Best sailing ship kits?

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Best sailing ship kits?

  • My experience with sailing ships has so far been limited to Revell and Revell AG.

    I love building them but I go crazy with parts that won't fit (pins too fat,slots too narrow), missing holes, mis-labeled part numbers, instructions out of sequence,etc.etc.etc.

    Are there any manufacturers out there which make better quality kits? I'm willing to pay more if necessary.

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  • We've discussed this problem several times in the Forum.  If you scroll down the posts for two or three months you'll find references to lots of specific kits - and complaints about warped and/or ill-fitting parts come up pretty frequently.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that so many of the sailing ship kits currently on the market are so old.  Revell used to be the almost-undisputed leader in that phase of the hobby; the U.S. branch of the company hasn't released a genuinely new sailing ship kit since 1973.  (That's more than half the company's life.  Revell has been out of the sailing ship business longer than it was in it.)  The most recent Airfix sailing ships date from the very early eighties, and I believe (though I might be mistaken about this) the last new Heller sailing ship was H.M.S. Victory, which was released in about 1978.  The sailing ship line from Lindberg consists entirely of reissues.  A few of them appeared originally under the Lindberg label in the sixties, but most are old Pyro kits from the early fifties.  And so it goes.  Many of the problems with poorly-fitting and warped parts probably stem from the age of the molds - and the fact that the manufacturers take so little interest in them.

    Back in the seventies a Japanese company called Imai made a small range of sailing ship kits that were really nice.  In conjunction with the hoopla over the 1976 "Tall Ships" race, Imai made a series of waterline sail training ships on 1/350 scale.  They were simple kits, but generally well designed and reasonably accurate.  Shortly thereafter Imai started releasing bigger sailing ship kits.  They were on quite a few different scales, but generally between eighteen and thirty inches long.  The range included the U.S.S. Susquehanna, the French auxiliary steam-powered ship of the line Napoleon,  reconstructions of the Golden Hind and Santa Maria, the U.S.C.G.C. Eagle, the Cutty Sark, two enormous Japanese sail training ships, and several others that I've forgotten.  If I had to give the title "best" to a range of sailing ship kits, this probably would be it.  They were intended for relatively inexperienced modelers, but combined high-quality moldings, good fit, and better-than-reasonable accuracy.  (Any plastic sailing ship kit is bound to have some weaknesses in that regard.  Such things as blocks, deadeyes, and upper yards and masts just don't lend themselves to reproduction by injection molding.  But Imai always approached those problems intelligently, and did a pretty good job of solving them.)  I've said more than once in this Forum that the Imai 1/125 Cutty Sark is the most accurate rendition of that ship in kit form, plastic, wood, or otherwise.  I can't recall that anybody's disagreed with me on that point.

    Imai, unfortunately, went out of business about twenty years ago.  Some (probably most, actually) of the Imai sailing ships have reappeared over the years under the labels of other manufacturers.  Most of the 1/350 sail training ships are currently in the Academy catalog, and Aoshima recently has reissued the Cutty Sark, Napoleon, Susquehanna, and the Japanese training ships.  (Some of the others may be available in Aoshima boxes too.)  Unfortunately the Aoshima prices are pretty staggering.  And I haven't seen the inside of any of  the Aoshima boxes.  The old Imai kits were notable for, among other things, their unusually thick, precisely-formed and beautifully fitting hull halves.  Whether Aoshima has duplicated that technology I don't know.

    Plastic sailing ship modelers (all 25 or 30 of us) are watching with great interest the behavior of the Russian manufacturer Zvezda.  Most of its ship models so far have been re-releases of old Heller kits, but a month or two ago Zvezda released a 1/72 scale medieval cog.  That one really excited me - first, because the appearance of any new plastic sailing ship kit is a rare event, and second, because a cog is such a fine project for newcomers to the hobby.  I haven't seen the Zvezda cog in the flesh yet, but a couple of Forum members have reported that it's an excellent kit.

    I'm afraid this is a pretty depressing post.  There are a fair number of good kits out there.  The very best of the Revell, Airfix, and Heller ranges are outstanding products.  But that problem of aging molds does seem to be a real one. 

    Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  •  jim miller wrote:
    My experience with sailing ships has so far been limited to Revell and Revell AG.

