The Susan Constant

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The Susan Constant

  • Greetings,

    Can it be possible to build a model of Susan Constant (from 1607 Virginia expedition) by modifying a Revell Mayflower ? (the smaller one)


    Don't surrender the ship !
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  • It really depends on what you're trying to do. 

    The Revell Mayflower is a scale model - a remarkably good one - of the Mayflower II, the modern replica that crossed the Atlantic in 1957 and is still on public exhibition at Plymouth, Massachusetts.  She was designed by William A. Baker, longtime Professor of Naval Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the most respected experts on seventeenth-century shipbuilding of his time - or since.  The replica vessel, so far as I know, is still regarded as a fine exercise in scholarship.  Mr. Baker did make one substantial concession to practicality:  he gave the ship about a foot of extra headroom between decks, for the convenience of modern tourists.  Otherwise the ship is, I think, pretty generally regarded as a reasonable interpretation of what the real Mayflower probably looked like.

    There have been two modern reconstructions of the Susan Constant.  The first was built for the 1957 celebration of the 350th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.  It was designed by a Virginia enthusiast named Robert Fee, with considerable help from a mural that the marine artist Griffin Bailey Coale had painted on one of the walls of the Virginia State House several years earlier.  (The state legislature stipulated that Fee's design had to match the painting.)  Shortly after that replica was launched it came under some pretty severe criticism from a number of experts - including, most notably, Mr. Baker.  It was never taken seriously by historic ship enthusiasts.  It rotted to pieces sometime in the late seventies or early eighties.

    The state then commissioned a replacement Susan Constant, and hired the well-known British expert Brian Lavery to draw the plans.  This time they did it right.  Mr. Lavery did a great deal of research on early-seventeenth-century merchant ships, and the ship he designed, though she doesn't look much like Mr. Coale's painting, is widely regarded as one of the best replica vessels around.  (Just don't lift the lid on the box-like structure at the break of the quarterdeck.  That's where the throttle lever and other controls for the diesel engine are located.) 

    I haven't been on board the Mayflower II for about 35 years, but I'm pretty familiar with the Susan Constant.  My students and I take a field trip to Jamestown Settlement State Park every November, and spend a fair amount of time on board her - and the replicas of the smaller Godspeed and Discovery.  A new replica of the Godspeed (the third) is currently under construction.  Recent research has established that the real ship was a little larger than the present replica - and the park is expecting a huge increase in visitation for the 400th anniversary in 2007.

    The most important thing for a modeler to remember about these replica vessels is that, though the scholarship that produced them is excellent, the researchers had to rely on a tiny amount of actual evidence.  As I recall, two facts about the Mayflower are known:  she was of 180 tons burthen and her rig included at least one topsail.  (One of the Pilgrim journals contains a reference to somebody falling overboard and saving himself by grabbing a topsail halyard that was trailing in the water.)  All we know about the Susan Constant is that, according to the records of the Virginia Company, she was of 120 tons burthen.  That's it.  Everything other feature of any replica of either ship, full-size or model, is based on inference and speculation.

    The Mayflower II and the replica Susan Constant look quite a bit different - as the original ships probably did.  But since both replicas are highly speculative, and the two original ships were just about the same size, I suppose if a modeler put the label  Susan Constant on a model built from the Revell Mayflower kit (and scraped the carved flower off the transom) nobody could prove the model was wrong.  (The Mayflower was noticeably larger, but the available information is so vague that oen could probably deal with that problem by saying the Susan Constant model is on a slightly larger scale.  I think the smaller Revell kit is on about 1/110 scale; if you said your model was on 1/96, it would be about the size of the Susan Constant.  Come to think of it, that would also solve the problem of the extra headroom between decks.)  The biggest problem probably would be that students and enthusiasts of American maritime history can recognize the shape of the Mayflower II from a mile away; such people would immediately realize what the modeler had done.  But most people probably wouldn't know the difference.

    Fortunately there are a couple of good sources on these two subjects.  Mr. Baker's The Mayflower and Other Colonial Vessels contains a set of plans, drawn with modelers in mind, for the Mayflower II.  (I strongly recommend those plans - especially the rigging diagram - to anybody undertaking the Revell kit.)  And Mr. Lavery has written The Colonial Merchantman Susan Constant, 1605, for the Conway Maritime Press's Anatomy of the Ship series.

