Monthly Archives: March 2014

Kaiwo Maru in San Francisco

I heard it from a colleague who heard it from a colleague that the Kaiwo Maru is coming to town. Sounds like the beginnings of a bad song… or a good song depending on your taste. But, in any case, I checked online and found on the San Francisco Port Department website that the Kaiwo Maru is indeed scheduled to be berthed at Pier 30/32 from May 2 to May 6, 2014.


Photo from Wikipedia

For those of you who know nothing about the Kaiwo Maru, and I include myself in that group up until about a week ago, she is a Japanese sail training ship. Or, more precisely, a four-masted, iron-hull sail training bark. She and her sister ship, the Nippon Maru II, were built in 1980s to replace a pair of sail training ships built in 1930 and bearing the same names. Both are owned by the Japanese government and operated by the National Institute for Sea Training.

In addition, the Japanese Coast Guard ship Kojima, apparently a training vessel, will be at the same pier from May 22 to May 26. I only found out about that one when I looked at the SF Port Department website.

I don’t know what the San Francisco visits are about, and I don’t know if the ships will be open to visitors. I haven’t heard anything, but I will see what I can find out.

For those of you who are interested, Woody Joe makes kits of the Nippon Maru II (Shin Nippon Maru) in 1:160-scale and also in 1:80-scale. I think Aoshima also makes plastic versions, but I’m primarily a wood ship modeler, so don’t quote me on that!

Also, as an aside, Harold Underhill created plans of the original 1930 Kaiwo Maru and Nippon Maru which should still be available from Brown, Son and Ferguson, Ltd.


Higaki Kaisen model completed

After a few marathon ship modeling sessions over the past week or two the Higaki Kaisen model is done. Well, more or less. I got through the last of the construction steps, but still have a little cleanup left to do and tying off of some odds and ends.




Today, I finished the task of the name banner that flies at the stern. This a traditional style Japanese banner called a “nobori”. This one consists of a flag pole with a cross pole at the top. The banner has loops of cloth along one edge and across the top that fit the poles. The includes cloth for making the banner, but you’re supposed to write the ship’s name on it. Since I can’t write kanji, I resorted to printing the name onto paper using my computer.

For this ship, I chose to use the name Kakehashi (kah-keh-ha-shi), which is means bridge or connection. In this case, the model is something of a bridge between my interest in ship modeling and my interest in my Japanese heritage. Actually, the full name of the ship is the Kakehashi Maru – Maru is a suffix that is used for ship names.




This is definitely not the kind of model that gets easier as one gets near the end. Rigging the sail was quite a challenge with 38 lines tied to it’s edges. What you might call the sheets consist of 13 ropes tied to the foot of the sail with the other ends tied to a heavy rope that runs between the bulwarks railing. I had quite a time adjusting these lines to get the sail shaped the way I wanted. In the end, after I got the lines all about equally tensioned, I realized I wasn’t all that happy with the shape the sail had taken on. But, with so many ropes and knots, I just adjusted the sail as best I could. The next day, I looked at the model with fresh perspective and was much happier with the sail.




One of the last things on the model is the adding of the copper capping. Copper caps cover the end up many of the beams. At the stern, small copper strips simulate the nail covers. So much copper is added at the stern, that this section appears quite ornate. I ended up using contact cement to fix these into place. It’s a little messy, but seems to clean up fairly easily. Also, used properly, you have a little time to adjust the pieces after they are laid into place. But, be careful of the brand you use. Read the directions as some are specifically not to be used with copper.




Other finishing touches included the anchors, the stay on the mast and all its details.









There are still a couple things that I may yet add to this model. Often, ladders have been used on the main decks of the replica bezaisen to climb up on the main cabin roof deck without having to go inside the cabin, and the same for the forward deck house or Kappa (cop-pah). Also, these ships traditionally carried a small boat called a Tenma-Bune (ten-mah-boo-ney) which was used for going to and from shore or other ships. I’d like to scratch build one and add it to my Higaki Kaisen model, but we’ll have to see if my understanding of the construction of these Japanese wasen is up to the task.



