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Apr 03, 2011, 10:40 PM
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kotori87's Avatar
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first time RC square-rigger, 1:96 scale USS Constitution

Hi all,

I am converting a 1:96 scale plastic USS Constitution for square-rigged RC sailing. I have never sailed an RC sailing ship before, but I have operated small full-size sailboats, and have extensive experience building RC combat warships (yes, the fighting kind). I've been researching RC and free-sailing square-riggers for years, and have finally begun construction of my own. This project is intended as a low-budget learning experience before I scratch-build a much larger sailing vessel and fully outfit it for RC warship combat.

A few features of this build:

Standoff scale: as a learning project, my goal is not museum-piece quality, but functionality. This ship will look good when standing 10 feet away, not when examined with a magnifying glass. I am also not specifically modeling the Constitution, so she'll be flying the Jolly Roger as either the Crimson Scourge or the Yellow Jellyfish.
rotating carbon fiber masts: since the original plastic masts were far too flimsy, I am replacing them with carbon fiber tube. To keep topweight down on this small model, I will rotate the entire masts, rather than having each spar move separately.
four-channel operation. One channel for rudder, one channel for the foremast, one channel for main and mizzen, and one reserved for port and starboard guns. Working guns will not be installed in this model, as it is too small, but I will plan my control scheme as though I have them.
foam-filled hull: since this is just a learning project and not a full combat ship, it does not need to be penetrable or sinkable. Once it is complete, I will fill the lower hull with foam to make sure it never sinks.
extended keel and oversize rudder: I have read that RC square-riggers don't work well if you stay perfectly scale, so I will be trying out a number of different combinations of keels and rudders to find out what works best.
4lb10oz displacement to scale waterline. About half of this will be lead on the bottom of the extended keel, for stability. Currently weight is about 1lb for hull, masts, and 3 standard-sized servos. I still need to add yards, sails, rigging, receiver, and battery.

At this point in time, the masts are almost done, and I am about to start on the yards. since I am a newcomer to RC sail, however, I do have a number of questions.

1) What material should I use for sails? I was thinking the material used to make kites would work well, but I have no idea where to get it. I was also considering cutting up some old (but still nice) white bedsheets, if I cannot find anything else.

2) How do I attach the sails to the yards? Keep in mind that I would like the option of removing sails on particularly windy days. Somehow, I don't think superglue is a good idea...

3) How important is it to control the fore-and-aft sails? I was planning to set these on shore rather than RC them, to avoid control overload in the middle of combat. If necessary, I can run all the square sails from one servo and the fore-and-aft from the other.

4) how strong of servos will I need to control the sails? I have seen photos of larger square-riggers using micro servos to control the sails, so I am hoping my cheapie HS-311 standard servos will do the job once I waterproof them.
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Apr 03, 2011, 11:04 PM
Registered User
Jpop Andrew's Avatar
Welcome Kotori. I'm doing a similar type build with my HMS Beagle, mounting the masts directly on servos to rotate the whole thing:

I'll start on the sails next week, so nice timing (for me) for your questions. I'll be looking forward to the answers from the experienced shipbuilders here, since this is my first model ship project.

Btw I plan to figure out how you guys do the bb guns and mount one up on my forecastle (to fire some kind of smoke/flour ball), so I'll probably be asking YOU questions in a few weeks.
Apr 03, 2011, 11:14 PM
SCALE Sailor
JerryTodd's Avatar
A quick note on sail material: Use synthetics. You can cut them with a hot knife which will seal the edges. You can make eyes in it with a hot point - all of which fore-go the need to sew 15 or so sails the size of handkerchiefs.

I've done two of these model - (a Constitution and a United States) both of which used a rod inside the kit's lower lasts to turn the lowest yard and had the sails pull the yards above them around.

There's some discussion of it here: around post 154 forward.

There's also a short thread here on someone's quick conversion of that kit to RC with some video of it sailing - a search on Revell Constitution should turn it up.

Good luck with your project - I hope you have fun with it. Remember - anyone can drive a power boat - it takes skill to sail.
Apr 04, 2011, 02:16 AM
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kotori87's Avatar
Thread OP
Thank you for the responses. I have been reading through all the wonderful builds on this forum, and soaking in the information.

Jerry, what sort of synthetics should I use, and where can I get them?
Apr 04, 2011, 06:43 AM
Damp and Dizzy member
Brooks's Avatar
1. f&a sails - it is possible and necessary to control your f&a sails. They act as steering sails, so if you want to tack and wear easily, they will need control. They can be controlled from the same servo as controls the square sails. See my Pamir or Aldebaran or BottleBaltimore threads for method.

2. I like Tyvek sails, rather than cloth. Cloth wrinkles bother me :-) I glue the Tyvek to the yard with medium CA. John Dowd, however, uses cloth and achieves wrinkleless beauty, see his posts over on Model Mayhem for technique.

3. I'm not a fan of turning the masts. Mechanically, I think you get into unnecessary problems; if you decide to use this method, be sure to use metal gear servos - slatting sails will likely strip nylon gears (which are not made for shock loads). Been there done that.

Swinging the yards with braces and servo arms, as on my ships, is easy, looks authentic, and works just fine. It is not necessary to swing all the yards, only 1 per mast. The rest of the yards will follow along since the foot of each sail is tied to the yard below. For more precise control, you can swing 2 yards per mast (off the same servo), but it's not required. You could swing all of them if you wanted more rigging authenticity aloft (but at the cost of increased maintenance).

4. I find it essential to reduce sail when the wind picks up. This can be accomplished by either furling in place (cloth sails only), or removing yards with their attached sails (cloth or Tyvek). I remove yards; it's easy to accomplish on the water. Some captains replace the yard with a dummy, sailless yard for appearance. I don't, and I've never had any adverse comments from bystanders - they are usually too awed to see an RC squarerigger at all :-). If someone did squawk, I'd just remind them that real squareriggers sent down gear (yards and topgallant masts) when approaching the Horn *grin*.

