Black Seas presents an intriguing modelling challenge for those wanting to do it ‘properly’, what with the complexities of the sails and rigging that need adding. Here at Wargames Illustrated we wondered how much of a challenge it was to build these ships, so we threw some new boxes at Project Manager James, probably the most experienced modeller and painter here, to see how he would get on. Over to James!
These two squadrons arrived on my desk in the Warlord Games Reinforcements boxes, so I was unsure of what to expect as I opened them up.
First was the Cutters Squadron. Inside are two bags of metal-cast ships and sails, along with cards and templates for gaming, a flag sheet, a ratline sheet, and a bobbin of black thread. The cutters are small vessels compared to other Black Seas options but these kits still pack a lot of detail and I can’t really fault the sculpt or casting quality.
Bomb Ketch Squadron
I was drawn to the other box, partly because it was bigger, but largely because the name – Bomb Ketch Squadron – was intriguing and strange to this landlubber. Until I learned more on Google it entered my head that bomb ketch would make an excellent bit of modern slang:
“Cor, look at that bloke, he’s well fit!”
“Fit doesn’t even come close, he’s better than fit, he’s bomb ketch!”
And with that stuck in my brain it became destined that I would build a Bomb Ketch of my own. Before I get into the trials and tribulations I faced when constructing a Black Seas boat, a little about the kits. These ships function in a similar way to a gunboats but instead of a cannon or carronade they are armed with mortars, with which they bombard fixed land positions. The makeup of the pack is similar to the Cutters, with relevant templates and extras, but while the masts are metal the ship itself is resin cast. Very nice it is too, showing detail of mortars sunk into the deck. The Bomb Ketch Squadron box also includes basic instructions too. Another reason I chose to build them.
On to the build!
I need to make it clear, before documenting my adventures at the hobby desk, that though I have decades of experience building models of differing types and scales, I’ve never taken on anything quite like this. The closest I have gotten was building and painting Games Workshop’s fantasy sea battles game Dreadfleet.
Black Seas is a far more realistic, detailed and intimidating prospect. I decided to time the progress of the build and make note of the things I did right and (more frequently, I fear) wrong!
There’s an intimidating array of ‘stuff’ in front of me but the first bit shouldn’t be too bad. There are quite a few supports on the masts but with a set of clippers and some careful knife work I’ve soon got them on the way to cleaned up. I used a file (not pictured) to smooth any remaining lines and after 11 minutes I was ready to start gluing parts in place.
Raising the masts
I dived into gluing the metal masts to the ship’s resin hull and excitement got the better of me. I put the rear mast on backwards but thankfully noticed almost instantly and could wiggle it back out. Phew! However, do take care to avoid silly mistakes like this. Trust me, you’ll find far sterner challenges later – there’s no excuse to mess things up now!
Hoisting some sails
This is where I am moving out of my comfort zone. There are various guides online that detail how to apply sails to your Black Seas boats but I didn’t look at them! I wanted to approach things with the minimum knowledge and see how I fared. I used a metal ruler and sharp knife to carefully cut the sails from the sheet and avoid making an error. If you’re making all three Bomb Ketch you don’t get any spare sails (or indeed flags and ratlines) so that’s something to keep in mind.
It’s vital to work out what way around the sails should go. There are darker ‘shade’ areas on each sail and you’ll need these to be recessed. In the second image here you can see me checking this, noticing that I need to flip the sail around, as when it billows forward the darker part would otherwise be on top.
To get the curvature on my sails I rolled them using a knife handle and a thinner paint brush for smaller sails. With this done I put them aside. I could no longer avoid the fearful task of rigging this boat!
This is the part that took me, and will probably take many others, well out of comfort zones. It’s important to mention that if I wasn’t doing this build for ‘science’ I’d certainly have painted the ship first. Having not applied paint I could be a little more… lets say free with the application of glue.
My basic technique was to:
- Cut a length of thread – be generous as the extra length will really help you out in tying, but not too generous, as you’ll get in a tangle.
- Make a loop in it, then hook that in place on the relevant mast and pull it tight.
- Make a blob of superglue on a piece of scrap, pick some of that glue up with an offcut of wood or plastic, and dab it over the thread. This will fix it in place.
- Wait for it to dry, then progress to the next point of attachment.