    I love building them but I go crazy with parts that won't fit (pins too fat,slots too narrow), missing holes, mis-labeled part numbers, instructions out of sequence,etc.etc.etc.

    Are there any manufacturers out there which make better quality kits? I'm willing to pay more if necessary.

    I have built a model from just about all the plastic manufactures, and I cannot say that one is "better" in quality over the other for sailing ships.  This subject is a small one, and many of the molds are getting past their prime, so for fit, they all need some mechanical ability, thought, and patience to build.  The same goes with mis-labled part numbers and illedgible instructions.  Many of these kits have changed owners several times, many of the owners were from different countries and re-wrote their instructions in native languages and made / added parts to the kits and modified the molds, hence why part numbers and instructions do not always match.


  • Apart from1/96 and 1/100 ships of Revell and Heller already mentioned by Prof. Tilley, I think Revell's box scale sailers are all very well done, mostly accurate (I speak only of "original" ships, not the horribly inaccurate ones made by cosmetic changes on first edition hulls. Best example is the HMS Beagle). Heller's 1/150 scale ships are almost all perfect along with their small brittany fishing boats and 1/200 La Belle Poule frigate.
    Don't surrender the ship !
  • I will, of course, back jtilley's remarks about IMAI to the hilt - definitely the best in my view.  It's still surprisingly easy to obtain the range through eBay, especially the Santa Maria, Greek Warship, Roman Warship, Chinese Junk, Galeass and Nippon Maru (I'm talking about the large versions here).  Things like the Susquehanna and Cutty Sark are somewhat rarer, and the former is in big demand.  I found the Aoshima prices were not as bad as first feared but availability is more problemmatical.

    My experience with Revell was similar to Jim's, they're a bit cavalier about the basics at times.  Heller, I have sworn off altogether after the twisted and distorted mess I found in several boxes, a ship, a car and a helicopter.  It seems to me they make the parts too thin and possibly remove them from the moulds while still not fully set.



  • The problems you just described about Heller kits are what I found with the latest releases I bought from Revell and Airfix as well.  The last 1/96 Constitution I bought was almost like a vaccum form kit.  The flash was so thick I would have had to cut out most of the parts.  The same with an Airfix Wasa I had.  Needless to say, I sent them back and bought older releases second hand.

    I have a lot of old Heller kits, and although the spars are thin, they are nicely modled kits, but a new release of the Santa Maria I obtained at a hobby shop was really poor with flash and sink holes.

    Like I said earlier, we are plagued with really old, well used molds which are ancient compared with molds used in airplane, car, and armor kits.



  • Remember that Airfix kits are now produced at the Heller facility - 'nuff said!


  • For real accuracy you have to go wood. Model Shipways, Mantua, etc.
    Gerard> WA State Current: 1/700 What-If Railgun Battlecruiser 1/700 Admiralty COURAGEOUS battlecruiser
  •  scottrc wrote:

    Like I said earlier, we are plagued with really old, well used molds which are ancient compared with molds used in airplane, car, and armor kits.


    That must mean we are the best of the best when it comes to modeling!  Big Smile [:D]

    Robert And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Badge of Fame and/or Shame

  •  Glamdring wrote:

     scottrc wrote:

    Like I said earlier, we are plagued with really old, well used molds which are ancient compared with molds used in airplane, car, and armor kits.


    That must mean we are the best of the best when it comes to modeling!  Big Smile [:D]

    Aw shucks, we are just patient and are eager for challengeSmile [:)]


  • I concur with all the above posts - with one partial exception.  I can't agree that wood sailing ship kits are categorically more accurate than plastic ones.

    I've been a fan of Model Shipways for about forty years; that company has made some first-class products during that time.  Recent changes of ownership have changed the character of Model Shipways products somewhat, but they're still pretty good.  I have reservations about the design of several of them, but they all have the potential to be made into serious scale models.  I'm also enthusiastic about a couple of other wood kit companies, Bluejacket in the U.S. and Calder (aka Jotika) in England.  And the recent rebirth of the grand old American company A.J. Fisher is great news.

