Monday, July 7, 2014

Rehabilitating a Spanish Galleon

My love of pirates is evident in all parts of my life, and very often my friends are kind enough to bring me little presents to celebrate my passion… A pair of earrings featuring ships in full sail, skull-and-crossbones bookmarks, a Jack Sparrow Pez dispenser.

So it wasn’t terrible unusual when my best friend announced “I’ve bought you a boat! Every pirate ought to have her own ship!” She was terribly excited. It was a Spanish galleon. She had bought it at a garage sale for practically nothing. It needed a little work…

Then she dragged it into the house. It was a horror.

Most of my readers are probably too young to remember a decorating style called “Mediterranean.”  It mostly involved keeping the house as dim as possible, furnishing it with heavy, dark furniture, and using brass, burnt orange, dark red and gold colors. Most of the houses furnished in this style featured a statue of either a bullfighter, a conquistador, or a Spanish galleon. My new ship was one of these galleons.

That made it 40 years old, and it looked every day of it. It was covered with grime. It smelled bad. The sails were made out of some unknown substance, which was falling to bits, and which I had the feeling was giving me cancer as I looked at it.

But she was my best friend. And she was so excited. I accepted the ship with a smile, and promised to fix it up.

The first thing I did was to rip off all the decaying sails, and the second was to put the whole thing in the shower and give it a bath. When the water stopped running brown, I took it out, toweled it down, and re-attached all the bits that had fallen off. It had been put together with water-soluble glue. It now smelled considerably better.

The next step was to cover the thing with some paint. The colors burgundy and green were represented on my galleon, under a layer of walnut stain, and I liked them, so I tripped out to Michaels craft store, and bought red, green and gold craft paint (real ships often had golden trim), and went to work.

Part way through, I confronted the fact that the ship’s cannons were not only completely out of proportion with the rest of the boat, but would be underwater if the vessel were ever to go to sea. I cut, chiseled and pried them off, then spackled them over.

It wasn’t a good job. I’m no sculptor. Fortunately, history said that the lower part of the ship should be protected with a layer of tar. A thick coat of black paint covered a multitude of sins.

The ship now smelled just fine, and looked a lot better. It was time to re-rig.

Most of the rigging on the original ship had been done by someone with a great deal of imagination, a staple gun, and no understanding at all about how a ship is rigged. My own understanding of this art is limited, but at least I know that lines are not supposed to be tied off below the waterline.

I bought 2 skeins of floss, a skein of yarn, took a book on ship rigging out of the library, and set to work. The rigging took maybe 40 hours, and some of it involved sewing the tiny knots together. I had to take some liberties – there was no place to tie off the lines, so I pounded in a few tiny nails and used those.

 My dining room table. Cat for scale.

Intermingled with the lines, I began creating sails. The old ones were long gone, but I sew, so it wasn’t a terrible problem. Since I wanted the sails to belly out, I needed to stiffen the fabric. This was the hardest part… It took a lot of experimentation to figure out how to get an acceptable shape. (I ended up draping them over the plastic covering on a new roll of paper towels.)  Each sail had to be stiffened separately, and the waiting was agony. In the meantime, I sewed rigging.

Real Spanish Galleons were often named after saints, and the portraits of the saints were painted on their sterns. It was one of the very attractive features of the ships. Not being a painter, either, I simply printed out a picture of a Spanish icon from the period, and glued it on the stern of the ship. And now she has a name – after the saint in the picture.

Finally it all came together. The sails went on. The last of the rigging went into place. I trimmed off lingering ends of string. (And trimmed. And trimmed.) She had become magnificent.

So, now I present to you the Santa Catalina de Alejandría, Spanish Galleon.

1 comment:

  1. Ye did a beautiful job rigging that ship. Thanks for sharing her renewal.