Tuesday, July 16, 2013

20 Questions with David Fellingham

Over the past year or so I've found that we ship in bottle builders are quite a unique group.  I thought it would be fun to get to know my fellow builders a little better and decided on a good old game of twenty questions.  So first off we have 20 questions with David Fellingham.

1.      What is your name?  
David Fellingham

2.      Where in general are you from?  
I grew up in Iowa and presently live in California

3.      How long have you been building ships in bottles?
I’m not sure, at least 30 years. I have been interested in sailing ships, ship models and nautical history for over 50 years – my first scratch build was at age 9 from a scrap piece of 1 x 4, a tin can and two short pieces of small diameter pipe – the Civil War Monitor.

4.      What got you into ship in bottle building?
My initial interest in sailing ships, nautical history and ship models began with reading C. S. Forester’s Hornblower series when I was 8 years old.. Later, work had me moving quite frequently, which is not very conducive to building ship models. I came across a book in a bookstore about building ships in bottles; seemed to be a perfect way to continue my interest in ship models while remaining mobile – all my tools, supplies and the current project could be packed and transported in a medium size tackle box.

5.      What was the first ship in bottle you ever built?
A generic late 19th century two-masted schooner from the SIB book I bought.

6.      What was your favorite build?
My favorite build has always been the one I had just completed until I start a new one, then the current project would become my favorite. I gave away almost all my SIBs (or lost them during moves). I completely lose interest in finished projects when I am working on a new one. That’s why I still don’t have any of my own. The most fun SIB was a submarine in a bottle – a sea with a very small periscope. Almost everyone who saw it picked up the bottle and turned it over and over looking for the rest of the sub.

7.      What do you think makes your ships in bottles unique?
Perhaps my attention to detail. I think the sea for my waterline models (the only kind of SIB I do) is more accurate to reality than almost any I have seen. For several years, my work was on offshore oil platforms off the southern California coast in deep water far from shore, which is the kind of sea where sailing ships spent 99.99% of their time. Most of that work included a journey by boat of as much as two hours, one way, to and from the platform every day. I had the opportunity to study and memorize the ocean’s appearance under just about all conditions from calm and flat to 40 mph winds and 30 foot waves (from trough to peak) which was just about the limit of what the crew boats could handle. Most people think deep-water seas look like the surf at a beach – but the only similarity between the two is that they are both salty and wet.

8.      What types of ships do you prefer?
In general, I prefer pure sailing ships. At present, I find myself most interested in the smaller warships of the early 1800s up to the time just before the introduction of steam. My favorite ships are topsail schooners (aka Baltimore Clippers) with a very radical mast rake that makes them look like they’re doing 10 knots even at anchor.

9.      What is your favorite part of ship in bottle building?
I enjoy solving the unique problems presented by each build. I also enjoy the rigging when I get to see the results of all the different pieces coming together into a whole.

10.   Is there a design or method that you use that you are particularly proud of?
I am very pleased with the box joint mast hinges I developed that are invisible when the mast is erected unless the viewer knows what to look for.

11.   Have you had any instances where a build went horribly wrong? 
Of course! Maybe not “horribly” wrong but I have had difficult problems crop up more frequently than I care to remember getting a ship in the bottle or setting up the masts. Each time the problems occurred because I failed to plan ahead well enough or to do a trial fit with the hull, bare masts and minimum rigging to check that everything fits and test  the mast erection. On one occasion, I omitted the test and later found that the main mast was too tall after the fore mast was set and glued. I had a lot of rigging and several spars to replace by the time I got the ship out of the bottle. I ALWAYS make a trial fit since that disaster.

12.   What are some of your favorite materials to use?
I fabricate many things from wire as fine as 45 gauge. I am also very pleased with a brand of fly tying thread I found. On my current build, I found that the fly tying thread can be taken apart into the twisted yarns that were twisted together to make the thread and I will use those yarns for ratlines when I get to that point on my current build. The yarns, at less than .001 inch diameter, work out to be the right size for 5/8 inch rope at 1/640 scale. I also like paper stiffened with ca glue in a variety of detail applications.

13.   What are some of the most unusual materials you’ve used in a build?
I once used human hair to rig a SIB in a glass airline-size liquor bottle. I will never do that again because hair is very difficult to work with in almost every regard.

14.   What creative tools have you created?
I make many special purpose tools for working inside the bottles as the need arises.

15.   What books do you recommend for ship in bottle building?
Just about any book on building SIBs covers the basics well enough for a beginner and provide a foundation for the rest of the learning process, which will never end. I have learned more in the last year after meeting other SIB builders through the internet than in the previous thirty. Shipbuilding in Miniature by Donald McNarry, although not about SIBs, has a wealth of information about miniature ship modeling techniques that are adaptable to SIBs.

