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.

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