Category Archives: Clubs and Organizations

South Bay Model Shipwrights November Meeting

I made it to the meeting of the South Bay Model Shipwrights, which is a very long-standing and respected ship model club that was started by Jean Eckert back in 1982 and has operated continuously ever since. Some current and past distinguished members include Jerry Blair, Dr. Clayton Feldman, of course Jean Eckert, Ed Von Der Porten, the late Charles Parsons, and many more.

The club currently meets at the Los Altos Public Library in Los Altos, California, at 6:00 pm, generally on the third Friday of every month. The club, though much smaller than in the past, is  currently headed by Jim Rhetta, who recently completed the rigging of a model of the 3-masted schooner Fannie Gorham for a couple who’s father had passed away after completing most of the hardware.

Jim brought the model, which was in a case built by member and past-president Walt Hlavecek, and presented it to the couple at the meeting this past Friday. Jim did a nice job, and they seemed very happy with it.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from the meeting:

George Sloup talks about the WWI German battlecruiser Goeben, which he has been building from a paper model kit. Here he’s showing some info from a book on German WWI ships.

Jacob Cohn’s 1/64-scale model of the Baltic schooner Scotland sits in the foreground.

An elevated bow view of Jacob Cohn’s Baltic schooner model showing some more of the rigging detail.

Another view of Jacob’s nicely done Baltic schooner.

The group’s newest member Lou Cierra brought in his 3rd wooden ship model, the paddlewheel steamer Gulnara, built from a kit by the German manufacturer Krick.

Another view of the Gulnara with my own wasen models visible in the background. Ken Lum’s detailing of shields for the Drakkar Viking ship are visible in the left foreground.

Lou describes some of the work and issues he faced on this 1/50-scale model, which he started only last month.

The South Bay meetings are usually preceded by a dinner at a local landmark, Chef Chu’s Chinese restaurant. The meetings generally last until 9pm or so. I always enjoy these meetings, particularly with our regular gatherings at Chef Chu’s. Only a few of us attend the pre-meeting dinner, but it’s always a nice way to start the evening.

The meetings, and dinner for that matter, are always open to guests and new members. If you’re interested in joining the group, best thing to do is to contact the president, Jim Rhetta, at

Next month, the club will be meeting for a holiday dinner instead of the regular meeting, but will be meeting again as usual in January.

In the meantime, if you want to see a bit of the happenings of the club, you can find information on their website at Ω


NRG Conference this Week in St. Petersburg, Florida

For those who weren’t aware, if you happen to be in the area of St. Petersburg, Florida this week, you should consider checking out the NRG Conference, which is being held at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront hotel.

The annual conference is an international gathering of ship modelers that will take place from Thursday, October 26th through Saturday, October 28th. Local tours of interest take place on Thursday, while Technical sessions and symposiums, plus the annual membership meeting and banquet, take place on Saturday.

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The Rope: Photo Gallery of the 42nd Exhibition 2017

The Japanese ship model society, The Rope, has a marvelous website that includes a Gallery of photos of each of their annual exhibitions for the last 8 years and beyond. If you’re a ship modeler, you’ll find some wonderfully inspiring work. But, beware, you might also see some models that will destroy your ego, make you crawl into a corner, and want to take up knitting.

Here’s a link to the 42nd Exhibition held earlier this year:展示会作品集/第42回展-2017年/第42回展-1-4/#42-03

If you don’t read Japanese, you can find links to other exhibitions, download copies of their newsletter on their English language section here:


NRG Conference Follow-Up

It’s now Saturday evening and the NRG Conference is essentially over. I’m now just waiting for the annual banquet. This year was at San Diego and this was the first year that I was one of the featured speakers and had my own sessions at the roundtable discussions. I feel vastly under qualified, but people were very kind and many stopped me to say that they really enjoyed my talk or my discussion session.

Because boatbuilder Douglas Brooks was my presentation partner, I did benefit greatly from the association, and feel very fortunate for the opportunity. Douglas Brooks has been studying actual Japanese boatbuilding through several apprenticeships in Japan and is also an accomplished American boat builder. He’s also an excellent speaker. We gave a combined talk on Japanese wooden boatbuilding and model building, my portion being on model building. As my portion of the talk followed his, I can tell you that he’s such a good speaker that it was very hard to follow him.

I would have been nervous anyway, not being a skilled speaker. But, my part of the 50-minute talk was short – only about 15 minutes. So, it couldn’t go too wrong anyway, and then it was done.