16.   What is the most interesting bottle you have found?
A bottle is analogous to a painter’s canvas or a picture frame as far as I am concerned. I feel that complex, ornate or extremely unusual bottles distract the viewer from what is important – the ship inside the bottle. I feel the same way about display stands and exterior decoration. I believe strongly in the KISS principle – “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” The only criteria I have for bottles are clarity, uniform thickness for minimal distortion, usable interior space and the inside diameter and length of the neck. I found sources for laboratory glass which is what I intend to use from now on. The only exception I would consider is a classic Pinch bottle.

17.    What’s the most unique place or way you have found a bottle?
not applicable, see #16

18.   What is your favorite response to the question, “How did you get it in there?”
I thought of several smart-ass responses over the years but never use them. I explain the basics simply and concisely.

19.   What ships are on your to do list?
I don’t have a “to do” list as such. I have a mental list of ships that intrigue me for any number of reasons as possible future builds. At some point during a build in progress, I find myself thinking about what to build next – usually while working on some of the boring, repetitious details that occupy only a part of my attention. Eventually one or two of the “possibles” rises to the surface, so to speak, and I start the necessary research. My next build is going to be a conventional wood ship model from a kit – Caldercraft’s Cruizer, a British brig of war from the Napoleonic Wars modified slightly into one of the other 105 brigs built from the same plans in that period. It will be an interesting change to work on a relatively huge 1/64 scale model after working at 1/640 scale on my current project. I’m considering building the same brig from scratch in a large bottle concurrently.

20.   What are you currently working on?

I am currently building the Chilean Navy School Ship Esmeralda at 1/640 scale. Esmeralda is a four masted barquentine and the second longest and tallest conventional sailing ship in the world. Photo albums of progress photos are posted on the Ship in Bottle Builders and my personal facebook pages. I also have a comprehensive build log for Esmeralda on the Model Ship World website.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

America's Cup Fiasco

This post has nothing to do with ship in bottle building so if you don't care for the Americas Cup just skip to the previous post.  Just thought I'd air some frustration.  

Well I was very excited for the America's cup.  I love the idea behind the AC72's and they are really a beautiful and fast sailing ship.  I was really looking forward to seeing them race on Sunday....then on Tuesday ....now I still am.  Trouble is there is drama behind the scenes that has made for some pretty lonely one boat racing.  It's kind of like watching a sword fighter battle the air or a dancer do the salsa with out a partner.

For those that don't know the story I'll try to sum it up best I can.  Keep in mind I only started following the Americas Cup a month or ago so I am may not be totally current with history or terminology.  The trouble started when the Regatta Director Iain Murray announced some new safety rules a week before the race.  These included things like last minute adjustments to foils heavier boats and deeper rudders for better control.  Sounds all well and good except that Luna Rasa and New Zealand protested the changes and now Luna Rasa is waiting for an international jury to decide whether it's fair or not before they race.  This lead to more finger pointing and drama leaving New Zealand to race alone.

At first I wanted to sympathize with the protest since changing major aspects of the ship a week before the race is pretty screwed up.  Looking further into it though I understand the need for the rule change.  The AC72 is a 7 ton ship that regularly sails faster than 40 knots, or close to 50 mph for us land lubbers.  With the increase of speed and size also comes a decrease in control.  Since the ships use a hydro foil and raise up on their rudders the surface area of the rudder becomes even less which of coarse means less control.  This had lead to the two of the ships flipping over and even the tragic loss of Artemis Teams crew member Andrew Simpson on May 9th.  So between May 9th and the start of the races in July they have been investigating the causes and finding ways to prevent them.  They came up with 37 new safety rules and implemented the a week before the race.  Could this have been done sooner?  Or could they have talked more with the teams before announcing new rules all of the sudden?  Welll....who knows I'm just a couch potato captain waiting to see a good race.

I will point out though that this is nothing new to the Americas Cup.  There have been times when they have spent more times in court rooms arguing than they spent on the water actually racing.  It sounds ridiculous but you have to keep in mind what the Americas Cup races actually mean.  It's not like the Olympics where they are trying to find the best sailing team.  Or like drag races trying to find the fastest car.  The Americas Cup is all about winning and holding onto the Americas Cup.  This is why the New York Yacht Club held onto it for 132 years.  He who holds the cup sets the rules.  In this case Oracle Team USA.

Really the mess the Americas Cup is in falls on Oracle.  I think they reached a bit far on deciding to use the AC72's.  The cost of the ships has forced the majority of the teams to drop out leaving only four.  Had we more teams in the race we may have actually seen a race by now.  It's obvious that the AC72 is cutting edge sailing technology but I think it needs more testing and adjusting to gain the mix of control and speed it's really capable of.  The races this year would have fared better if they would have added foiling technology to the AC45 and ran with that.  At the very least I think we'd have more teams in the race.