This has been a very different, very interesting, and extremely fun build. Woody Joe kits might seem a little pricey in the US, particularly for the small size of this model in particular. But, in the end, I think it’s been a great value. I’ve learned something about traditional Japanese ships and the model has been a great challenge.

If you’re interested in the kit, there are a couple things you may find of interest. One is that there are a lot more Amazon sellers listing this kit, though they are almost all in Japan. But, I no longer see the price gouging attempts on Ebay and Amazon that I once did. My personal recommended seller does not have an Amazon store, but is, of course Zootoyz. And if you do buy from Morikawa-san, please tell him I sent you.

But, another interesting turn of events is an importer that is reportedly bringing several Woody Joe kits to market in the US, primarily through Amazon, but with instructions he’s had translated into English. I don’t know what they’ll end up charging for the kits, but it will probably be more than what you would pay for the kits directly from Japan. Of course, with the kits from Japan, you’ll have to deal with Japanese language instructions. But, as I mentioned before, the instructions are very well illustrated. For the Higaki Kaisen, there is of course this blog, but also my plan is to write up a multi-part article for Ships in Scale magazine that should take the guess work out of the Japanese language instructions.

So, stay tuned, Higaki Kaisen fans. There should be more to come!

USS Albacore: A New Model at the Mare Island Museum

I just got an email from ship modeler Jerry Blair about a model that was donated to near-by Mare Island Museum. The model is that of the 1950’s era diesel-electric submarine that was unusual in that it was the first to sport the modern teardrop shape that is common to nearly all submarines today. As a research submarine, she was unarmed, but was used as a platform for over 20 years, testing hydrodynamic design, sonar and other technologies that would advance the US Navy’s submarine program. The particular model that went to the museum was one of two built by Jerry 11 years ago, the other one being on display at the USS Albacore Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This particular model was actually built for Stephen Cuff, a gentleman who worked on the Albacore as the Ship’s Superintendent in Portsmouth in the mid-50s. It graced his office in Concord, CA, until he recently donated it to the museum for all to see.


Jerry sent me this photo of one of the models.

  I personally haven’t been to the Mare Island Museum, but I know the quality of this models and will now have to make the trip to see Jerry Blair’s no-doubt excellent model. For more of the story about the donation you can find an article at the Vallejo Time-Herald assuming you can get past the idiotic ads.

It’s March 17th – Happy Kanrin Maru Day!

While most people who celebrate today are drinking green beer and thinking Irish thoughts, today is also the anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese government ship to visit the United States. It was on March 17, 1860 that the Japanese screw steamer Kanrin Maru arrived at San Francisco as an escort for Japan’s first embassy to the United States aboard the USS Powhatan. For the 150th anniversary celebration, the mayor of San Francisco declared March 17th to be Kanrin Maru day. I don’t suppose there is a lot of celebrating of the event in the city, or anywhere else for that matter. So, I’ll just do that on my own.

But, for those interested, the journey of the Kanrin Maru is pretty interesting, and involves many important historical personalities for both Japan and the United States. The captain of the Kanrin Maru, Katsu Kaishu, is considered the father of the Japanese Navy and is later  instrumental in his involvement with the transfer of power from the Shogun, the military ruler of Japan, to the Emperor. One of the crew members was Yukichi Fukuzawa who later founded the prestigious Keio University, one of Japan’s oldest institutes of eduction. Another was Manjiro Nakahama, also known to many Americans at the time as John Manjiro, who’s own story of shipwreck, rescue by an American whaler, life in the United States, and eventual return to Japan, is an adventure known to many. Then, there was then Lieutenant John Mercer Brooke, who with the help of a handful of his sailors, helped the Kanrin Maru survive a treacherous Pacific crossing, and who went on to become instrumental in the creation of the Transatlantic Cable, and in the development of a new rifled cannon known as the Brooke Rifle.

Here is some interesting reading I’ve run across:

As We Saw Them, the First Japanese Embassy, to the United States by Masao Miyoshi

John M. Brooke’s Pacific Cruise and Japanese Adventure, by George M. Brooke, Jr.