For the roundtable sessions, I bought the Urayasu Bekabune model I’ve been working on, along with notes, jigs and tools I’ve been using. I also brought a couple Japanese kits I had, so I could give people a first-hand look at what these kits are like.

There were supposed to be 5 roundtable sessions, and each presenter was supposed to get a break and skip one of the sessions. However, not having done this before, I had no idea how I was going to find out which session I was going to skip, and by the time I figured it out, that session had already passed. So, I pretty much talked for 2-1/2 hours straight. It wasn’t so bad, though, and I worked hard to repeat my presentation as completely as possible 5 times.


Vendors and Models

As I mentioned, there wasn’t much activity in the vendor room, but there were vendors, and there were models, models and more models. I’m told there were about 50 in all. Some people had indicated that it was the largest number of models they’d seen at an NRG conference. I personally had three on display. I signed up to bring a fourth, but then discovered I couldn’t fit them all in my car.

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The vendors this year included Train Troll, with some neat new laser-cut kits and parts; Sherline, which showed off their lathe and mill; Douglas Brooks, who was selling signed copies of his book on Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding; BlueJacket, with a selection of their newest kit releases; and Ages of Sail, which not only set up three tables of ship model kits and fittings, but also set up a couple tables and a tool rack for Model Craft Tools.


Conference Glitches

At this point, I’m really tired. The conference was good, but there were some glitches, and I felt really bad for the vendors who spent a lot of money, time, and effort to come and support the conference. There was a problem in that the vendor room, and all the models on display, were on the 5th floor of the hotel, and all the discussions, lunches, presentations, meeting, were down on the first floor, past the lobby and the bar/restaurant area.

In past conferences, in between presentations and talks, there were short breaks. Not long, but long enough for people to wander quickly into the vendor room to look at goodies, maybe make a purchase, ask questions, etc., before the next event. But, with 10-minute breaks, and the  vendor room so far from the events, there was very little browsing and the vendor room was, for the most part, dead. There were some sales, but it was very disappointing to me, and disastrous for vendors. I spoke up several times about it to the organizers. Some tried to do what they could to steer people up to the vendor room, but I also got some big time push back that made me rethink my NRG conference participation.

It didn’t really affect me directly, but I feel it hurt people that I was trying to help – people who are my friends. Worst part, there was some attitude exhibited that was clearly disrespectful of the vendors and what they do for the NRG. I know everyone worked really hard to make the conference happen, and they deserve much credit. But, the vendors who participate make relatively little money from the NRG membership, and spend a lot of money to travel, bring product, and pay for accommodations, etc. They deserve better.

We’ll see how preparations come along for next year’s conference, which is in St. Petersburg, Florida. I’ve been talking with the organizers for that conference. They were the ones that tried to make things happen this year when I brought up issues, so I’m very hopeful.


Speakers at This Year’s Conference

I can’t say too much about the speakers at the conference since I was mostly in the vendor area and not able to attend of the talks but my own. Most of what I know is only what I’d heard. For the most part, I heard a lot of positives and only one real negative and that was about a talk by a non-NRG member that deliberately ran long.

Sadly, one of the speakers, Mr. Michel Mantin, who came to the conference from France, and who was kind enough to come up and introduce himself to me following my own talk, had to be hospitalized before his talk on Friday. Fortunately, his good friend Don Dressel (from the Ship Modelers’ Association of Fullerton) was there and went to the hospital with him, and reported back on Mr. Mantin’s condition. Last I heard, he was improving, but would need to remain in the hospital for a few days.

I have since notified a couple friends of his in France and in Japan to let them know what happened, and I’ll be checking with Don Dressel for an update.


Next Year, St. Petersburg, Florida


Speaking at the 2016 NRG Conference

Having been involved in Ship Modeling for more than 20 years, I’ve been a big admirer of the Nautical Research Guild and the work of its impressive membership. There have been so many great modelers involved in the Guild, I feel honored to be speaking together in a combined talk with boatbuilder Douglas Brooks at the opening talk of this year’s conference in San Diego. Douglas Brooks will be reprising his talk at last year’s conference on Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, while I’ll be adding the element of modeling them.


Douglas Brooks speaking at the 2015 NRG Conference in Mystic, CT.

