1/60 Fast Naval Sloop

KIT #: ?
PRICE: $A lot
DECALS: options
REVIEWER: Greg Ewald
NOTES: Model Shipways “sultana” hull, the rest is scratch


The golden age of piracy. Wind torn canvas, and men of steel in ships of wood ! Yo Ho !  Tearing into merchant fleets and robbing them of their silver and gold !  Fighting hand to hand and always coming out on top.

Yeah, well the reality was rather gritty. More sailors died from scurvy or the “pox” than did in combat.  Even while combating dysentery, the myriad of fevers, and std’s…some still found time to actually fight in their warships.

Oh yes, we have all seen Cap’n Kidd and his band slaughter all sorts, but the truth is far uglier. Most of the pirates were teenagers (at best), and could barely fence with a foil, let alone a cutlass. Nope, the combat was mostly done in a gruesome fashion, with simple grenades and cannon shot.  Many of the smaller cannons did not even use balls, but just a mishmash of metal bits (horse nails, etc) launched into the enemy from damn near point blank range. Blood spilled all over the decks, and the marauders would jump aboard and spear or cut any man who opposed them.  I doubt they were wearing white blouses, unless they had just stripped them from the women they had raped.

The ships they used were anything they could find or steal or buy.  Some of the pirate “greats” used large ships, almost of the line…most preferred something that could be gotten in and out from shallow waters, and FAST.

The “fast sloop” was an incredible build of ship. It only drafted about ten feet or so, even when loaded, and could click along at a rapid 11 plus knots under full sail.  Oars were available for sculling into tight channels, or up rivers to meet up with scallywags, whores, and city delegates(Who were also often scallywags and whores).

With up to fourteen guns, this ship could slip up fast to it’s prey, and like the falcon of the sea it was, tear into the prey before they had a chance to know what was hitting them.  Of course, most of the time, a flag was flown that showed the ship to be of a piratical nature, and an agreement could be met between the two enemies…all to benefit the pirates, of course.  A black or red flag was the most common, but many pirates chose to decorate theirs with skulls and crossbones and the like. The term “Jolly Roger” is often bandied about, and probably comes from the French term of “joli rouge” (pretty red).

The “fast sloop” was unusual in the size of its bowsprit…often the same length as the ship itself. This immense amount of canvas gave the small craft and incredible speed for its day, and was widely favoured by many of the worst of the pirates, including the notorious “black beard”.

The navy had the same idea, however, and tagged BB in an inlet with two sloops of their own, and in hand to hand/gun combat, the world’s most fearsome pirate was cut down. But not after killing quite a number of people. He had been drinking quite a lot of rum the night before, and it took five pistol shots, and 21 wounds to bring him to his death. Yo Ho, indeed.

This ship is fictional, and based on the tales of the “rum-runners” that scurried about the east coast, carrying untaxed cargo, and now and again seizing any quarry they could find.  “ A pirate's life for me !”  Nah, I think I will just build models. I’m 46, and too old to go sailing about and drinking rum. Well, maybe just a smidge?


 This whole project began a number of years ago in a ship group build…the wooden “Sultana” from Model Shipways.  There was no pink on it, and I quickly lost interest, and pushed it to the back of the stacks.  I do , however, love pirate stories (ask me what my favourite book is, I dare ya)  and when a friend gave me a book on pirate ships, and I saw the fast sloop, well…the kitten was out of the bag !

If you have never built a wooden kit, the Sultana is a good one to start on…it is much easier than some of the other “beginner” kits out there, and less apt to lead to frustration.

Most of this kit, other than the original hull and the metal fittings, was made from dowels, toothpicks, doll house furnishings, bits of scrap wood, and whatever else I could scrounge up. The sails are made from cotton tight weave that was found at a craft store.


  This was a loooooong project, so bear with me.  I looked over the instructions for the assembly of the Sultana, and shrugged “WTF?”  I mean, really? Really?  Good heavens, I could build a canoe and go out fishing in the same amount of time !  Then I came to my senses and realized that I live in the desert, and if I build a canoe, it would just be a waste. So I built this boat instead. Besides, it takes up less shelf space, right?

You can’t really scratchbuild much without a fair assortment of tools, unless you are a magical carpenter from…oh heck.  I used pretty much every thing I had on this one, to be honest…from the scrolling saw, the mortising press, the drill press, and everything I think Dremel ever invented.

The main hull was sanded down with a pointing sander, and bits removed that weren’t on the two schematics I could find of the Fast Sloop (FS from now on…hey, I have to type this s…stuff).  You are going to need to fill the wood with a putty of some sort, if you are going for the Italian look (au natural), you will need to find a suitable wood putty.  I painted mine, so I went with bondo…it dries fast, and sands well.

Once the hull was cut into something reasonable of shape, I glued on the keel that I had made from basswood. I like to use “gorilla glue” for these, it is a foaming polyester glue that sticks things like hookers on a politician. (there’s that reference again, huh?)

A wonderful tool for the scratchbuilder can be found at any local hardware store…the awesome contour gauge. It is basically a series of pins that you push into a stationary object, and then can replicate it in another media.

In this case, after putting on the keel and sanding it down to a rough shape, I used the contour gauge to make a platform for the ship out of some scrap lumber. This will serve as the “modeling bench” for the ship, and if all goes well, the base for it as a display.

