blue Ensign

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Post 56

Build Part two – Masting and rigging

Marking the seven month build stage of this fine little kit from  Vanguard Models.



 The work bench is cleared of the detritus built-up over the past months in preparation for the second build stage.



Ready to go now with the masting and rigging. 






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Thanks Rusty, I sometimes wonder if I give too much information in the log, but I use the text as an aide memoire to myself, I still refer to my previous logs as I often can't remember how I did things.🙄

If others find this stuff of use all the better.😃






Edited by Blue Ensign

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Your explanations are why your logs are so useful to those of us with less experience. I usually pick up something new - most recently your use of microporous tape to simulate mast coats in Post 55. 

Keep up the good work!



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Thank you Derek, microporous tape is also good for stuff like canvas hatch covers, subject to size limitations.

Lots of domestic items find a home in my boatyard😉




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Post 57

Stepping the Mast


With the mast in place the rigging can begin.

I only lightly glue the lower mast in place, enough to hold it steady for rigging, but removeable if necessary.

The Topmasts I don’t glue; they should hold steady in place with a close-fitting heel and mast cap.


The first thing is to decide on the rigging sizes.

There are differences between the indicated kit sizes, and Steel’s tables for a 200-ton cutter, slightly heavier than Alerts 185 tons.

I will mostly be using Syren rigging thread supplemented by Morope polyester and possibly others for seizing and serving.

For the shrouds I am using Syren 0.88mm ø line which equates to a 7” circumference line and looks right to my eye.

In preparing the rigging I firstly dye the line, I use a dark Jacobean oak wood dye for this purpose, something I’ve used for many years. I then like to tension the lines for a day or so, I find they work better that way.




This is my jig for holding the lines taut; when I come to use them, they will be tension free and easy to work.



In this photo the first line is the kit supplied black 0.75mm, the others are dyed Syren 0.88mm line.


Rigging starts with the pendent of tackles and shrouds.

The Alert book does not cover mast pendents except in the reproduced rigging tables by Steel, where they are listed as a 6” circ. line scaling to 0.75mm ø.

The other two major lines are the Mainstay and Preventer Stay, scaled at 1mm and 0.75mm in the kit.

Steel gives somewhat larger sizes scaling to 1.6mm and 0.8mm.

I opted for Syren 1.37mm and 0.88mm.


A step backwards

When I came to properly think about the rigging, I realised that I had made life difficult for myself by fixing the crosstrees at this point.

An oversight caused by being long used to having the rigging sit on top of the crosstrees, and not below them.

It means I cannot make the shrouds off the model and slip them over the mast head as I did with Pegasus.

Not too much of an issue if the rigging is to be basic and simply slipped around the mast and round seized, but when served lines are used and more attention to the seizing form is required it can be a tiring process.


It’s been three years since I rigged a model, so I’ll do a trial with the pendents of tackles, these are first over the masthead.




For the pendents I used Syren 0.66mm line served with the kit provided 0.1mm natural line. The kit line is fuzz free, and I was interested to see how it performed as a serving line.

The pendents are served all over and have a 15” single block spliced into the lower end. This equates to 6mm block at scale, which seems quite large, but the pendent is used for hauling heavy stuff.




Fitting the Starboard pendent, were I doing the job again I would remember not to glue the crosstrees in place.



At least the tackle blocks can be fitted off the model.





I could find no clear information on how far below the rigging stop the pendents hang so I have taken a punt at 80mm, about of a third of the way down to the deck.



It looks ok to my eye, and I’ll leave them be, certainly more tiring and awkward seizing them on the model, but preferable to the risky business of trying to unglue the crosstrees.



A lot more serving now follows as I begin the shrouds.







Edited by Blue Ensign

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Hej B.E. I can just strongly suggest to deconstruct crosstree AND the cheeks (I had the same problem with the cheeks), it will make life way easier. I also suggest redoing the hoop style rigging stop as it is way to close to the beginning of the cheeks. I have almost double the distance, made no pendants and got in space trouble ... there is a lot of standing rigging to put there.





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Thanks Dirk,

I thought about removing the crosstrees, but I am wary of damaging the mast, and the cheeks are treenailed into the mast.


I had already placed the stop double the kit distance down the mast, but this would not be such a problem to remove and lower further to suit the top hamper.


I am exorcised at present thinking about the serving of shrouds; Steel suggests that it is the aftermost shroud that is served all over, not the foremost shroud as is normal in square riggers.

SHROUDS, four pairs, are fitted and got over the mast-head, similar to those in ships. The after shroud on each side is wormed, parcelled, and served with spunyarn, down to the dead-eye.

I can't quite understand this, what would chafe the aftermost shroud, which in the case of Alert would be what is called a standing Backstay.