Granted, my portion of the talk will the shorter segment. In the 15 minutes or so that I’ll have, I’ll only be able to scratch the surface of the subject, mostly talking about resources available to those who are interested in building a traditional Japanese boat. Pretty much, just enough to give folks a nudge toward attempting one.

The other part of my participation at the conference came as something of a surprise as I was told just last month that I was scheduled to do one of the round table sessions. These are 20-minute sessions that takes place simultaneously with 4 other sessions. People attend the session of their choice, and after 20 minutes, people then switch to another table. So, basically, I have a 20-minute demo, repeated a total of 4 times (with one 20-minute break).

Having no idea what I was expected to do, I’d considered a couple possibilities. The first thing that actually came to mind that I thought would work out, was to demo some of the details of paper modeling. Having completed only 1 paper model made it seem a bit odd, but I don’t think anyone else has done it, and I actually did have some interesting techniques to show.

But, talking with Kurt Van Dahm, the NRG Chairman, and others, it seemed that the idea was to give me more time to talk about modeling Japanese boats. So, I’ll be talking a mix of building Japanese kits and building from scratch. It seems a bit odd to me, as talking about kits seems a bit like a sales pitch. The only thing preventing it from being a complete conflict of interest, seeing as how I’ve done some work for Ages of Sail, is that Ages of Sail doesn’t currently carry any of the kits I’ll be talking about. And, my most highly recommended kit, the Tosa Wasen, will only be available direct from the manufacturer.

Bekabune model gifted to me from the Urayasu Museum.

Bekabune model given to me by the curator of the Urayasu Museum.

In any case, I’ll bring my in-progress Urayasu Bekabune models and a small supply of Japanese woods for people to sample themselves, giving them a chance to sand, cut and bend them. Show a couple in-progress kits, talk about how to read the Japanese language plans, etc. A 20-minute discussion should go by pretty quick, then repeat it three more times.

I really hope it won’t end up being the lamest NRG round table discussion in history, and people will find it interesting and useful. Wish me luck!

Bay Area Ship Modelers’ Group Build – Amati’s Swedish Gunboat

It’s not enough that I belong to two long-standing Bay Area ship model clubs, the Hyde Street Pier Model Shipwrights and the South Bay Model Shipwrights, but a couple years back, I got together with a couple local people I met on the ship modeling forums and we started a quarterly get-together that mostly meets at the Naval and Historical Museum in Vallejo, California.

Recently, a couple of us discussed the merits of having us all, or at least a group of us, working on the same kit, but each person with his own model. The idea was that we could better discuss techniques and problem solving if we were all dealing with the same issues at, more or less, the same time.

Being that physical location of the ship model store and distributor Ages of Sail is pretty local to all of us, we decided to go with an fairly simple, inexpensive kit they carry by Amati. Part of the decision was price based and availability of enough for all involved in the project. There were a couple ideas in the running, but we ended up agreeing to work on Amati’s Swedish Gunboat kit, sometimes listed in Italian as Cannoniera Svedese – 1775.

Amati's Swedish Gunboat kit

Amati’s Swedish Gunboat kit

It’s a fairly small model with single plank-on-bulkhead construction, simple armament, a light amount of rigging and sails. The completed model measures just under 14″ in length. Though it’s not actually listed anywhere, according to an email from Amati (and thanks to ship modeler Bill Bunderson for contacting them about it) the scale is roughly 1/50.

Here’s a peek at the components of the kit, which sells for $109 at Ages of Sail.

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Our group bought five of the kits and officially started construction and had our first build meeting just about 2 weeks ago.

Some interesting things about this kit is that it is single planked using beech wood strips. Also, you have to be really good at working with basic drawings as the one sheet of plans is all the instruction you get in the kit. As we’re discovering, if you’ve built ship models before, this seems to be pretty much a non-issue. Of course, it helps to be involved in a group build as you can discuss everything with other group members.


Looking at half the plans sheet

As for accuracy, there are a few small details that I’m questioning, like the mini capstan located immediately behind the foremast, but as we have been researching the subject on the Internet, much of the design seems to be fairly reasonable.

So far, I would say this is a neat kit of an interesting subject and is working out great as the subject of our group build. Also, the dynamics of everyone working on the same kit is definitely inspiring and I think we’re all learning something from the project.

For one thing, I learned how to create an online forum (it’s a private forum just for this group project) using tools available from my web hosting service, Godaddy.