Manjiro, the Man Who Discovered America, by Hisakazu Kaneko


And a link to my previous Kanrin Maru Day post: My Kanrin Maru Day

Bay Area Ship Model Meetings Schedules

This seems to be one of those months that isn’t good for ship model clubs in the Bay Area. Two groups, the Hyde Street Pier Model Shipwrights and the South Bay Model Shipwrights have had to adjust their schedules and/or meeting locations due to problems with their regular meeting places.

The South Bay Model Shipwrights, which normally meets at the Los Altos Library on the third Friday evening of the month was well prepared for changes to their meeting location since they have to reserve it well in advance. This month’s meeting is being held at the home/workshop of local ship modeler Bill Tandler on Saturday, March 22. This is the second modified meeting schedule/location in a row for the South Bay group, but the schedule should be back to normal in April and beyond.

The Hyde Street Pier Model Shipwrights just found out that work is being done on the gangway entrance to the ferry boat Eureka. So, there is no access to the group’s workshop. There is no word as to whether anyone has checked with the park to find out if we can meet somewhere else for the meeting and an email was just sent out to the members that the meeting is being canceled.

Regular Meeting Schedules:

South Bay Model Shipwrights normally meets on the third Friday of the month at 6:30 pm at the Los Altos Library, 13 South San Antonio Rd, Los Altos, CA 94024. This group often has a nice presentation program and access to the meeting room is right off the library parking lot, so model transportation is very convenient.

Hyde Street Pier Model Shipwrights meet on the third Saturday of the month at 9:30 am aboard the ferry boat Eureka within the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park (just look for the ships). There is no free parking nearby except for the members/volunteers and by the time the meeting is done, the park is open to the public, so you do have to navigate wandering tourists – good to know if you plan to bring a project. There is free parking at the bottom of Van Ness Avenue which is about a 5-10 minute walk along the Aquatic Park.

Ship Modeler’s Forum Meet-Up happens at irregular intervals. It’s not a club, but more of a get together of folks who frequent the on-line ship modeling forums. For now, the small gatherings take place at the  Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum at 734 Marin Street, Vallejo, CA 94590. The location is fairly central to those who have been attending and the meeting room is directly off the parking lot, so moving models is very easy. The next meeting isn’t set yet, but probably a Saturday morning in late May or early June. An announcement will be posted when a schedule is set.

Red Oak Victory Model Shipwrights seems to have the most consistent meeting schedule. The group meets on the second Saturday of the month at 10:00 am in the Petty Officer’s Mess aboard the Red Oak Victory.

AL’s Independence – Hull Details


It was nice to get the channels done. This was much easier and a nice change from having to bend a lot of wood. Nothing too special to note here. I pretty well went with the dimensions shown on the plans, except that in my experience with previous AL kits, the deadeye lanyard often would run against the caprail. So, I made the channels just about 1/16″ wider, which I think actually look pretty good on the model.


I notched the channels for the deadeye strops, which I’ll probably need to widen later. Once the deadeyes are in place, I’ll then add the outer molding to the edge, locking the strops into place. To reinforce the channels, I used a #76 drill and cut some stainless steel straight pins and fit them in, drilling corresponding holes in the hull. These are extremely strong, but have a little flexibility, so I can trust the channels not to pop loose.


I also decided to go ahead and install the catheads. For this, I cut some boxwood to 3/16″ square cross section and made new ones instead of using the ones in the kit. Unlike the ones in the kit, which stick out of the deck and go over the top of the bulwarks, I decided to make mine more like those shown on Harold Hahn’s plans of the Halifax, which lay flat on the deck, but are tapered on the bottom edge so that they pass through the bulwarks and come out with a bit of upward tilt. Of course, before I installed them, I drilled the sheave holes. I considered drilling them out completely and installing actual sheaves, but I decided to keep it simple here.

The underside of the catheads were drilled out as was the deck. An 1/8″ long piece of wood was inserted into the deck which the catheads fit over. This gives the glue something to bight onto to hold them better and keep them from easily popping loose.


Note that you can see I’ve been working a bit on the spars too. The lower masts are cut to length and I install them temporarily at times to get a better feel for the model. The bowsprit, is also temporarily installed, but cut to length and the base is shaped to fit into the opening in the deck and to rest nicely against an interior bulkhead.