    The problem is that so much of the wood ship kit market is dominated by firms located in continental Europe - the ones that make plank-on-bulkhead kits with elaborate ornamentation.  I think it's safe to say that serious scale ship modelers in general have an extremely low opinion of companies like Corel, Artesania Latina, Mantua, Mamoli, etc.  Their kits do vary in quality quite a bit, but in general they're characterized by dubious (or non-existent) research, lousy plans, inferior materials, out-of-scale fittings, and irrational construction methods.  The models they produce do not, unless modified almost beyond recognition, meet any reasonable definition of the term "scale model."  In fact I've wondered more than once whether the people running those companies know what a scale ship model is.

    I've ranted about this subject elsewhere in the Forum, and I suspect the membership his tired of hearing my views on it.  If my opinions seem harsh, though, here's a link to an article that goes further:

    Dr. McDonald wrote that piece more than twenty years ago, but his comments, unfortunately, are just as valid today.  (One small exception:  the kits he identifies as Sergal are now sold under the Mantua label.)

    An excellent example of what he and I are talking about is the huge number of H.M.S. Victory kits on the market.  Just about every one of those continental p-o-b companies makes one; they cost hundreds of dollars, and are promoted as being "precise replicas" of the real ship.  But none of them makes any attempt to reproduce the pattern of the hull planking correctly.  The Heller and Revell plastic Victory kits do.  (I'm not sure about the 1/72 one from Calder - which by all accounts is a superb kit.)  I'm reliably informed that one of those continental Victory kits doesn't even have a steering wheel.

    There's no question that some wood kits are more accurate replicas of sailing vessels than some plastic kits.  I'll go further than that:  most of the plastic sailing ship kits on the market, in terms of scale fidelity, are junk.  But most of the wood sailing ship kits on the market are worse.

    Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • That's a pretty damning condemnation of the industry.  I don't have the experience to comment authoritatively but I don't doubt it's true for a moment.

    Why is that?  OK, some ships don't exist any more, such as Santa Maria, and the kits can only be based on what information is available or conjectured and that, to me, is acceptable.  But that doesn't explain the Victory kits, to take the most obvious example - the actual ship is sitting there, it can be walked through, measured, photographed, studied.   Cutty Sark, ditto.

    Perhaps they just don't care.


  • MJH's mention of the Cutty Sark reminds me of an amusing experience I had in a hobby shop in about 1978.  I had just bought the Imai Cutty Sark, and was oohing and aahing over the quality of it.  The shop proprietor said, "well, if you're interested in the Cutty Sark, wait till you see this."  He reached under the counter and, with a great flourish, produced a set of cast-metal trailboards, complete with "carved" detail, that had been made by one of those Italian companies.  They were out of proportion, the "carvings" only vaguely resembled the real thing, and they had what I can only describe as a generally chunky appearance utterly at odds with the ship's character.  The price - for just the trailboards - was in the neighborhood of $20.00 (1978 dollars, that is).  I offered the opinion that the trailboards in the Imai plastic kit looked far more realistic - and, for that matter, so did the ones in the Revell kit.  The hobby shop owner and several customers looked at me as though I'd come from some other planet.

    The interesting thing about this conversation was the venue.  It took place at Maritime Models of Greenwich.  Everybody present had walked past the real Cutty Sark in order to get there.

    I don't think there's any simple explanation for why those companies get away with what they're doing - and have been doing for several decades.  Apparently there's a considerable market for "ship models" that, as Charlie McDonald put it in his article, have that elaborate, cute, antique-ish look (or whatever it is), whether they bear any resemblance to real ships or not.  I suspect that the people running the companies indeed don't care.  (Why should they?  People are buying the things.)  And it's pretty obvious that they also don't know.

    All one has to do is read the descriptions of some of those kits on the Model Expo website to see that the people responsible have no idea what they're talking about.  I particularly like the one that's described as "Ben Franklin's Privateer!"  A paragraph of impressive-sounding prose explains that Benjamin Franklin bought this ship in 1795, while he was serving as American minister to France, and commissioned her as a privateer against the British during the Wars of the French Revolution.  Nice story - except that Franklin returned to the U.S. in 1785 and died in 1790, long before Britain and France went to war. 