In terms of history, I knew nothing about Sweden, her Archipelago fleet, her war with Russia, any of her naval engagements or, finally, anything about her gunboats. So, this has been quite enlightening. I don’t know how accurate this kit is. But, it’s been a fun and interesting build, and I’m really glad we decided to do this.

I’ll post updates as we go. Stay tuned!

Speaking at the Northern California Japanese Sword Club

On Sunday, June 19th, I was at the monthly meeting of the Northern California Japanese Sword Club as a guest speaker, talking about Japanese boats, their construction and history. Their meetings take place at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, which is located in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Now, I’m not a particularly comfortable speaker, but it’s something I’d like to be better at doing, and this seemed like a really good opportunity. Now, I’m no expert on the topic of Japanese boats, and even less so on their history. But, the subject is one that I’m very interested in, and have been spending a lot of time actively studying  this past year, so I wasn’t totally unprepared for it.

The speaking engagement came about as a direct result of my Japanese boat models displays that I set up in the window of the Union Bank Community Room in the Japan Center Mall. Their member who organizes the themes for each meeting saw the display and thought the club members would enjoy a talk on the subject.

In all honesty, I was a bit worried about what I could talk about that a group of sword collectors would want to hear about. My knowledge of Japanese history is limited, particularly about the early use of boats by warring armies or about the warships of the Sengoku period. But, I agreed to do it, with assurances from Tom that the group would enjoy the talk regardless.

I ended up delaying my participation for a bit to brush up on my Japanese history and did some intensive study on the development of Japanese boats. Most of the available material was in Japanese, so it took a bit of an effort. But, I managed a basic level of competency in the subject.

In the end, the talk went swimmingly, and I really had a great time talking to the club about Japanese boats. I started off by talking about the four models I brought and then using that to lead into how boats developed over time, how they were constructed, talked about how they were used in battle and about purpose-built war vessels.

It helped that I was really familiar with the meeting place, having met there on many occasions with my shamisen teach, who also happened to be in the room next door giving lessons, which we could hear during the meeting.

But, most importantly, the members of this group were some of the nicest people I’ve met. They were a very receptive, very appreciative, and a very supportive group. I couldn’t have asked for a better audience!

I can’t imagine how the next talk I give could go any better than this one, but at least I’m better prepared for it now. Ω

Spreading the Gospel: Ship Modeling Talk at Diablo Woodworkers Group

Giving presentations is not one of my strong skills, but it’s something I’d certainly like to be better at. This week is my chance to develop that skill a little, as I’ve agreed to do a ship modeling talk at the monthly meeting of the Diablo Woodworkers Club, just a few days from now.

One of my fellow members of the Hyde Street Pier Model Shipwrights group is a member of the woodworkers club and recommended me as a guest speaker, and they contacted me many months ago. They meet in Pleasant Hill, CA, just a few miles from where I live, so it should be logistically very easy. Now, I just have to finish organizing my slides.

To make things easy on myself, I’m mostly going to talk about my models and my experiences as a ship modeler, and use my projects to illustrated some of the aspects of wooden ship model building.

I’m also going to try to set aside the last portion of the talk to focus on my most recent area of interest, Japanese traditional boats. I think these folks will appreciate the full-sized art of Japanese boatbuilding, so I’ll introduce the work of Douglas Brooks and give a plug for his book. And, of course, for those who just want to try ship modeling, I will plug Ages of Sail, which is only about a 40-minutes away.

This isn’t my first ship modeling talk and, hopefully, it won’t be my last. I really wish I were more comfortable with this sort of thing. Perhaps I’m just in denial right now, but I don’t feel nervous about it at all… YET. The meeting is this Wednesday, February 10th, so I still have lots of time for panic to set it.

But, talking about a passion is a lot easier than trying to simply pass myself off as an expert on a subject. And, I am certainly passionate about ship modeling. In any case, I’ll be focussing on recruiting a ship modeler or two from the group, so I’ll be a man on a mission.

Wish me luck!

Back from the NRG Conference

This year’s Nautical Research Guild Conference was held in Mystic, Connecticut, and I managed to go through the aid of my ship modeler friend Jack Lindley and ship modeler distributor Ages of Sail. Jack let me bunk in the spare bed in his room and Ages of Sail flew me out there, so I just paid for basic registration and some expenses. Of course, I had to work much of the conference, which can be a drag. But, it’s better to work at the vendor table at the NRG conference than to miss the whole thing entirely.