Of coarse what does this couch potato captain know.  Can you really blame Oracle for pushing for the fastest craziest ship they could?  It took 132 years to loose the cup from New York it could very well do the same some where else.  So when you get a chance to set the rules why not run with it?  Except that the America's cup has become more than a bunch of rich guys racing overly expensive yachts.  It's become a money maker.  The reason they switched from the mono hull yachts to the multi hull catamarans was to bring the race closer to shore and which allows for spectators to watch the race.  With spectators comes money.  Team apparel sales, ticket sales, concert sales.  As a business the Americas Cup can do very well.  Unless you can't get the race started with more then one boat.

I read an article recently where Louis Vuitton is asking the Americas Cup for a refund of 3 million dollars.  I guess the fiasco has left the sales of their 11,000 dollar America's Cup watches as low as the fans disappointment.  On the bright side if this keeps up maybe I can afford one.  I really wanted to like the Americas Cup. Last year was so incredible.  The AC72s are really incredible.  Putting the two together would be spectacular.  I guess I'll just have to wait and see.  We're only a few days in.  There's time to turn this around and still have some incredible racing.  Mean while enjoy a piece of last years racing.  If you haven't seen it already it's a ton of fun to watch.




Monday, July 8, 2013


"You'll go a long way before you see seagulls in bottles." - George Fulfit

This concept behind this post started with the documentary "Steady as She Goes" about George Fulfit a ship in bottle builder who made a trade mark of putting seagulls in his bottles.  

I watched this video a long time ago and had always kept the idea in the back of my mind.  I saw that George  carved his seagulls and made the wings out of Styrofoam.  The seagulls worked well for his bottle but they seemed to be to big for the ones I was building.  Months later I saw seagulls again in a bottle by Heather Rodgers.  Again I wondered how this was done.  Heather's answer was simple.  The seagulls are paper built up with paint.  

I decided to experiment with idea it came out so good I used it as a finishing touch for my recent Yacht America.  

The first thing to do when making a seagull to go into your bottle is get the right shape.  I did a quick Google search on seagull outlines to get the right idea.  They are actually quiet simple, point for a head curving wings and a fan like tail. Once I got the general shape I found I could draw the wings head or tail in different ways to get different mid flight type poses.

Once the seagull is drawn I start on the wing color.  Mostly because it's easier to do before the gull is cut out.  There are many different types of gulls so they can be any variety of colors.  The ones I've seen most often though have grey wing with black tips.  I draw in the grey with a pencil making it as feathery as possible and then draw deep black streaks on the tips of the wings with a black colored pencil.  Once that is done I cut the seagull out with an exato knife.

Now it's time to get out the paint.  I use acrylics since they wash out with water and are so easy to use.  They also have a way of clumping when you paint over a surface multiple times which is good and bad.  For seagulls it's a good thing.  I put a nice big glob of white paint on the body and let it dry if my seagul is still looking a little flat I add another one and let it dry until I have a nice looking gull.

I then move on to the beak and feet.  Sometimes I use orange for this sometimes yellow just depends on what I want at the time.  With the gulls being so small I just dip a toothpick in the paint and then dab it onto the beak and press in two dabs for the feet.  Chances are no one will see the feet but it's fun to know they are there.  The last part is folding the wings.  I fold the wings where they connect with the body then round them out like they are catching the wind.  This is important in that they will be glued to the bottle by the wing tip.  Now they are ready to fly.

The last part is the most tricky and is probably best done with an ear polypus.  Since mine broke I've been stuck using coat hangers so I made one that cradles the seagull while I get it in position.  I use super glue to glue the seagull to the side of the bottle where I want it to be flying around.  Put just a dab of glue on the side of the wing and touch it to the side of the bottle where you want the gull.  Then hold very very still.  Super glue and glue in general has a weird tendency to not dry when it's moving.  I also will note to be very careful putting glue on the sides of your bottle.  If to much glue is applied it can distort the glass and distract from the seagull and the ship.

Also a word of caution with super glue.  Normal grocery store super glue which is what I use has a lot of fumes.  If you cork the bottle before the glue is dry the fumes fog up the inside of the bottle and is very hard to clean.  If you use super glue leave the bottle open with the top facing up to let the fumes out.  I let it sit like this three to five minutes while the glue dries.  Hold the gull in place until it looks like the wing is firmly glued to the bottle.   If you end up getting some unwanted glue on the side of the bottle don't worry about it.  It's inevitable with seagulls.  Get a long dowel and attach an exacto knife at a 45 degree angle at the end.  Once the glue dries use the blade to scrape off the unwanted glue.

Now slowly pull the wire out until your well clear of the seagull.  With the gull being so small the paper holds it's weight on the wing and the gull appears to be flying around the bottle.   I didn't have a whole lot of time so the gulls I made for this post aren't as good as they can get.  Have patience and work with it and you can get some pretty good looking seagulls.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

America's Cup

I'm so excited for the 34th America's Cup.  The new AC72's are some of the most fascinating ships I've seen.  It will be a lot of fun to see them race.  Check them out.

For more info check out http://www.americascup.com/.