5. Since you mentioned research on freesailing squareriggers, I assume you've read Boyd's 1930's articles?

6. Welcome to the Squarerigger Club!

Last edited by Brooks; Apr 04, 2011 at 07:02 AM.
Apr 04, 2011, 07:03 AM
Damp and Dizzy member
Brooks's Avatar
I'd be interested in your technique for waterproofing servos, if you'd care to post it.
Apr 04, 2011, 03:15 PM
Registered User
kotori87's Avatar
Thread OP
Where can I get Tyvek for sails? Can I find it at a fabric store or similar, or do I need to order online?

Since this is a learner boat, I think I will try both rotating masts and rotating yards. I'm already set up to do rotating masts, so I will try that first. My local hobby shop doesn't stock enough carbon fiber tube to make the yards rotating, so it'll take a few once-a-week trips before I'm able to try that method.

And now, I'm off to the hardware store to get supplies for waterproofing servos. I'll post photos of the process this week.
Apr 04, 2011, 06:38 PM
Damp and Dizzy member
Brooks's Avatar
My Tyvek came from the left over roll from a building project. A lot is wasted because it has blue or red printing on it. If you went by a new housing subdivision, I bet you could get scrap for free just by asking. For a 1:100 scale boat, there will be plenty of white left (between the printing) that you could use for your sails; which is exactly what I have done for 1:100 Pamir.

As far as purchasing Tyvek, that seems to be a problem. Kite stores used to carry it, but they've gone to fabric mostly. Before dropping a wad of cash, be sure to investigate the exact kind of tyvek. There is a soft one, a perforated one, and the hard variety (house wrap) that I use. Dupont will sell you miles of it, but modelers don't need that quantity, of course. If you just want to experiment, grab a couple free Tyvek envelopes from the Post Office. The larger envelopes would provide enough white for a ship, possibly even enough for your vessel. Buy a couple stamps if you feel guilty :-)

You don't need carbon fiber for yards (or for masts). I use hardware store dowels, with screweyes for yard hangers. The masts are stationary, and the yards swing enough with brass screweye hangers.

If you proceed to squarerig combat, I'd think you want the cheapest functional rigging, which leaves out carbon fiber :-). Dowels can be repaired, too.

See Meatbomber's builds for more ideas, he's an exceptional modeler in planes and now boats :-).
Apr 04, 2011, 07:00 PM
SCALE Sailor
JerryTodd's Avatar
Go to an office supply place and get a box of Tyvek mailing envelopes - most are plain white with no markings.
Apr 05, 2011, 10:21 AM
meatbomber's Avatar
There is some printing speciality shops that carry large sheets of Tyvek "paper" in several weight gages used for outdoor banners and the like.. I used light for headsails and smaller sails like t'gallant and royals, and heavier for tops'ls and courses on Somers.
its great stuff, it can be printed and painted, with a bit of work one could just make a pattern of the sails with all required seams and paneling and then print it (infact i might try that on the next "smaller" ship i build )

Oh and i have the 1/96 Constitution at home for the same purpose and i have to say she is such a full hull, she is quite the same displacement and size as my USN Somers brig.
IŽd definitely go for the moving yards... have a look at my small bounty and St.Helena Brigantine threads, i hang the yards onto the masts with short lengths of pvc tube as bearings and a L-shaped piece of wire through the yard as axle. works very well and removes very quickly.

let us see more of your build !
greets from the sandbox (dubai)
Apr 05, 2011, 02:11 PM
Registered User
Jpop Andrew's Avatar

I decided to go with Supplex for my sails, which I just ordered from

You can see what they look like from JerryTodd's awesome Constitution build:
Apr 05, 2011, 03:21 PM
SCALE Sailor
JerryTodd's Avatar
Your main tops'l will be 10" wide and 7" tall. Not a great big sail. For what you stated you were after with this project - I'd go with light Tyvek. Cut it and you're pretty much done. You can conceivable glue it to the yards if you wanted to. It'll do the job, can still look pretty sharp, takes a LOT less work, and it's cheap.

As Brooks and Meatbomber point out - I don't think turning the masts is the best way to go. It makes attaching the stays you'll need to support the masts a pain. Working braces in the "parallelogram" fashion is simpler to build and maintain. I know if I ever get to RCing the United Stated I have, that's how it'll get done.
The neat trick is to use fishing line which is almost invisible, to brace the yards and you can rig fake braces just for looks.
Apr 05, 2011, 03:35 PM
Registered User
Jpop Andrew's Avatar

You might want to keep in mind that JerryTodd, Brooks and Meatbomber have been doing this for a long time, so I'd HIGHLY recommend you take their advice if you're still undecided. I'm doing my entirely-unproven-and-likely-to-fail mast rotation because from my inexperienced view it seemed the easier way for me to do it.
Last edited by Jpop Andrew; Apr 05, 2011 at 03:41 PM.
Apr 05, 2011, 04:13 PM
Registered User
DanL's Avatar

Attaching sail to yards

Hot glue.
Get a mini-gun that lays down a thin bead.
Can be used on tyvek and supplex.

Why? It is superfast to apply and set, a small heat gun can be used to remelt it for any re-adjustment and it can be removed by peeling it off.

I've started to use it for a lot of stuff and really like the features of speed, strength and removeability.
Apr 05, 2011, 06:53 PM
Damp and Dizzy member
Brooks's Avatar
Hot glue, neat, thanks DanL. I like the remelt/readjustment capability, and will have to get one.

Kotori, if you want to see a master at work, read DanL's threads. A working museum-quality model, very cool.

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