Building a Beginning Billing Boats Kit, Dana Fishing Boat – Part 13: Blocks and Sails

The simplest way to mount a block onto the sheet horse is to first tie the stropping line around the metal horse, then wrap it around the block and tie it off around the block. Remember that the sheave hole should be closest to the horse.

I took a slightly more complicated route, which is to take a line and loop it around the horse. Then, I made a simplified seizing, by using thread and tying a simple overhand double-knot. The knot is then slid down close to the horse to tighten the loup. A tiny dab of glue is applied to the knot to hold it in place. When dry, I can take the loose ends and make a loop, insert the block, and tie a simple overhand knot around the block. Below shows an example using a piece of wire to attach the block to.

And here’s the shot of one of the actual blocks now in place on the model.

A Rigging Modification

While I’ve been avoiding it as much as possible, I am going to suggest a simple rigging modification, particularly if you’ve chosen to upgrade the blocks in the kit and have a couple to spare. If you don’t want to make the modification or you are only using the blocks included in the kit, no worries. Just ignore this part.

This is a very simple modification, and I think it will add a little detail to the model. This is to add a pair of blocks at the bowsprit as shown by illustration below. One block at each green arrow.

These are the outhaul blocks for the jib and staysail. The kit has you simply tying the tack of each of these sails to the bowsprit. In reality, there were blocks through which the lines would pass, and they would run back to belay somewhere at the bow of the ship. I’ve illustrated the lines in red and suggest just tying them to posts at the foot of the bowsprit, but of course that will be done at a later stage.

Here’s how they look on my model.

About Sails

Before I go into the finer details, like adding the anchor or navigation lights. I want to deal with the sails, as these other details will only get in the way otherwise.

I’ve gone back and forth quite a bit on how I want to deal with the sails. I was thinking of making those red-brown sails that you often see on European fishing boats, but I was finding it difficult to see any marks I drew on them for cutting and sewing. Then, I considered using pencil drawn seams on tissue paper, but having never done that before, it seemed inappropriate on a beginning kit. Finally, I went back to using the tried and true method (for me, anyway) of sewing the sails from cloth.

Now, rather than sew the sails, you might take a simpler route and just draw the seams right onto the sail cloth in pencil. I’ve done this before, and it works just fine. Simply trace the outlines of the sails shown on the plans onto the provided cloth, and draw the seams. You’ll need to do this anyway, if you’re going to sew the sails, though a lighter touch is probably best in that case.

I began by preparing the sail cloth. Now, there are a lot of warnings against using tea to stain the cloth to give a more natural, weathered appearance. The acids in the tea will attack the cloth over time, so the sails will eventually degrade. Many people look at simple projects like this as something that they will enjoy building and looking at for years, but don’t expect them to hold a high place on the mantle forever. I’ll leave that choice up to you. If you do use tea, soak the cloth in hot liquid, stirring regularly to keep from ending up with a blotchy appearance. Rinse it thoroughly when done.

Before using the cloth, I iron them using spray starch. This makes the cloth a little stiffer, and helps with the upcoming procedures. Next, I made paper copies of the plan sheet, and cut out the sails to use as patterns.

Using these patterns, I transferred the details in pencil onto the sail cloth. If you opt to not sew the sails, then you’ll want to transfer the seam lines to the reverse side as well. If your pencil marks go outside the boundaries of the sail, or if you make a small mistake, you can get rid of most of the lines with an eraser. Some grime left over may just make the sail look more weathered.

Before you cut these out, I recommend using a product you can buy at the fabric shop called “Fray Stop”. You spray this on the fabric, so that when you cut the fabric, the threads along the edges won’t start to unravel while you’re working on it.

For those who are more adventurous, or just prefer to practice another skill, you might try sewing the seams, which is what I’m doing on mine. I’ve done this a number of times and have gotten pretty good at it. And even if you’re not sewing the sails, you might want to follow along, as a couple things I do may help you with the drawn sails as well before cutting the cloth to shape.

Sewing the Sails

If you don’t have a sewing machine or if you’ve never used one, you can always ask someone who is better equipped to do it for you. But, basic sewing machines are not expensive and the skill might come in handy, so you might just want to give it a try.

I’m not going to go into the details of how to sew. I’m just not knowledgeable enough to tell you how to do it, though I am able to do the sewing. I will just say that I like to use a fine stitch and a light colored thread, and that you want to try to keep the stitching as straight as you can, following the drawn lines.

A model of the “Lively” I built years ago that featured a set of sewn sails I made.


