AL’s Independence – Headrails and Rigging

Yes, I’m finally getting around to wrapping up the Colonial Schooner Independence. I’ve worked on it here and there, but hadn’t made any blog posts about in quite some time.

The last task that I was concerned about was to construct some headrails from scratch. Mostly, this is one of those tasks which is painful, because the brain says it’s painful. In actuality, it wasn’t that bad, but did take some mental work to wrap my head around where to even begin.

I found some examples that were more complex and finally found some that were simpler. I made sure that the images of those simpler ones became embedded in my brain. So, here’s what I came up with…


I used castello boxwood for these, starting out by cutting them from thick sheet stock. Then, I cleaned them up and carved away the excess in such a way that it kind of put some 3D curve to it. It’s not that much curve, but it’s enough to break away from any flatness that it might otherwise have.

I also did a little light carving to the larger upper rail. It was just a matter of marking out the carving limits in pencil and lightly scraping away at it with the tip of a sharp knife. I know I should have done some to the lower rail and those connecting pieces, but I was pretty happy with what I had. And with that, I’m actually ready to move on with the build, get it mounted, add some smaller details and start some of the basic rigging, adding the bowsprit, etc.

Masting and Rigging

With the headrails finally done, I mounted the bowsprit and began work on the standing rigging, specifically the lower shrouds and stays. The blocks were already added to the mast tops quite some time ago. As for the loops of the shrouds and stays around the mast heads, this was greatly simplified by keeping the topmasts removable. I did this by simply making a working fid – the small timber that slides through the base of the topmast and rests on the trestletrees, bearing the weight of the topmast.


An old photo of a mast top with the fid circled in red.


Lower shrouds and stays fit into place around the mainmast head.

The rigging of the bowsprit at this stage was pretty simple. I focussed primarily on mounting it and adding the gammoning. I don’t know why, but adding the gammoning seems particularly satisfying. It’s possible that I’m just weird…

With the bowsprit in place it was easy to add the bobstay and the jibboom, which was all I rigged of the bowsprit at this point. Later on, the foot ropes and bowsprit guys would be installed, but I wanted to get some of the masting, stays and shrouds in place first.


A messy workbench, but the important elements are there, model, tools, and coffee.


With the rigging around the mastheads in place, though unsecured, I added the topmast shrouds. I followed diagrams for the colonial schooner Hallifax, which showed the top shrouds simply run through loops in the futtock shrouds and seized. Is this correct? I don’t know for sure. It might have been safer to run the end of the shroud around a small heart or thimble and then secure it to the loop in the futtock shroud using several turns of a lanyard between them.

Next I added the deadeyes to the lower shrouds and reeved them into place. The deadeyes from the kit were fine, but I generally replace such fittings for the simple reason that if I lose any, I want to be able to replace them with the exact same fittings. So, I purchased some Amati walnut deadeyes from Ages of Sail, and I soaked them in Fiebing’s black leather dye. This is the same stuff I used to blacken the wales, rails, yards and mast top.

In setting up the deadeye, I decided to try something a little different. It was a method that was described in the instructions when I built the HMS Alert paper model, in which the shrouds are left long and secured below the keel. You can tie each corresponding shroud together or clip them together or whatever.

With all the shrouds secure, you then glue the deadeyes to each shroud so that one hole is close to the shroud and that the deadeyes are level. Once the glue is dry, the shouds are carefully turned around the deadeyes, making sure to rotate the deadeye just enough so that it stays in alignment with one hole at the top and two below.


For shrouds that are s-laid or have a left-hand twist, as one looks in at the shrouds from outboard, the end of each shroud wraps clockwise around the deadeye and crosses behind, and is siezed on the right side of itself.


You’ll note in the above photo that I’ve added mast coats at the foot of each mast and also added shroud cleats. These were really nice laser-cut cleats purchased from Syren Ship Model Company. I made my own mast cleats, as shown in the photo, but I thought it would be best to purchase the shroud cleats. Anyway, I’d never used the Syren product, and I wanted to give it a try. They worked out very nicely. One thing with shroud cleats though, is that the shrouds to twist a little and that throws the cleats out of alignment. I found that this was fixed once the ratlines were added.


At this stage, I went ahead and rigged the boom and gaffs, though I didn’t secure any of the lines until after I rattled down the shrouds. The topsail yard shown above were just test fitted. I added small pins at the back of each yard and drilled a hole in each mast so the yard could be secured and resist a small pull of the halliards, allowing me to keep those lines taught.


I know a lot of people don’t like rigging ratlines, and here is another indication that I’m just weird, because I love tying ratlines. I think it’s primarily because it’s a mindless task and it means I don’t have to think a lot about building the model, I just have to do it.

Starting with a piece of paper with parallel lines drawn a scale 15″ to 16″ apart, I clipped the paper to the shrouds so that the lowest line was just above the row of upper deadeyes. From there, it was just a matter of tying clove hitches. Lots and lots of clove hitches.

My process is to tie the first clove hitch securely, then tie the second one loosely while holding the shrouds securely in my fingers close up to the ratline, then pull the knot tight. Usually, this pulls the shrouds closer to each other. So then I pull the shrouds away from each other, tightening the knot, but also stretching it and the ratline until the ratline is slack and no inward pressure is exerted on the shrouds. At that point I tie the next clove hitch and repeat the process.

Doing this as you go assures that the shrouds are straight and not bowed in. You also end up with slack ratlines that you can shape a little bit, pulling down on them so that it looks like the slack rope is hanging down naturally.

It’a also important to use clove hitches and not simple overhand knots, as the shape of an overhand knot pushes the line down on one side of it, and pushes the line up on the other side of it, resulting in very unnatural looking ratlines.


When the ratlines are all tied off, the next step is to go back over them and pull apart wherever the ratlines are pulling the shrouds out of shape. You can see a few spots where this needed to be done in the above photo. Also, some adjustments have to be made where knots have shifted up or down. Once everything looks right, each knot is treated with diluted white glue or matte acrylic varnish.

On this model, with only two masts and only lower shrouds to deal with, this process went by very quickly. On a large ship model, like the San Felipe model I rigged for someone, I spent hours working on one side of one set of shrouds until my head hurt, and then just repeated the process for maybe 2 weeks to get it all done. After that, these cutters and schooners are a breeze.


3 thoughts on “AL’s Independence – Headrails and Rigging

  1. catopower Post author

    Reblogged this on Hyde Street Pier Model Shipwrights and commented:

    Clare Hess updated the build log for his colonial schooner kit, which is based on a kit from Artesania Latina, but heavily modified with upgraded woods such as South American boxwood, pear and beech wood, and with aftermarket blocks, cannons and carriages.

  2. agesofsail

    Reblogged this on Ages of Sail and commented:
    Shipmodeler Clare Hess posts an update on his colonial schooner build, which is based on the Independence kit from Artesania Latina, but has been heavily modified using fine woods, such as castello boxwood, pear and beech, and aftermarket fittings, such as blocks, cannons, carriages, gratings, and rigging line.

  3. Pingback: Building the Amati “Arrow” Gunboat | Ship Modeler

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