I’m using simple birch dowels for the spars instead of the kit wood. This allows me to mess something up without having to worry about having mismatched materials or having to try to get replacements from the manufacturer or distributors. The color of the bowsprit is from Dark Maple Wood Dye that I’ve been experimenting with.

AL’s Independence – New Transom, Part 2

Finishing up the transom work for now…

Once dry, the pear wood strip I shaped for the transom held its shape mostly, but I had to do a lot of cutting and shaping to fit the other curve, the curvature across the face of the transom, and by the time I was into that, the piece had started to lose some of the bending I had done. I ended up cutting into three separate pieces: A top piece and two side pieces. I attached the top piece first and then it was a bit easier to add the side pieces after. It was all still a bit of a struggle to deal with all the curves and trying to clamp the wood into place while the glue dried.


The other addition was a pair of knees I made and installed against the transom. I don’t remember if there is a particular term for these. They just are what they are…


Unlike the rest of the bulwarks, since the inner side planking of the transom kind of continues around to the sides of the hull, I had used pear wood. The rest of the bulwarks inner planking is cherry, which is redder. I didn’t really want the knees to contrast greatly with the transom, so I ended up making them from pear also. The color difference between pear and cherry is less noticeable once the wood is sealed, but here it’s still raw wood and looks pretty different from cherry. I don’t think it will be okay in the end.

AL’s Independence – A New Transom

Probably the one feature I like the least about this kit is the all-in-one cast metal transom. It’s certainly an easy way to deal with the transom and there is absolutely nothing wrong with building the kit using it if you want a decorative style model, which the AL kits are best for. But, in my case, this kit wasn’t my choice and I prefer a more authentic look, so I’m forced to scratch build the transom.

A lot of kits and plans really dress up this feature, but for a basic merchantman, I can’t help but think they the are sometimes overdone. Harold Hahn’s reconstruction of the colonial schooner Hannah has a very simple transom and so do most reconstructions of the schooner Sultana. I’m planning to keep the transom relatively plain, though I have added gallery windows similar to those on the cast metal transom. I’ve also added a few moldings and such, but I probably won’t go so far as adding carvings – I think I have enough work cut out for me on this feature.


I started by drawing up a design on a piece of 1/32″ plywood saving the wooden backing piece included in the kit, just using it as a pattern. The most time consuming part so far has been the construction of the gallery windows. I just drew up a basic design and cut out openings in the plywood piece I cut. I then planked the piece, using a single wide piece of pear wood for the band across the window area. I will later add some boxwood decoration of some kind, which will form some contrast to the pear.

Bordering the pear wood sheet, I added boxwood moldings above and below. The molding shape was formed by using a scraper that I made from an old single-edged razor blade.

Cutting the scraper was a LOT easier than I thought it would be. I’ve read about making these, but never actually tried it. In my case, I simply took a Dremel tool with a cut-off wheel and ground a  sort of a “B” shape into the edge of the razor blade and that’s all it took. Works beautifully and so easy to make. I’ll write up something more about this later.

For the window frames, I decided to use some very thin strips of white holly and built them right into the transom. This doesn’t allow me to add “glass,” but I’ve seen windows done without glass before and they looked fine, so I did the same with mine.

A added an edging piece along the bottom and started working on a cap around the top and sides. I experimented with different ways of making/bending the cap and finally settled on using a former made from scrap wood. Using the metal transom piece from the kit, I traced the shape on the block of wood, sanded it to shape and glued it to a base.


After that had dried, a piece of pear wood I prepared was soaked and carefully bent around the former and clamped in place to let dry. Later, I removed the wood and it had a nice bend that fit my transom.

More later…

New Downloads in Shop Notes

I just added a couple of charts that I use to the Shop Notes section. Please feel free to download and print them and put them up in your shop, put them into your notebook if you find them useful. They are in PDF format, so you’ll need Adobe Reader or some other PDF viewer (Mac users already have The files are located in a new section I created on the Shop Notes main page. If I have enough of these or if the main page gets too crowded, I’ll make a separate sub-page for them. But for now, I think this is where they’ll live.

Please let me know if you find any errors in them, so I can make corrections.