Did you have any consideration of this  when you were doing Sherbourne?


In the case of Alert, Goodwin notes the normal procedure of first shroud overall serving only.


Any thoughts?



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Lovely lovely work on the spars. 

Unless I am totally misunderstanding you the backstay  would come up against the  mainsail spars when on the run so could reasonably be served.  But more importantly maybe  -the protection works two ways - the running rigging would come up against it at times

Edited by SpyGlass

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Hej B.E.,


I had in mind that this rig is kind special and for just a very short period used.  Steel might more describe the "newer" rig (at least that is what I guess) with just the square sail yard as "problem", this in mind I opted for foremost shrouds to be served as there is the spread yard too.  



I can't quite understand this, what would chafe the aftermost shroud, which in the case of Alert would be what is called a standing Backstay.


Absolutly my concerns too. I din't understood either🙂





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Thanks Dirk, that sounds the sensible route, fore shroud it is.😃

@ thank you Steve, I can't get my head around that one at all, on a cutter there is only the fore and aft mainsail at that point and to interfere with the backstay the main boom would have to be at 90 degrees to the hull, and would hit the running backstays to the T'gallant long before that.

Another mystery to skip over I think.😉





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Just a follow up Dirk, looking thro’ your Sherbourne log, I came across this photo of a 1763 cutter taken by tk11.



Looks to me like the aftermost shroud is served as per Steel’s writing.


Doesn’t get any easier this rigging accuracy lark🤔



Edited by Blue Ensign

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It's not hard to explain B.E., even the cutter state 1763 (I don't think so ...) it has already (or because the cutter is younger) the "newer" rig (topmast fore, just 2 yards). Check the following image.

Edit: This all depends on whether my basic theory is correct 🙂



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Ah yes, cheers Dirk, still can’t understand why the shroud is served, but perhaps can understand why the foremost one isn’t.🙂



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A few points.

First the mainsail could well be nearly at 90 degrees when running - one uses a forward vang to stop a disasterous gybe.

Remember that the top mast and sails could often be struck for handling under certain conditions ( I watched schooner running out of Plymouth with both topmasts struck the other day - I had never seen that before).

The topsails stays are running - if you are running before the wind with the main say out to port then its is likely that the starboard  top stay would be made up and the port eased - or even disconnected - specifically so the main spars would be unimpeded

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21 hours ago, Blue Ensign said:

Thanks Dirk, that sounds the sensible route, fore shroud it is.😃

@ thank you Steve, I can't get my head around that one at all, on a cutter there is only the fore and aft mainsail at that point and to interfere with the backstay the main boom would have to be at 90 degrees to the hull, and would hit the running backstays to the T'gallant long before that.

Another mystery to skip over I think.😉





I’ve been giving this issue some thought too: with so little available space in which to distribute the lead of the lines to the deck, where can you put stuff to be out of the way of the boom? When the boom is sheeted out it would foul a lot of rigging were that rigging led aft. But then I considered that this would only occur when running before the wind. I’m now of the opinion they wouldn’t use the Fore and aft mainsail for running since they have the square sails. The square sails also keep the center of effort much farther forward and that reduces the risk of broaching to, a serious consideration on such a short hull. Still the boom has to have a range of motion port and starboard so I’m still curious about exactly how much sheeting is possible on a cutter. Every contemporary painting I’ve seen of cutters depicts them sailing to windward yet even so many of these show the mainsail pressed against the lee backstay. But this “contacting the backstay” issue can be seen on nearly every boomed for and aft sail on the after part of a ship, that’s why they have baggywrinkle.


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Thanks Frankie,  great painting of a cutter.

I can see the mainsail pressing against the Starboard running backstay, but that is a long way aft of the aftermost shroud which Steel noted as being served.

Interesting thought baggywrinkles at 1:64 scale, but I think as my Alert will be bare stick, I can dispense with the torment of reproducing those.😉





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I dont know where the picture that Frankie shows comes from but its simply wrong - artistic licence?. 

The windward backstay is shown as quite slack whle the sail is pressing against the leeward stay whch appears tight.

Exactly the wrong way round.

Correctly, the leeward stay is slacked off - or removed altogether, the windward stay is of course made  up tight - or the mast falls over!


You cant just use topsails to make passage  downwind - take forever - ok for  short reach manoeuveures.

I have only been a passenger of a topsail cutter but have skippered several old cutters - two of which had running backstays.

It is a mistake to think really of running backstays as standing rigging - their whole point is that they are not.

It was usual, in appropriate condition to have the main boom against the aft shroud (with, as i mentioned before, a forward vang)

I theeeenk a may have a pic - but it may be in my store since I still  havent moved house !