Vendor room and model display

This year, I made sure to take some time out to make it to the talk on Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding by Douglas Brooks. If you’ve been on my blog site here, you’re probably already aware of his work and about his book on the subject, which came out only a few months ago. We’ve been in communication for more than a year and I’m the one who connected him with the conference organizers. We’ve been emailing back and forth a little about the content of the talk and what might be of interest to the attendees.


Japanese boat models brought by Douglas Brooks which were made by his teacher.

While the subject matter is very interesting, neither one of us was sure just how much ship modelers would be interested. But, the talk was very well received. It was truly fascinating and I heard many people telling Douglas that it was the best talk of the conference. In the end, it sounded like a very successful event for him, and he managed to sell quite a few books as well. He was even invited to give his talk to the Mystic Seaport staff the same afternoon.


Later on, he and I sat down for dinner and had a nice long chat. Turns out that we had to talk about being about the same age, having both lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, both being involved with the San Francisco Maritime National Park and having life connections in Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, and of course, both having experiences traveling to Japan, particularly rural Japan. He also had some revealing stories about being a westerner facing bias while trying to study and preserve disappearing Japanese craftsmanship. Some very interesting stuff that he mentions in his book.

Beyond this, the Conference was also attended by fellow ship modelers from the South Bay Model Shipwrights club of Los Altos, CA. It was nice to see their familiar faces there, though I felt bad not being able to spend more time with them. Between working the vendor table all day and trying to spend some time meeting up with people that I only see once a year, at most, I felt like I was ignoring my friends. Hopefully, they understand and spent time getting to know the many other people from around the country that were in attendance.

Finally, I had a nice, but embarrassing moment from the dinner banquet, as they announced the winners of the Photographic Ship Model Competition. The first thing that came up on the screen when they started talking about the winners was my Mary Taylor model. That was just a warm up handing me a blue ribbon, which many people get for their work. The next one was the actual award winner, my Privateer Lively model, which got me a bronze medal in the Journeyman category. This is the lowest of the six awards given in the competition, and I was very honored to receive it, particularly given the tremendous ship modeling skills of the competition and the members in attendance that night.


New York Pilot Schooner Mary Taylor, 1850. This is a scratch built plank-on-solid-hull model based primarily on plans from BlueJacket.

This is my model of the Private Armed Schooner Lively, 1813. It is a scratch-build based on kit plans from the old North River Scale Model company. Maybe I'll enter it finally this year.

This is my model of the Private Armed Schooner Lively, 1813. It is a scratch-build based on kit plans from the old North River Scale Model company. Winner of the Bronze Medal in the Journeyman category of this year’s NRG Photographic Ship Model Competition.

After recovering from awkwardly standing at the front, not really knowing how these things went, I finally wandered back to my seat with supportive congratulations from my South Bay friends and the folks at my table. Was nice. Awkward, but nice. And, while still in shock, I saw that Paul Reck, who heads our group, Hyde Street Pier Model Shipwrights in San Francisco, won the silver medal in the same category. So, we should have a nice celebratory meeting or two in November.

The Conference ended on Saturday and I came home on Sunday. It was a rotten flight set with two separate flight delays, losing my preferred seating assignment, and making back to SFO and hopping aboard the last BART train with literally 3 minutes to spare.

It was a great conference experience, but it’s good to be home and back to ship modeling! Ω

First Ship Modelers’ Meet-Up of the New Year

Well, it looks like it’s official. The next online forum ship modelers’ meet-up is schedule for January 3rd at 10 am. The location is again at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum. This must be about the group’s 5th get together and it is a growing bunch. The group is still small, but last month was our biggest meeting to date. I think we had some 8 people in attendance, two of whom were first timers there.

Maybe it helped that it was the birthday of one of our members and someone brought a cake. No birthdays this time, but we’ll likely have our usual fare of coffee and bagels. Plus, there are always lots of models at these meetings. In fact, the ratio of models to attendees is the highest I’ve seen in the whole San Francisco Bay Area since I moved up here back in 1999.


What’s a ship model meeting without ship models? Mamoli Royal Louis is in the background and Corel’s Wappen von Hamburg in the foreground.

There are kit models, scratch models and kit bashed models alike brought to our meetings.


New ship modeler Dave Wingate showing his progress on scratch building a lightning-class sail boat.

In addition to the models, there is always a lot of great discussion about the models and about ship model related topics. Plus good company with good people.

If you’re interested in joining us, post a comment with your contact information. Ω