It’s a Far Cry from Jutland

Two things.

Thing 1. I have been painting.

Thing  2. I have been playing Far Cry 4. A lot.

I’ll start with thing 1.

I based and started on five of the Cape St Vincent miniatures the other day and got a fair way into them. If you can’t quite remember, this is where I left them…

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But this is where it’s going to get complicated with the masts and (potentially) a lot of rigging. So I started off with one. One of the British first rates. I started by test fitting the masts and assembling the mizzen mast with it’s gaff sail. Then they were base coated, painted and glued into place. I wasn’t particularly happy with the colour of the canvas at first, but I’ve managed to end up with a tone tonight that I’m a lot more happy with. I also washed the decks (and I don’t mean in a bilge pump, scrub the decks kind of way) so they have a bit more depth. Tonight I’ve tidied up some of the details, painted the stern assembly (roughly) and painted the base (again roughly).

So after a couple of night’s work I’ve gone through these stages.

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It’s starting to look acceptable. I still want to lighten the hull a little bit, add some of the standing rigging and colours and then add some detail to the base. It’s a huge step from what we’ve been used to painting; the much smaller scale, much lower detail 1:3000 WW1 and WW2 ships for Victory at Sea. It took me a while to get into my stride with those as well though, and my more recent attempts have been to a much higher standard than the earlier ones. Below is the Regia Marina battleship Littorio I painted for one of the club’s members.

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So onto thing 2…

Far Cry 4.

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I had played some of the earlier Far Cry games, but I suppose they’ve really been on my “must complete” list since Far Cry 2. Far Cry 3 got a bad press for the main playable character, but I (and a lot of other people) thought it was amazing. It was a fully realised world with a cast of interesting characters, a good upgrade system, solid physics and a tough learning curve that meant you always had to try just that little bit harder.

Far Cry 4 takes what it’s predecessor had and turns the dials up to 11. I’ll admit I wasn’t that keen on promotional fluff for the game. The lead bad guy, Pagan Min struck me initially as a bit more of a cartoon character than anything else, but he’s seriously f**ked up. The weapons, the missions, the flora and fauna of the fictional Himalayan setting, Kyrat are so well produced that it’s very easy to lose yourself in for a few hours. So when I’ve been waiting for washes or basecoats to dry, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Here’s a little bit of gameplay I recorded last night. If you’re not familiar with the mechanic, the camera is used to tag targets so you know their locations for when things get shooty (or stabby, or grenadey, or molotov-cocktaily).

When things go right you feel like you’re invincible, but more than once I’ve been sneaking into position and JUST BEFORE TAKING THE FIRST SHOT – been attacked by a tiger, or an eagle. Or worst of all… A honey badger…

It’s good fun, it’ll make you think and question your in-game decisions and it can be played co-operatively.

Sonic Highways

I always planned to write a post about this, but for reasons which will become clear by the end, it has definitely bumped up my to-do list a little bit.

Dave Grohl is a man who has been a part of my life in a loose sense since I first heard Smells Like Teen Spirit on a crappy clock radio in my bedroom when I was 14. It was part of a broadcast on Radio One about the change that was happening in rock music at the time and was being played alongside (I think – we are talking over twenty years ago here) Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and the Stone Temple Pilots. I don’t think I understood then how much of a big change it was – I was still happily listening to Def Leppard, Metallica and Iron Maiden. Looking back on it now, the Seattle (and wider) grunge music and then the post-grunge bands have not just influenced music, but also the world in a lasting way.

