Building the Amati “Arrow” Gunboat

Amati Model of Italy makes a wide variety of interesting ship modelings subjects. In early 2018, I finished building their Swedish Gunboat kit. Like that one, another gunboat that has been around for as long as I can remember, and was always intrigued by, is the “Arrow” an American Gunboat from the period around the War of 1812.

The Jeffersonian era was an interesting time in American naval history in the desire to use defensive gunboats in place of large expensive warships. As a result, there were numerous gunboat designs implemented. In Howard Chapelle’s book, The History of the American Sailing Navy, several of these designs can be found. Among them is a design that Chapelle describes as a “galley gunboat showing Mediterranean influence.” Clearly, this was the drawing that inspired the Arrow gunboat kit.

Amati says that this gunboat fought in the Battle of Lake Champlain. First off, this may be a slightly misleading reference as there were two famous naval battles fought on Lake Champlain. The first was during the American Revolution, in which General Benedict Arnold’s fleet fought the British at the Battle of Valcour Island. The second, was fought during the War of 1812, when Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough’s fleet fought the British at the Battle of Plattsburg. Both seem to be referred by different sources as The Battle of Lake Champlain. Amati’s suggestion, then, is that the Arrow fought at the Battle of Plattsburg.

Looking at Chapelle’s work, there seems to be no indication that this was true, or that the boat was ever actually built. But, there were certainly numerous gunboats built prior to and during the War of 1812, so it’s quite possible this design was built.


Chapelle’s drawing of a galley gunboat showing Mediteranean influence.

As for the name, that is probably an Amati fictionalization relating to the arrow-like shape of the boat. Even if the gunboat did take part in the Battle of Lake Champlain, there appear to be no gunboats named Arrow, at least as far as I can find. According to the above linked Wikipedia entry on the Battle of Plattsburg, there were six gunboats of similar armament to this model – an 18pdr long gun and 24pdr carronade. Could this model represent one of those gunboats?  Maybe.

But I’m most comfortable simply saying that this model represents a gunboat design from the time of the War of 1812, and may have been one of those that fought on Lake Champlain.

The Amati Kit

The kit itself is one of the nicely packaged kits from Amati and includes a nice set of plans and a decent set of instructions. Those instructions are written in Italian, but all the text is provided in English in a 4-page supplemental insert. The kit lists for around $110 at Ages of Sail, and the plans and instructions are available separately if you prefer to scratch build a model.

The kit is listed as 1/55 scale, and the completed model is about 18-1/2″ long. It features a double-plank on bulkhead construction using a first layer of beech wood, covered with a thin layer of walnut planking. Though, due to the hulls shape and the kit’s design, it seems to be very nearly a plank-on-frame model.


My Build

So, I actually purchased kit a few years back and started on it. Set it aside as I often do, while I attend to other projects. But, recently picked it up again. It is so close to completion that I’ll be putting a lot of focus on finishing it up.

Since my last post, I completed the masts, shaped the yards, also drilled out the caprail and added the belaying/thole pins. The kit used belaying pins, but these were probably simple wooden thole pins for the oars to row against. I also added the rudder and hinges, but had a difficult time getting it to look right. I ended up redoing it a couple times. But, as they often say, third time’s a charm.

I ended up making a new set of rudder irons, drilling them out, shaping them, and blackening them. I tried to use some small pins to bolt them into place. I thought the heads of the pins were small enough, but they ended up looking like massive bolts that stuck way out. In the end, I went back to Amati’s brass nails. They had to be clipped short in order to fit properly, but they worked out quite well and are pretty unobtrusive looking.

For the thole pins, as I mentioned, I drilled out the caprails and used the kit-supplied brass belaying pins. I had to cut them a little to get them to fit the shallow holes I drilled. I didn’t glue them in yet. I just wanted to see how they would work out. In brass they actually look quite nice in contrast with the wood. But, in reality, they should probably be wood.

I’ll look at some method of tarnishing the brass. I used to have a bottle of “brass brown” that BlueJacket sells, but I’m apparently out. I might order some more, as their metal toners work great. In fact, I’ve found their brass black and their pewter black toners work better for me than anything else, except for the stainless steel blackener from Caswell Inc. That stuff is awesome, but I’ve written about that before. Anyway, this time, I think I’m going to see what I’ve got sitting around that might work to “brown” the brass. There are suggestions on the Internet that I may try.

Anyway, there’s been plenty of other stuff to work on at this stage. As I mentioned, I completed the masts, adding the interesting little assemblies to the tops of each. In the photo below, you can see that I started rigging them as well. The kit instructions have you doing the rigging first. In some ways, that might be easier, but I haven’t had any issues doing the rigging after the mast heads are fashioned. I like that real sheaves are provided for the masthead assembly. That’s a nice detail to add.

I also tapered the lateen yards. This is probably the best use I’ve made of the Veritas miniature block plane that I bought from Lee Valley Hardware a few years ago. I’ve been using the mini block plane often, but I’ve never done fine adjustments to it. So, this is the first time that I’ve gotten it down to where I could shave off a very thin strip in each pass. While it takes more time with such a fine cut, it allowed me to taper the yards very smoothly and easily.

As you can see, I tapered the lateen yards and then I used Fiebing’s leather dye to color the yards black. I like to use this dye when I can. It does a great job coloring the wood, leaves no marks with a perfectly uniform finish, and it has a very light, even sheen to it. It is a bit messy, however. And, you want to buff off any excess, as the residue will rub off onto other things if you’re not careful. Here’s a link to one of my blog posts about building Artesania Latina’s Independence kit. On this model, all the black wood is dyed pear wood dye with Fiebing’s black leather dye:

Anyway, that’s where I am as of today. There’s some more rigging to add to the masts and lateen yards. Also, this kit has a huge number of cleats and ring bolts. I don’t really see that all the cleats are necessary. So, I have to wonder if it would make more sense to eliminate the unnecessary ones. After all, boats like this would made as simply and cheaply as possible. I can’t imagine the builders putting extra anything on it, just in case someone came up with a need for another cleat or ring bolt.

Something else that I’m keeping in the back of my mind is the possibility of scratch building some hammock rails. Irons for hammock rails are show on drawings of some gunboats. Most available drawings lack detail, so it’s hard to say if these boats would have had them or not. Of course, I don’t have to worry about it if I’d just build this model from the box. But, I suppose I’ll talk to Paul Reck about it, since he’s looking at starting a similar gunboat model.


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