George F. Campbell

The neophyte shipmodeller`s jackstay


Ship finishes were generally dull, tho a satin or egg'shell finish will be correct. Almost never was there a glossy surface of any extent. Colors ground in japan drier are very good for producing this satin finish. They are easy to handle, economical, and dry reasonably fast without hurrying the painting. There are fast drying paints (dope base) which are good, giving a flat finish, but which can be brought to a satin finish by additives.

In the 18th and early 19th century rich colors were known but too expensive for use in quantities. Hence ships tended to be drab in color — earth pigments giving yellows, oranges, dull reds and black. In addition, a tarry varnish would become black with exposure. The Royal Navy, for instance, would allot certain amounts of black and yellow paint, and varnish to finish a certain ship. If the captain wished to put on a show, additional colors, as for stern decorations, stripes, gilding etc., the cost came from his own pocket.

Bottom colors

From the 13th to 16th centuries it was common practice to cover the bottoms of ships up to the waterline with various mixes of preserving oils (such as turpentine), resin or pitch which would give a blackened appearance.

When ships started to make long tropical voyages they were found to be vulnerable to attacks from worms like the teredo and also to he- fouled by marine growth and barnacles. The earliest treat' ment against this was to cover the bottom with layers of tar, hair, tallow and sulphur and hold it in place with a sheathing of thin planking. One curious old book describes how the mighty floating castles of man, "breathing fire and smoke could be brought to nought by the work of tiny worms nibbling away so that the bottom did fall out". And as a cure advised the mixing of tar and sulphur with powdered glass, whereby the little rascals would digest the mixture and their entrails thus be torn asunder!

These efforts however, did not stop the fouling of' ships' bottoms with weeds and barnacles etc. which greatly reduced their speed. The first step was to paint the bottom sheathing with white lead paint and tallow, creamy in appearance when new and with slimy brownish streaks after immersion.

The Dutch established a white lead industry about 1620 and after this date white bottoms are fairly common especially in naval ships. Lead sheathing was applied spasmodically from Roman times onwards, but full copper sheathing came into fashion about 1783 after experiments a few years earlier.

Vessels not travelling to tropical seas would not be so likely to have copper bottoms — it was expensive