I’d watched Dave Grohl’s film, Sound City, earlier this year and was impressed. It’s a good music documentary, but also a history documentary. The interviews were insightful, the description of that studio and the method of making a record there, the focus on the mixing desk and the fabric of the building was a bit of an eye opener. And the history of the studio – the range of music it had turned out over the years…

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So when a new TV show, Sonic Highways popped up on BBC iPlayer a few weeks ago with a picture of Dave Grohl plastered all over it, I was intrigued. Without doubt it has been made (in part) to promote the new Foo Fighters album and tour dates in 2015. I don’t really mind that. You get the show for free, you don’t have to pay for the record if you don’t like it. It does give people an easy way in, the songs are instantly a little familiar and there’s a connection with them lyrically. It’s like everyone is in on the secret a little bit. In part it is similar to the Sound City film, but rather than looking at one studio and the music that it influenced, it’s looking at 8 studios, in 8 cities, and ALL of the music that influenced them and that they went to on influence themselves.

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We’ve had 5 episodes so far featuring Chicago, Washington, Nashville, Austin and Los Angeles. In each city the Foo Fighters have set up in a studio, interviewed producers, promoters, artists, engineers, musicians, DJs, singers, family members and more and then written and performed a song in that place that reflects their experience of the city (whilst still making it sound like a Foo Fighters record). It has not, importantly, been focused on one particular type of music, although you could argue it is limited somewhat to the influences of the band themselves, but they have fairly wide ranging backgrounds as it turns out. We’ve seen the local histories of blues, country, punk, disco, rap, gospel and the history of BIG record labels and small homegrown, gluing their own record sleeves together, labels. It has shown studios in people’s houses that do everything a studio shouldn’t do, but still sound amazing. It’s covered people I’d heard of, people I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t and every episode has finished with the performance of the track that’s made its way onto the Sonic Highways album with a little local collaboration thrown in for good measure.

Out of watching the programme I’ve rediscovered music I had forgotten about or discovered music I hadn’t known about, probably the most interesting outcome has been the fact that I have changed my opinion on some music. I’m never going to be a country and western fan, it’s simply not music that resonates with me – and why should it? I’m from south east England, not Nashville. But I have a bit more appreciation for the people involved in that part of the industry now.

In particular it has introduced me to Austin City Limits and some of the recordings that had been made for that show over the years. I’ll only post one, Tom Waits, On the Nickel.

Tom Waits is one of those musicians / actors / poets who has been on the fringe of my awareness I suppose. But what a performer.

Anyway, it’ll probably be released on DVD and Bluray, but if you want to watch it (and I would strongly recommend it even if you’re not a fan of the Foo Fighters as it’s about music, not them) it is still currently on BBC iPlayer and there are more new episodes to come.

The reason this has all bumped up the to-do list is that my wife has got me and my step-son tickets to see them at Wembley Stadium next year.

SQUEEEEEEEEE!

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Cape St Vincent prep pt.4

I am having an unusual evening tonight (hence the witching hour post). The wife is at work overnight and I’m trying to find things to do to entertain myself.

There has been some film watching (Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker and How to Train Your Dragon 2 so far) and now TV watching (Outcasts – another sci-fi series that never made it to that all important second series) and it will probably finish up with some more Pile of Shame clearing as I work my way through Thief, but it has also involved painting.

IMG_5999I could have assembled some more, but I’m already building up a collection of small polythene bags with a collection of masts inside and I don’t want to overly complicate matters if I can help it… So I decided instead to start painting the five vessels I already had based with bowsprits fitted. There are two Royal Navy third rates and one first rate and two Spanish first rates – including the two flagships, Victory and Santisima Trinidad.

Below is a step by step, but in brief I started with a black base coat. The Royal Navy were then painted with XV-88 and the Spanish with Mournfang Brown which were then both drybrushed a slightly lighter shade. Decks were painted with Zamesi Desert and again highlighted. FInally hammock covers on the siderails and canvas were painted with Ulthuan Grey and then highlighted.

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The description and step by step photo is as much reference for me as it is for anyone else – I’m going to have to replicate this for another 53 ships in the next two and a half months, so it’s worth righting it down now (especially as they seem to be coming out ok).