It’s worth noting that once the first bit is in place you’ll be able to create tension in the thread, which will allow you to wrap it around masts rather than necessarily make more knots. Try and keep things attached above the sails rather than below – it’ll save you a ton of bother when you do try to add the sails later!
There’s no denying that fixing the rigging in place is pretty stress inducing at first, especially when, while cleaning up lose ends, you manage to snip close enough to the end that it shears and you have to try again …
… But it’s a case of pushing on and persevering. It didn’t take too long for the rage and stress to change into something a little more zen – wrapping the thread, trying to keep calm, working methodically, it’s a whole new sort of hobby challenge and by about the 1 hour mark I was getting into it.
Problems you may encounter (i.e. problems that I did encounter!):
- As you apply more rigging you get in a muddle of thread – use tweezers! I didn’t at first but as soon as I did, to help me feed the threads through small loops, the ease increased.
- Try and wrap, then extend threads to go between multiple masts where possible. This drastically cuts down on trimming and restart time.
- You can add more tension in the rigging by slightly bending masts to suit. Take care that you don’t loosen the glue holding your masts in place with too much tension.
- Do not fix any sails yet! No matter how excited you might be, or how complete the rigging on that mast may look, or how curious you are about how it will look. Just don’t!
And on that note, with the rigging close to completion, I got ahead of myself and fixed a sail. Why? Well, I could see a thread of rigging was going to intercede slightly with the sail on the fore mast and wanted to make sure all would still work out.
I cut a thin slit down the sail’s centre, then glued it into place on the mast. Slicing through part of the sail is something you should try yourself if you need to fit it past rigging that goes too low. Gluing it on too early is not something to emulate!
The final lines and the sails
It was tricky to work out exactly what to do with the final rigging lines, even after checking the Warlord Games images. I eventually took my research to Google, checking out ‘Bomb Ketch rigging’ and eventually getting a grasp of the thread placement.
In order to fix them I would need to drill a hole in each side of the ship and then thread the rigging through. Eeep! It felt awkward and a little risky to do but I’d conquered so much by now that I pushed on. Drilling the hole with a pin drill that was slightly larger than the thread, I created holes to sit the last rigging lines in.
Now to fix the sails in place and… oh dear! By getting overexcited and gluing the topsail on first I’ve made it impossible to fix the mainsail where it should go. Another scary part – using clippers to remove the topsail and actually glue the sails in place logically!
I used tweezers to place them, especially handy for the jib, which is attached to rigging lines only. If you take care to put a thin line of glue across, and place it correctly, then lay the ship on its side, you’ll find it secures itself well.
Dare I say it, by this point I had started to fully enjoy myself. What had started out as a real slog was feeling very rewarding. This is a next level in care and realism on a model for me and seeing it taking shape grew increasingly satisfying.
With the clock at 1 hour and 42 minutes I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself. All done and … oh, wait, there are still flags and ratlines to go!
Finishing up with flags and ratlines
These each come on separate sheets. The flags are on paper and extremely easy to cut out. I used a modelling knife but you might even be better off with scissors. The ratlines come on a clear plastic sheet and take a bit more work. I removed them from the sheet in the same way as the sails.
Once removed I fixed the flags first, bending them in half and wrapping them around the relevant fixing masthead or line. Using tweezers can be helpful here. It’s best to use PVA glue rather than superglue. The later will show through the material of the flags slightly.
The last step was the ratlines. Maybe it was the adrenaline pumping through me for getting so close to the finish, but this was a proper pain! I bent the base of the ratlines to better curve around the side of the ship, then did a dry fit to see how they looked. They were too long, so I trimmed off some of the top and repeated the process. After a couple of gos I was ready to fix them in place. I used superglue but was careful to keep the amount minimal – I didn’t want to get ‘fogging’ on the clear plastic. Despite my best efforts I did a little. Again, it may be worth using PVA glue for these.
But, I was done and my little Bomb Ketch was looking… well, pretty fit. You could even say she was looking bomb ketch!
What started out as an experiment and evolved into a bit of an office joke (as I struggled with the build and moaned quite a lot about it) ended up a really rewarding experience for me. If I wasn’t already working on so many projects I might even be tempted to dive in and build a Black Seas fleet for myself!