The Hull:   There are a lot of options for the hull. Sanding it smooth, or planking it. Sorry, but  I took the coward’s route and sanded it down, filling as necessary.  Painting has to be ongoing on a sailing ship, so I finished the hull first, and let it cure. For about a year. Yeah, yeah, I know…I can be a slacker. We will get to the painting later. We have a lot of work to do !

The Deck:  I used basswood strips for the decking, gluing them down with ac glue and using small weights. You can also use pin nails, but I didn’t feel like spending the time on that.  The hold holes were mortised out with the drill press and a mortising bit (about 20 bucks at harbor freight, around 80 at home despot).  I did use the metal bits from Model Shipways for the grates, even though they are really inaccurate for the original scale of the ship…they suited my oddball size perfectly. The oar ports were cut into the sides, and the oars whittled from some pine stock I had floating around. Pardon the pun.

The railings were made from more basswood. (that’s good bass!) and mounts were made for the cannonades. I decided to drill out the holes for the mast at this time.  Note to self: always drill major stuff PRIOR to attaching the rails. The bitts were made from toothpicks from a grocery store, and glued into place in drilled holes as well. OK, now holes have been drilled, and the rails re-attached, we are ready for….

The Mast:  The FS’s had an extremely high mast, with a lot of sail to hold. I can’t imagine the cajones that those guys must have had to climb up that far. I used doweling for the main stem of the mast, and then chopsticks (courtesy of our local take out Chinese place) for the upper mast and crossmembers.

It was not uncommon for privateers to move the masts after a vessel had been acquired, so you can pick your location as you want.  I put mine where I figured the center of gravity would be, since it is a heavy sail that they rigged up.

All of these bits were painted as construction went along, the thought of masking all of this off would have given me a bigger headache than the main construction, which was already a headache. I did not glue the main mast in place until I had finally decided upon:

Placing the bowsprit:  The bowsprit on these sloops was often near to the same length as the ship itself !  Using a long dowel, I fitted the thing into an angled hole drilled in with a cordless drill. Yeah, freestyle baby !  Attaching a jiboom to the front was easy enough, with a piece of basswood for the striker plate. Yep, more chopsticks were used. It’s a good thing I like Chinese food.  We are now close to the rigging, but first:

Cannons and cannonades:  I used the cannonades from the metal pieces in the Sultana kit, but scratchbuilt the larger 9 pounders from wood. I just couldn’t find anything of the right size available, though I am sure they are out there somewhere, lurking where it is damp and dark…*chuckle*

The cannons were put on slides with wheels chocked at the back, and tied into place, as a rum runner would have had them. I am sure they would have probably had a piece of sheepskin condom placed over the end to prevent rusting from the seawater, but I had spent too much time drilling the darned things out, and wanted them to show off.  The cannonades were mounted on the railing posts, per the sketches that I could find of a FS. I managed to knock them off repeatedly during the lengthy installation of:

The Sails:  I was torn about what to use for the sails. I normally use vellum paper that is stained, but I really liked the rustic look of the ship, and wanted to use something a bit grainier…so I went with a very tightly woven cloth from a craft store, stained with the remnants of my coffee (I am trying to cut down, o.k.?) from that morning. The panel lines of the sail, after they had dried in the lovely phoenix sun, were drawn in with a 2B pencil, subtle enough, but still noticeable. Now came the fun part. The rigging. I run the lines I am going to be using through a chunk of  beeswax or the like (note: chapsticks make a wonderful alternative, and they are small…I like “Bert’s Bees” )

Rigging: Rigging changed on ships monthly, according to wind and weather. Mine is definitely not “fully rigged”, sorry, but after a while, a shelf sitter just gets to be too much. ( I know, Frank, you are probably flipping me off right now, dang perfectionist)  I went with a ship’s rigging that was most likely in port, with many of the main lines down.  I used the traditional dark line for the standing rigging, and a mocha for the running lines.  I made my own blocks and tackle, since this was out of scale for anything else available. I only drilled into my finger once during the process, which is something of a record for me. I figure the little bit of blood on the sails just makes it more authentic, right?

Making the ratlines was rather straightforward, I just made a simple jig with some finishing nails on a piece of scrap pine, and tied up the lines…gluing them as I went. Yeah, I know, they aren’t totally neat and perfect. Guess what? Neither were the real ones.

After you have the standing rigging attached, it is time to position your coffee soaked sails (you could use tea if you want, brits) and tie them off the assorted booms.  Then, using the lighter coloured thread, start stitching in the running rigging, tying off to the bitts as necessary. I like to just use a simple clove hitch, and a drop of white glue to hold them in place. 


I painted the hull in a primer white, that was then washed down with India ink watered down with alcohol. The rubbing kind, although I suppose you could use whiskey if you wanted to.  I then sprayed the draft in a copper (krylon rattlecan). Bear in mind, the painting took place during the construction, so bits and pieces were painted prior to final assembly !  The green was brush painted on, just as it would have been back in the day, and a few flecks here and there didn’t bother me at all. Yeah, I know, I know.

As far as markings went, I added none…a runner wouldn’t have used them at all. “Dead men tell no tales” and “If you don’t ask me a question,  I won’t tell you a lie”, right?


A long, but very fun project. It isn’t gorgeous, but I love it, and it makes me grin and sing the song below often.

If you haven’t tried a scratch build, do yourself a favour, and kick one up. You may have a problem going back to kits with instructions !




“The Pirates”  Time/Life books in the series “the seafarers”

Greg Ewald

April 2011

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