It is anyway standard practice to reset the runners on every tack ( or gybe  - but really dont do that for fun !)

It goes - ready about - reattach or tauten up leeward runner - maybe sheet main in somewhat if doing a big tack- helm up( or down depending where you live !) - tack sail - make up new windward runner - free off new leeward runner  - trim sail (slacking or moving leeward runner further as required) - make up fully taut windward runner.



Oh come on B.E. - not tackling baggywrinkles  -  you cant fail us now !!

Actually  I read somewhere a method of doing it - involved coating the line with something like typing correction fluid - letting it dry so it formed a "tube" then twiddling the tube to free it and  pushing it together. That would i suppose produce something  like the cloth baggies - but the hairy type - hummmm


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Post 58

Fitting the shrouds


The biggest serving job relates to the fore shroud where the line is served overall.

I used Syren 0.88mm line served with the kit provided 0.1mm line.

Once served the line was re- dipped in the dye to darken it.


An afternoons’ work to prepare and serve the forward pair of shrouds Port and Starboard.

With the pendents and first two pairs of shrouds fitted I am in a better position to check the room necessary for the rest of the standing rigging.


I had made an estimation in the position of the rigging stop to allow for increased size of rigging due to extra lines and serving but this has proved insufficient to fit it all in.

The prospect of moving the stop down the mast was a little nerve jangling but with water and gentle tapping with a hammer this was achieved without drama.




The top of the stop now sits 14mm below the cheeks as compared with 4mm on the kit plan.

Something to bear in mind if you intend to go off piste with the rigging, as Dirk found out and noted in a previous post.




It proved less irksome than I had imagined seizing the shrouds atop the stop, but I’m thankful it is only a cutter I’m rigging.




There is now sufficient space to accommodate the remaining  lines.



The last line in the set along the channel is the *lower mast standing backstay, effectively an additional shroud except the ratlines don’t cross it.

* Or is it – see subsequent post.







After this point the rigging gets confusing which will be the subject of my next post.







Edited by Blue Ensign

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Post 59

I wrote this mainly to help clear my own mind on the way to proceed on Alert, I have struggled to accept the validity of the standing backstay as depicted in the Alert Book.


The tricky business of  Cutter Backstays



A word about the Alert Book.


Those using the Peter Goodwin Alert book as the basis of the model, as reflected in this kit, will find there is some very confusing narrative once you proceed beyond the channel shroud rigging.


In the narrative it is stated that:

Contemporary evidence suggests that the Alert and Rattlesnake were modified to include a fifth pair of deadeyes either side for the standing backstay.


In order to facilitate this modification the third gunport had to be moved a short distance and the channels extended.


Running backstays were fitted to iron plates bolted to the ships side.



In drawing H4/1 this fifth set of deadeyes is described as relating to the Main Lower standing backstay

So far so good, but then………


In drawing H1 a further standing backstay is shown atop the other rigging running to the first iron plate and fitted with deadeyes.

Above this a running backstay pendent is shown with tackles fixed to the two aft iron plates.


When we come to the detail shot of the mast head in drawing H22/1 things change.

Here ratlines run across all five lines fixed to the channel described as shrouds.

Above this is a standing backstay, something not listed in Steel’s tables.

And atop this a running backstay.


Note: the only reference to backstays in Steel’s tables are to standing backstays to the topgallant mast which Goodwin notes in the Alert book as a Topgallant breast backstay (not necessarily standard at this time.)


It has been written about cutters of this period that there were many variations in the rigging set up, so there is probably not a clear answer.


When looking at the Alert there are several versions, and I have looked at them all. The versions of Alert depicted by Irving H Kingman, N. Roger Cole, Peter Goodwin, all differ in rigging arrangements but none of the cutter models ancient and modern that I have looked at, have this ‘standing backstay / deadeye’ arrangement attached to the foremost iron plate.


The Roger Cole model shows a familiar style of running backstay but has small stools to take the tackle set up rather than iron plates.


The Kingman model shows a double tackle arrangement to the backstay, which is similar to a model circa 1790.




In this case the aftermost iron plate is unused, but the Kingman model uses it for the standing part of the tackle.

This is also the rigging plan used by Lennarth Petersson in his book on rigging fore and aft craft.


There are other contemporary models to look at such as the well-known model of Hawke 1777.




This is very much of the era of Alert and has simply the familiar style of running backstay atop the shrouds.


Given the conflicting information in the Alert book, and the absence of any other examples, on balance I think I will dispense with the standing backstay and its deadeye set up and rig a running backstay only.






Edited by Blue Ensign

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Cheers Dirk, there's a distinct lack of  a deadeyed standing backstay.😉


Those prints are apparently from a set of four by John Kitchingman, (1740-1781) 

This one has a lot of interest too, altho' launching would have been a tricky business from that location.




