Imai 1/350 La Esmerelda

KIT #: ?
PRICE: $Out of Production
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Len Roberto


Esmeralda (BE-43) is a steel-hulled four-masted barquentine tall ship of the Chilean Navy and currently the second tallest and longest sailing ship in the world.

The ship is the sixth to carry the name Esmeralda. The first was frigate Esmeralda captured from the Spanish at Callao, Peru by Admiral Lord Thomas Alexander Cochrane of the Chilean Navy, in a bold incursion on the night of 5 November 1820. The second was corvette Esmeralda of the Chilean Navy which, set against superior forces, fought until sunk with colors flying on May 21, 1879 at the Battle of Iquique. These events mark important milestones for the Chilean Navy and the ship's name is said to evoke the values of courage and sacrifice.

She began construction in Cadiz, Spain in 1946 intended to become national school ship of Spain. During her construction in 1947 the yard in which she was being built suffered catastrophic explosions, which damaged the ship and placed the yard on the brink of bankruptcy. Further work on the ship was temporarily halted. In 1950 Chile and Spain entered into negotiations in which Spain offered to repay debts incurred to Chile as a result of the Spanish Civil War in the form of manufactured products, including the not yet completed Esmeralda. Chile accepted the offer and the ship was formally transferred to the ownership of Chile in 1951. Work then continued on the ship. She was finally launched 12 May 1953 with an audience of 5,000 people in attendance. She was christened by Mrs. Raquel Vicuña de Orrego using a bottle wrapped in the national colors of Spain and Chile. She was delivered to the Government of Chile on 15 June 1954, Captain Horacio Cornejo Tagle in command.

Her first sailing was to the Canary Islands and then on to New Orleans where a distillation plant was installed. She then proceeded through the Panama Canal and arrived at Valparaíso, Chile on1 September 1954 to much fanfare.

Since her commissioning, Esmeralda has been a training ship for the Chilean Navy. She has visited more than 300 ports worldwide acting as a floating embassy for Chile. She has participated in Operation Sail at New York in 1964, 1976 and 1989. She participated in Osaka World Sail in 1983. She has also participated in International Regattas of Sails in 1964, 1976, 1982 and 1990 winning the coveted Cutty Sark Trophy in the latter two participations.

Reports from Amnesty International, US Senate and Chilean Truth and Reconciliation Commission described the ship as a kind of a floating jail-torture chamber for political prisoners of the Augusto Pinochet's military regime from 1973 to 1980. Probably over a hundred persons were kept there at times, and subjected to hideous treatment

General characteristics

Length: 113 meters

Beam: 13.11 meters

Maximum draught: 7 meters

Stanchion: 8.7 meters

Gunwhale height: 5.3 meters

Maximum displacement: 3,673 tons

Maximum engine speed: 13 knots

Maximum sail speed: 17.5 knots

Armament: 2 × 57 mm ceremonial gun mounts

Crew: 300 sailors, 90 midshipmen

Sails: 31 total with a sail area of 2,870 m², on four masts

Mast height: 48.5 meters


            The Japanese model company IMAI is now defunct, but in the late 1970’s they began producing 1/350 scale waterline models of all the vessels that took part in the Operation Sail 1976 cruises.  These models are exquisitely molded, are small enough to display the whole fleet in a small space, and are not difficult build.  You can find them on ebay every now and again for decent prices.

            The kit is waterline and includes 1 spool of rigging thread, paper flags, decals for the ship’s name and stern decoration, a color foldout painting guide and instruction sheet. (For a look at what is probably the same kit or one quite similar, visit this link. Ed)


            The kit poses no problems in construction.  The thing to watch out for is that most of the parts are very tiny- a good pair of tweezers is a must!  The first thing I did was brush paint the wood deck using Tamiya Buff and Deck Tan mixed together.  Nothing was airbrushed- all was done with brushes.

            After the deck was done- I added on all the bits that populate the ship’s deck.  One of the weird parts in construction is that the masts have to be glued into the deck BEFORE the deck is attached.  This allows you to rig the backstays easily using the precut holes.  Once these are in place and rigged- the one-piece deck is glued into the hull.  After the other bits are added around the deck- it was on to detail painting and rigging.


            Most of the ship is white with dark green accents here and there.  Also, some parts are black and others Mahogany and for this color I used a mix of browns.  Using a tiny brush I went around the model and painted the various bits as best I could.  For the various windows, I dipped in a thinned black and this worked well.  I also drilled out most of the portholes around the hull.  Masts called for sandy brown and me being the lazy modeler I am- I left them in the brown they were molded in.


            Obviously, a ship this size has a forest of rigging but in this size model- a foot long- I don’t have the skill to do any more than I did.  Also the rigging instructions are pretty useless- just one diagram and not much to go by.  I looked up picks and did what I thought was logical.  I had to dig into my pile of thread and used tan lines as well as black.  These little models are a good intro to rigging sailing ships- if nothing else than to get your hands used to manipulating the thread and making knots, etc. 


            I love these little models and the ships are just beautiful.  The plastic sailing ship model market is very small but these IMAI kits are jewels.  The molding looks like Tamiya did them and there are really no fit problems to be found.  I have a bunch more in the pile and pull one out every few months.  The only points of caution are the tiny parts and if you have never tried rigging-  it just takes patience and good tweezers! 


Author: Len Roberto

February 2007


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