    The replica vessels also have good websites.  For the Mayflower II:

    For the Susan Constant:

    Hope that helps a little.

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

  • Thank you very much professor ! your guidance is mind clearing like always. Well, I completed my SMS Seeadler and as a next project, I chose to build a three ship mini serie that shows the evolution of the full rigged ship. I chose the Zvezda Cog (it's a true gem) and the caravelle Nina for they are both relatively simple to build and accurate. Then I thinked a lot for a fine example of an early modern square rigged ship. Of course I could build the Mayflower herself, but I dislike the ship for some reasons and I would not have any pleasure while building it. The tale of Jamestown was always of great attraction to me and after seeing the movie The New World, I set up my mind for Susan Constant. That's why I asked my previous question. Again a thousand thanks, you gave me a well drawn road map for the project !

    best regards

    Don't surrender the ship !
  • JTilley has summed it up very well, as usual.  I don't know if I can be any use, but I used to work aboard Mayflower II in 1989-92, and was fortunate enough to be in her crew when she sailed for the first time in about 20 years (tho I am not a "real" sailor!). I've sailed on The Maryland Dove (smaller than MII but very similar!) and was aboard the new Endeavour in  1995 (150 years later than MII but still, very similar!).

    Good luck with the project.

    AMP - Accurate Model Parts Fabric Flags, AM Uboat Goodies & More
  • I scraped every visual source that I could find on the net for comparing Susan Constant and Mayflower. Professor Tilley is right, the two vessels' hull lines are very different. After preaching a lot about accuracy, I can't do such a grotesque attempt of "conversion" Smile [:)]. So I decided to go on with my Cog and Nina and wait for 2007. As you know, this will be the 4th centennial of the founding of jamestown and will be celebrated with lavish attractions, as internet says. So perhaps, some model company may produce a model of Susan Constant; or who knows, maybe of whole flotilla ! Revell did it in 1992 for Columbus fleet and in 1997 for Vasco da Gama's flagship San Gabriel. I will wait and and see.
    Don't surrender the ship !
  • Maybe somebody will do a Susan Constant kit for 2007, but I'm not betting on it.  The "new" Revell Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria that Revell released in 1992 were reissues of old Heller kits.  (Maybe the Santa Maria was the old, 1956 Revell one; I'm not sure.  But they certainly weren't new kits.)  The San Gabriel was issued by Revell Germany, and I've never seen it; I don't think it was ever released in the U.S. 

    It's often occurred to me that the plastic kit manufacturers are missing some opportunities these days when it comes to "tie-ins" with historical anniversaries and movies.  It seems to me that lots of people would have bought models of the Orca, from "Jaws," or the Andrea Gale, from "The Perfect Storm."  (Maybe the notorious licensing fee problem had something to do with it.)  It took an unbelievably long time for the plastic kit companies to figure out that a model of the Titanic would sell.  If one of them does produce a model of one of the Jamestown ships, I'll be forced to conclude that a rebirth of the plastic sailing ship kit is indeed under way.

    In the mean time, if you're interested in taking on a model from the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century you might try to find a Revell Golden Hind.  I have reservations about a few of its details  (I think the bulwarks are too thin, for instance), but it's one of the nicest kits the company ever made.  I would have no idea where to find one at this point, other than on e-bay, but it would be worth the chase.

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

  • jtilley makes a good point. I have always been surpised for example ( no pun intended ) that no one has ever come out with a model for HMS Surprise. The manufacturer wouldn't even have to MENTION Aubrey/Maturin or Patrick O'Brian and anybody who is into ships would know exactly what she represents. And reliable, historical plans are available for her, too. A shame.
    Gerard> WA State Current: 1/700 What-If Railgun Battlecruiser 1/700 Admiralty COURAGEOUS battlecruiser
  • I think the manufacturers have decided that the market for plastic sailing ship kits is simply so small that it might as well be ignored.  Maybe, from the financial standpoint, they're right.

    Every year for quite a few years now FSM has been doing polls to find out what kits serious modelers want to see.  Just how much interest the manufacturers have in those polls is hard to say, but they do seem to pay at least some attention.  The ship categories never generate as much enthusiasm as the others, but do get some responses.  Maybe somebody who's got a well-organized set of FSM handy can answer this question:  has the list of "most wanted" ship kits ever included a sailing vessel?  I doubt it.

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