I have always been a model maker, since being an active member of my school model flying club. I always found model making to be therapeutic, even when the rubber band powered Spitfire, which had taken hours to perfect, smashed into the sides of the gym wall.
Later I built a few showcase ships: Cook's Endeavour and the sail training ship, Sir Winston Churchill that I actually sailed on as a trainer. I also made a half deck model of Nelson’s Flagship Victory which is now hanging in the saloon of my own schooner Britannia.
It intrigued me whether I could build a radio controlled model boat which performed like the real thing. After all, what father doesn't want to sail a little boat on the local pond with his children?
The multi-channel radio control equipment was readily available, but the thought of building a boat from scratch, big enough to accommodate it all was a bit daunting. Therefore, When I found a large scale kit (1:15) of a Colin Archer ketch, with a ready made plastic hull and all fittings I bought it, even at $550.
Colin Archer was a Scottish born, Norwegian marine architect who seemed to like boats with canoe sterns, known as double-enders. Without their immensely long bowsprits, (that was designed to retract on deck), it was difficult to know the bow from the stern. This particular boat was designated RS1 and designed as a lifeboat. The original is in the Norwegian Maritime Museum, Oslo, Norway.
Before even beginning to build the boat I spent a lot of time at my local model shop and on the Internet, considering radio control equipment. Unfortunately nobody had built a sailboat at the shop with the sophistication I was planning. They were mostly speedboat enthusiasts. I searched the web, then went back to the shop and came out with an eight-channel radio control box, a relay, received, batteries, servos, and winch drums. All to the tune of $1200. This was going to be some model boat!!
The term “kit” can be misleading for this model, because apart from certain pre-shaped items, like the hull and bulkheads, it consists of a pile of wood, and not very informative instructions either:
First, I glued the main bulkheads to the hull with epoxy and installed the motor mount and stern tube. The motor was then bolted to its mount and the stern shaft connected with a universal coupling.
Like on a full size boat the next stage was to install the ballast – but how much?
The model was one fifteenth the size of the original, but ballast ratios don't scale down like that and there was nothing in the instructions. I could think of only one way to ballast her to the waterline shown. I bought a 5 Lb coil of lead from a local surplus store and cut it into 2”inch wide by 12”Inch long strips, then laid them in the bottom of the hull, placing the 3 Lb battery on top. I then filled our bath tub with water and lowered the hull in to see how it floated, she was hopelessly high.
I bought another 15 Lbs of lead and kept adding it until the hull sat at approximately the waterline. I then placed all the radio control equipment on top, along with other bits and pieces, deck timbers, masts, and even the sailcloth. When I reached the correct waterline I sealed the ballast with epoxy resin and built a floor for the battery to sit on. The model draws 6”inches, equivalent to 7’ feet 6”inches. The real boat actually draws 7’ feet 3 inches
I then glued the bulkheads into the hull with epoxy, along with the motor mount and stern tube. The prop-shaft tube had to be drilled by eye with an electric drill, straight through the deadwood, to come out inside the hull, level with the electric motor spindle. I placed the hull upside down on the floor and had my wife hold it still while I placed a series of different thickness books on the floor to act as a guide for the drill. I used a straight edge to guess the correct slope, then slowly drilled a 1/4”inch hole through the hull. I only had to shim the motor 1/16”inch, to mate the prop shaft with the engine. The motor was then screwed to its mounts, and the shaft connected with a universal coupling.
It was easier to position all the radio control equipment, before laying the deck beams, principally the steering servo, the receiver, and three winches which would control the jib, staysail, mainsail and mizzen. The continuous coil drum winches were positioned forward. As a winch rotates, the sheet is pulled in one side and let out the other, hauling the sail from one tack to the other.
It is worth mentioning here, all the tiny blocks through which the lines run, actually have rotating sheaves.
Having installed and connected all the controls, I decided to test the boat “at sea” before laying the deck. There is a lake behind my house in South Orlando, Florida, which would seem to be ideal for testing model boats, except for one slight problem. It has a resident alligator, and I had absolutely no idea how it might react to having an intruder in its ‘loch.’ However, the test went without interruption, and the engine drove her along at a brisk walking pace.
Back in dry dock I fitted the deck beams, then glued separate planks over the plywood deck, caulking them individually with real bitumen caulk.
With the masts in place the boat was 56” inches tall, so In order to be transportable the masts had to be removable. Both masts were keel stepped and the rigging hooked to the dead-eyes. The masts can now be lifted out of the deck.
The sail cloth supplied was white, but I wanted tanbark sails, so I boiled the cloth in water with ten teabags, which stained the cloth perfectly. The patterns were then delivered to a seamstress who worked in the Walt Disney costume department near where I live, and who did a superb job double stitching them to simulate individual panels. The sails are hanked on and halyards run through sheaves down to belaying pins. The tops’ls are located in pintles and can be removed if the wind is too strong.
As the model came near to completion I was asked, “Shouldn't there be a crew?” This simple question set me on a fruitless search for sailor figurines. I could easily have crewed her with American Civil War soldiers, cowboys on horseback or World War II soldiers, but not sailors… I worried the boat would remain crew-less, until someone suggested I try “The Dolls House.” Well, there is a Dolls House in the red light area in Orlando, but I don’t think they sell model sailors… The name I should have been given was Ron’s miniatures, but as I entered this amazing magical emporium of dolls house furniture I was still not at all hopeful for my specific requirement. “Yes, we sure do,” replied the assistant to my question and I could hardly believe my eyes when she slid open a drawer full of sailing figurines of all shapes and sizes. There were naval officers, pirates and even ships cats. I came out with a skipper, three crew and two cats, all very close to scale size. They certainly do add a certain finesse, especially the captain, as he studies the set of his jib.
As a final touch I had also fitted working navigation and cabin lights, which shine through the cabin windows. I also have a spare unused radio channel and wonder to what use it might be put? Perhaps readers could make suggestions.
As with all boats, there comes a time for the maiden launch.
first pre-tested all the electronics, steering, sheet winches and motor, then gently lowered “The Old Gaffer,” as I had christened her, into the water. The breeze, perhaps an actual force 3, created slight ripples on the surface, and I had no idea if this would be too little or too much.
I eased the sheets until the sails shook and started the motor to power “Gaffer” away from the shore on a broad reach. I then shut down the motor and slowly hauled in the sails until she healed, ever so slightly, and began to actually sail. It was an emotional moment, seeing her sail away on her own for the first time. As I slowly sheeted the sails home she healed more and started to move quickly, when it suddenly struck me, I had no idea what the actual radio control range was? She needed to be brought about now!. I eased the tiller control to starboard and as she swung into wind I tacked the jib, and within seconds she was on an opposite course, having made a flawless turn.
Since that first intrepid trial I have learned to handle the boat on any point of sailing, including goose-winged and hard on the wind in quite big seas—well, at least three inches!
The boat is a delight to handle and I have not had to make any adjustments to ballast or sails. When the wind gets up, I ship the tops’l and she behaves handily under gaff main, mizzen and jib. I hardly ever use the motor, but it might be needed if our resident alligator ever shows his annoyance, which he has not done – so far.
When on a delivery to the Mediterranean a few years ago, I called in at Gibraltar and in the marina was a real RS1 called “Capricornus” from Stavanger, Norway. I would have loved to talk to the owner, but he was not aboard and the boat was obviously laid up. Perhaps he might also have liked to talk to me.
Length overall: 49” inches Beam: 13” inches Draft: 6” inches Mainmast height: 56” inches
Sail area: 900 square inches. Weight: 35 Lbs