    To each his (or her) own; if people want to spend their money and time buying and building those ... things ... it's not for me to argue.  What bothers me more than anything else about the situation, though, is that - as anybody who's ever worked in a hobby shop can tell you - those continental p-o-b kits drive far more people out of the hobby than they bring into it.  Anybody who sells such kits knows that the vast majority of them never get finished.  (Admittedly the vast of model kits in general never get finished - but continental European sailing ships are the worst offenders by far.)  Most of the innocent souls who buy them are beginners, and the poor materials, awful plans, and shoddy construction methods defeat them.  A person who's shelled out several hundred dollars for the privilege of having an experience like that is highly unlikely to become a repeat customer.

    I probably should emphasize again that generalities are always unfair - and I certainly don't pretend to have looked at every kit produced by any of those companies.  But when people ask me for suggestions on how to get into ship modeling, I always say:  if your primary interest is in historical accuracy, get a good plastic kit.  (Preferably a small ship on a large scale - though at the moment few plastic kits meet those criteria.)  If your primary interest lies in working with wood, buy something from either Calder (if you can afford it), Model Shipways, A.J. Fisher, or Bluejacket.  But stay away from those continental companies.

    Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Well, yes... I shouldn't have mentioned Mantua, sorry. Mamoli, maybe ( I have been working on and off on their Puritan America's Cup Defender and it seems pretty good). Calder, definitely. Model Shipways, still, aside from abortions like that Ben Franklin Privateer. But you can go to the bank on anything touched by Lankford, Ronnenberg, etc.
    Gerard> WA State Current: 1/700 What-If Railgun Battlecruiser 1/700 Admiralty COURAGEOUS battlecruiser
  • I need to make a clarification.  Model Expo owns Model Shipways (or maybe it's the other way around), but Model Expo also sells the products of several other companies.  That "Ben Franklin Privateer" is not a Model Shipways kit; it's made by Mamoli.  Here's the link:

    Under "Featured Kit Manufacturers," click on "C. Mamoli," than on "Black Prince."

    Mamoli, in addition to not bothering to look up the lifespan of Ben Franklin, apparently doesn't know when the American Revolution took place.  The description doesn't look quite as silly if we replace "1795" with "1779."  Here's a footnote from Nathan Miller's history of the American Revolution at sea, Sea of Glory (p. 368):  "[Benjamin Franklin] quietly commissioned three small cutters - the Black Prince, Black Princess, and Fearnot - as privateers and gave them the mission of capturing British seamen to be exhanged for hapless Americans held in Forton and Old Mill Prisons.  The cutters were active for about a year, from mid-1779 to mid-1780 - and captured 114 enemy vessels...."  So a vessel named Black Prince was in fact associated with Ben Franklin.  I haven't done any research on the subject (it's told in detail in the book Ben Franklin's Privateers, by William Bell Clark), but I question whether that Mamoli kit bears any resemblance to the real vessel.  The kit looks like an early-nineteenth-century Baltimore clipper-schooner, not an eighteenth-century cutter.

    Early in this thread Kapudan referred to one of the most disreputable stunts ever perpetrated by a plastic kit manufacturer:  Revell's alleged H.M.S. Beagle.  It's nothing more or less than a slightly-modified reissue of the same company's H.M.S. Bounty.  (In reality those two ships resembled each other only in that each of them had a hull, a deck, and three masts.)  The Mamoli catalog also contains an H.M.S. Beagle - and it's ludicrously obvious that it's a copy of the Revell kit.  Mamoli's "research" consisted of buying a Revell "Beagle" and copying it.  (There's just no way that two manufacturers could think up such a scam independently.)  The only question is:  did the people at Mamoli know how little resemblance the Revell kit bore to the real Beagle?  Maybe not.

    The Bounty and the Beagle existed about 40 years apart.  I find myself wondering:  what would happen if a model airplane company modified a few pieces of its B-17 kit and sold it as a B-47?  (Hey, man - they're both airplanes, they're both bombers, they're both American, and most folks won't know the difference.)

    I'm not in a position to condemn all Mamoli products.  I'm sure they vary greatly in quality, as all manufacturers' do.  The Puritan may be fine; the picture of it on the Model Expo site certainly looks better than either the privateer or the "Beagle."  And I agree completely about the kits designed by Erik Ronnberg and Ben Lankford - two of the very best.  Mr. Lankford's book, How To Build First-Rate Ship Models From Kits, is a fine introduction to the hobby.  It's especially interesting to see how he deals with the issue of continental p-o-b kits - in a book published and distributed by Model Expo.

    Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.