It seem Kitchingman was a prolific artist covering a wide range of subject matters.




Edited by Blue Ensign
additional information

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Post 60

Continuing the mast rigging.


With the Standing backstay discarded I move onto making the Pendents for the Running Backstays.



Seizing the pendent around the 5mm block, the stropping is also served using 0.1mm ø Morope.

At least this can be done off-model.


Around the masthead and for several feet the line is served.



Having to seize the pendent on the model makes getting a matched pair a little more tricky, and the higher up you get the more tired your arms.




For the second pendent I levelled the drop before seizing.


I can now test out the standing part of the running Backstay.


For this I am using Syren 0.63mm line and a 9/32nd Fiddle block also from Syren.

The standing part will have a thimble and hook attached to the aft iron plate, the line passes thro’ the pendent block and has the Fiddle block seized into its end.


The Irving Kingman model of Alert has an additional tackle seized thro’ the strop of the Running backstay pendent.

The Kingman model was featured in an NRG article in Vol 29, 1983 pp173-184.



This extra tackle is also on a pendent with a 5/32nd double block seized into the end. A tackle is then set up with a single 5/32nd block hooked to the middle iron plate.

This arrangement neatly uses the three iron hull plates and I am tempted to follow his example, altho’ he acknowledges that some of the reconstruction of Alert is based on conjecture and therefore possibly not accurate.



So, here’s a reproduction temporarily rigged on the portside of my Alert.


The other possible arrangement, and as seen on most cutters is as on the starboard side.



This would follow the arrangement used on the Cole model, the Hawke model, and in the old prints kindly provided by Dirk in the previous post.




So, it’s decision time, and I think I’ve done running backstays to death.



I’m opting for the double tackle option, it has more interest, and as Alert was a large cutter a bit of extra tackle is probably in order.





I have at this stage fitted the boom, easier to get to before the shrouds are tied off.

I have also fitted temporary anchor cables; it is useful to find out how the cables lie and whether they foul any of the deck fittings.







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Post 61

Blocks and strops around the Masthead


There are a number of blocks and strops to fit around the masthead for the yard ties, and other tackles.

I held-off fitting these before stepping the mast and fitting the standing rigging so I could better assess the pendent lengths and positions relative to the yards.


Atop the running backstays the pendent and strop for the Gaff jeer tackle block is fitted.



A 4mm double block is stropped into the pendent.



At the lower end a 4mm single block is hooked to the gaff.




This now allows for the gaff and its tackle to be fitted to the model, temporarily secured at present in the lowered position.


Above this are the pendents and standing blocks for the Spread-sail and Square-sail yards.

I adopted the Alert book arrangement of hanging the Yard tye pendents from the mast head rather than follow the kit arrangement of having separate cleats to support the tyes at different levels down the mast.


However, once again there are inconsistencies in the Alert Book

Drawing H18/3 AND H22/1 show the spread-sail and Square-sail tye blocks in opposing positions.


I took the view that the longer Spread-sail tye pendent went over the masthead first.




Seizing the pendent around the mast head.




The tyes were made from 0.3mm ø served line stropped with a single 4mm blocks.


The final strop below the T’gallant mast is for the Topsail yard tye.





This fits between the trestletrees and is held in place by cleats on the Topmast head.



The three standing tye blocks for the Topsail, Square-sail, and Spread-sail yards.





Now getting into a very messy stage with loose ends, there are still strops to make and the fitting of the horse to figure out.








Edited by Blue Ensign

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Post 62


Time to attach the shrouds

Not one of my favourite jobs stropping the upper deadeyes, but it’s that point in the build.

It’s a little more tricky stropping the deadeyes if the correct procedure is followed whereby the line crosses in front of the shroud with a cross seizing above the deadeye before applying two further seizings to the standing part.



Fitting the cross seizing.



Seizing the shroud ends.



The seized end lies aft on the Portside and forward on the Starboard side as shown above.

I note that the centre channel deadeye has twisted around, one of the benefits of macro photo’s is highlighting issues.



I rig the shrouds alternatively starboard and port, setting the level with the foremost shroud. From that point onwards I set them by eye as I move along the channel.

I temporarily rigged a section of the rope guard rail as an additional guide.



The seizings are yet to be dyed, I find it easier with my less than good eyesight to fit them in natural thread, better contrast against the dark shrouds.

I am using Morope 0.1mm line for the seizing, and Syren 0.3mm line for the lanyards. I won’t tie off the lanyards until later in the rigging process, when I will adjust the final tension.












A sort of build milestone when the shrouds are rigged, but there’s still a long way to go in this build.





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