After the sewing is complete, or if you’re only drawing the panel lines in, cut the sail cloth, leaving a 1/8″ buffer all around the sail. Cut it so that this buffer is as clean and even as possible, all the way around the sail. Fold this extra cloth over the edge of the sail so it’s on the right or starboard side of the sail. You can use a little white glue (Elmer’s Glue All) to hold the fold, but don’t soak the cloth. You just want enough to hold the cloth. I recommend using a small disposable brush to apply the glue. As with all new techniques, I recommend test it out on scrap cloth first.

You’ll need to use some weights to hold the fold until the glue sets. Use some wax paper to keep the glue from sticking to other surfaces. Be careful not to use too much glue, otherwise the glue will form a solid, slick surface pon the cloth when it dries.

This folded over cloth is called the tabling, and it will strengthen the edges of the cloth, which is necessary when you start attaching lines to the sails.

Reef Points

Next, those squiggly lines in the middle of the mainsail on your plans and templates are reef points, and they should be added. These are simply short pieces of line attached to the sail that are used to reduce the sail area in high winds. In practice, the bottom end of the mainsail would be furled and the reef points would then be tied around the boom.

You’ll notice there are two rows of reef points.  This gives the captain a choice of how much he or she wants to shorten the mainsail. Most of the sails don’t have them as they would either be left flying or taken down completely.

To add the reef points, you’ll need to practice a little sewing by hand, and you’ll need a sewing needle that will handle whatever size thread you’re going to use to represent these reef points. I used the smallest size rigging line I have, which is kind of thick in terms of sewing needles.

When you run the line through the sail, if you tie a knot in it, it will help secure it in place. Cut off the excess line, but you if you leave the reef points a little long, you can trim them and even them up later. A tiny dab of white glue with help hold the reef point in place.

Now, others may tell you that you should then tie a knot up close to the sail on the other side. It’s hard to slide the knot tight up against the sail, so I didn’t bother this time, and I doubt that anyone will notice.

In any case, when all the reef points are done, trim them so they are of uniform length. Now, you probably have wild looking bits of line sticking out from the sail in every which direction. I recommend brushing them with some diluted white glue. Clean and dry the brush, then continue brushing them downward agains the sail. After the glue starts to dry, it’ll get a little tacky. When it does, the line will start to stick to the sail cloth a little. The goal isn’t to glue the line to the sail, but to get it to stiffen in a position that looks natural. This may take a few tries, and you may need to touch them up again later.

Bolt Ropes

Bolt ropes are ropes that run all the way around the edge of a sail. They form loops at the corners to which sail handling lines are tied. For a beginning model, I’m going to call the bolt ropes an option, though they appear on all real sails.  I don’t think the kit intended for you to add bolt ropes. You can simply poke holes in the corners of the cloth for attaching sail handling lines. I added bolt ropes to my model, because I’m accustomed to doing it.

Many modelers hand sew their bolt ropes onto their sails. I personally prefer to glue them into place using white glue. I only glue one edge at a time, waiting for the glue to dry before proceeding to the next edge. The bolt ropes should be attached to the side opposite the tablings, so on the port or left side of the sail.

On the real sails, loops would be formed at the corners for the attachment of sail handling lines and for lashing the sails to the booms and gaffs. But, I’m just going to thread the lines directly through the corners of the sails for the sake of simplicity.

Next time, I’ll start rigging the sails, and mounting booms and gaffs.


5 thoughts on “Building a Beginning Billing Boats Kit, Dana Fishing Boat – Part 13: Blocks and Sails

  1. agesofsail

    Reblogged this on Ages of Sail and commented:
    A bit of progress since the last time we took a look at this build of the Billing Boats beginning kit, the fishing boat Dana. The builder attempts to keep to the basic instructions, but there are some simple modifications described.

    The Dana is basic kit that features an ABS plastic hull. If you are interested in building your own, you can purchase a kit here:—billing-boats-bb200.html

    1. Stephen Walby

      My first build, confused by lack of instructions, how do the masts fix? Drill holes and push through? Haven’t been able to track down this section of the blog, otherwise very helpful.

      1. catopower Post author

        Both mast holes have to be drilled, but only the hole for the mainmast has to drill through the plastic. For the mizzen mast, you just drill through the wooden deckhouse roof. The mizzen last should sit on top of the plastic. You could drill all the way through both the wood and the plastic, but then you will need to buy a longer dowel to use for the mizzen mast, as the one provided in the kit will be too short.

  2. Pingback: An Update to my Dana Fishing Boat build log | Ship Modeler

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