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Drumming of Daybreak

  • Victorychristies
"MSW Crewmate John Reid (dolly15) shares a 25 year long saga of a modelbuild, in this MSW Feature Build Story!"

the idea...
September 1805, Portsmouth Harbour, H.M.S. Victory is undergoing a refit in preparation for her rendez-vous with history on October 5th that same year.

It is dawn and the Drumming of Daybreak ceremony is underway. Having seen, as the saying goes in the Royal Navy, “a grey goose at a mile”, the marine has just finished his constant drumming and the cannon is being fired. On the poop deck the Red Ensign is soon to be raised. Meanwhile the officer astride the bowsprit at the cap, with telescope in hand is surveying the horizon for enemy ships. It is common practice in the Royal Navy, at dawn, in harbour, under bare poles, when very vulnerable to enemy attack, that all hands be at their battle stations with guns run out. When the all clear is given, normal ship’s routine can begin.

evolution of the model, from kit to ALMOST scratchbuit!
I bought the Sergal Kit of Victory in March 1976, with the intention of building it out of the box. However, upon opening the box the first thing I discovered was an instruction booklet that was so poorly translated into English from Italian that it was almost unreadable. A very ominous sign of things to come. Reviewing the plans I soon realized, even at this novice stage, that the information provided was totally inadequate. Luckily I had noticed at the Hobby Shop that there was a copy of the book “The Anatomy of Nelson’s Ships” by Nepean Longridge. When I opened the book, to my amazement, I found myself in information overload. I threw out the kit plans and decided then and there that the first thing I would require would be a good nautical dictionary. And so began what I can only describe as my long 25 year journey from diorama modeling 101 to PHD (self awarded, of course!).


I took some preliminary measurements from Longridge’s plans and decided that the plywood bulkheads, etc., would join the booklet and plans in the local dumpster. I made my own in 1/72 scale.

After much cutting, fitting and shaping of the basic structure, I was at the planking stage. It was around this time that I decided to keep an hour-by-hour, day-by-day, year-by-year, decade-by-decade, logbook of the building process. I used the kit supplied basswood strips for the first layer of planking from the waterline to the keel. I then took two part epoxy glue and fiberglass cloth and coated the interior of the hull about ¼” thick. Two purposes were served here, one to add strength and weight to the hull and second to provide an excellent base for the copper nails and bamboo dowels yet to come. I continued the planking now above the waterline, deck by deck, coating the interior with two-part epoxy mix. The first layer of planking finished, I now measured off the gun port openings and started cutting in.

It was during this planking process that I noted an important fact in this ship’s design. The decklines intersect the hull’s shear line and the gun ports actually cut through the wales at many points on the hull. I presume that this was the shipwright sacrificing strength for beauty. Unfortunately, the real ship was then painted “Nelson fashion” parallel with the waterline (Go figure!).

With the gun ports cut in, the model was now ready for the second layer of planking using walnut strips, both glued and doweled (trunneled) to the basswood hull. It was at this point that I made a novice mistake by deciding not to use anchor stock planking for the wales. I guess I was still in rush mode (as though a few extra hours would make any difference) and decided to use fine-grained oak strips for the wales. The contrast in woods is nice but to my everlasting regret, why is it not anchor stock? Oh well, live and learn, as they say.

I made trunnels out of bamboo strips, which I drew through a drawplate (I actually used a drill gauge). After much cursing and swearing, sore fingers and worn out cloth and rubber gloves, I managed to create enough dowel for the hull. I used the shipwright’s rule of “room and space between butts” throughout the model. Building time to date, April 1978, 650 hours.


Much has been written about copper sheathing so I won’t repeat it here. However, where I am a little different from the norm is the weathering and fastening of the individual copper plates. To weather the plates I took a butane lighter and heated them red-hot and immediately quenched them in cold water, which crazed the surface into many different shades of copper colour. I then glued them on, and here is the fun part, I made each nail out of number 22 gauge copper wire. I cut the wire to length about ¼” and sanded off each end. I then drilled 15 holes in each place through the two layers of planking into the epoxy beneath. Now it’s January 1979, and I’m almost 1100 hours into the project.


The decks were planked with walnut strips, selected for their contrasting colour and trunneled on to the plywood decks in the two and three step method. The hull was walnut planked up to the poop deck level after all the furnishings, cannons, gratings, and officers’ quarters under the poop deck, etc., were installed. A lot of so-called modeling for “God” went on under the poop deck as most of it can only be seen with great difficulty (and a strong light), and some of it not at all.

I next tackled the head, waist, quarter and stern galleries. It is now September 1980, 2500 hours, and I am just starting to work the channels and their deadeye fittings.

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About the Author

About JohnReid (dolly15)


HMS Victory is without a doubt one of those iconic ships that will live for the ages. Thank you SO much for sharing your Victory with us.
OCT 20, 2008 - 10:56 AM
A beautiful ship, a beautiful model and a great story. Thanks for sharing Cheers/Jan
OCT 20, 2008 - 11:10 PM
Dear John, an absolute, astonishing MASTERWORK. Cheers, Stefano
OCT 27, 2008 - 06:15 AM