They’re still pretty scrappy, and there’s a lot to do, but they seem to be taking the paint fairly well so far. The hulls need stern and bow assemblies painting, the decks need washing to darken the recesses and have the guns painted, the strakes on the Spanish vessels need to be black as do the water lines on all five. Then the mast can go on and finally they can be rigged – an unpleasant necessity. Oh, and then the bases need painting. Just like with 28mm infantry miniatures, painting the bases is normally left to last and it’s normally the thing that brings the model together. Bit too early for that at this stage though.

On the plus side these five models represent nearly 10% of the total we need to have prepared for the 14th February next year. There have been some noticeable casting faults, but nothing I’m going to scream and shout about for £3 a model.

And in other news…

I sold a Stormlord on eBay yesterday. It’s all packaged up and ready to be sent to its new owner in Bristol tomorrow and it has already funded the purchase of a new coat, a Christmas jumper (because the wearing of one is mandatory at a party we’ve been invited to) and a copy of Far Cry 4 – which I’m looking forward to immensely. I might list some more stuff on there at some point. It clears the shelves and makes a bit of money which can help to at least part fund my growing list of hobbies, so it’s normally worthwhile to have something on there.

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Pile of Shame

I have one, the kids have one each and if you’re a gamer, odds are you have one as well.

A Pile of Shame.

The ever growing stack of games you (for one reason or another) didn’t finish… And don’t think you can hide your shortcomings by selling or passing on the titles you “just never got around to finishing”, because the fact that you haven’t got that all important trophy or achievement for completing a game is still there for all to see.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was particularly annoying because I finished it on the normal difficulty and it didn’t give me the trophy for completing it. It didn’t give me the trophy when I completed the last level for the second time and sat through the end credits (that’s ten minutes of my life I’m never going to get back). I had to redo the whole campaign (on a harder difficulty setting just so I got the extra achievement for that as well…) before it eventually unlocked the trophy.

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Now there’s some games I’ll never finish, mainly because I’m now no longer able to due to them being on last generation (or earlier) formats, and I’m a bit gutted about some of them. Especially as for every game I lost interest in, there is probably an equal amount that I got stuck RIGHT AT THE END – and didn’t push myself to do the last little bit.

Mirror’s Edge, Killzone 2, Remember Me – all games on the previous generation that fall into that category. But I’m building up a list on the current gen consoles as well. So I thought I’d revisit them before the slew of festive releases bump the older games even further down my priority list than they are now. And I’ve started with Thief. It’s a good game, the story was good, the levels were cleverly designed, the character acting was solid – It just got taken out of the PS4 in preference for something else (I can’t remember what) and never made it back in. But it’s back in now and I’ve re-started it from the beginning. I’d got a fair way through the title, but as it’s been months since I played it, I thought I’d best start it all over rather than jump in two thirds of the way through and not remember how to actually play it.

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Then after Thief I’ve got Wolfenstein, Diablo, Bound by Flame and a few others to get through. Not to mention the games I haven’t even got yet – Assassin’s Creed Unity, Far Cry 4, Dragon Age Inquisition

Fair play, I do have a tendency to finish games I like, but you can’t exactly shout about completing a Call of Duty or Battlefield campaign when they only clock in at 5 hours… (and that’s on “hardened”). Tomb Raider was a good single player campaign, so was AC4: Black Flag, The Last of Us and loads more on previous gen.

So what’s on your pile of shame and what excuses are you using?

Cape St Vincent prep pt.3

Well it’s begun in earnest now. The ships are here, we know what we’ve got to do and the production line has started. And it’s started in really the only way it could, with the two flagships, HMS Victory and Santisima Trinidad.

In Britain we think of HMS Victory as the pinnacle of Age of Sail military hardware. 850 men, over 100 guns with an impressive record in major fleet actions. Santisima Trinidad makes her look like a dinghy.

Originally built with 112 guns, Santisima Trinidad was upgraded first to 130 guns and then to 140 as her quarterdeck was closed in, eventually making an unbroken fourth gun-deck (compared to Victory’s three gun decks). The only downside is the fact that she didn’t handle especially well. She was almost captured at Cape St Vincent and eventually surrendered at Trafalgar, but at the time she was the heaviest object afloat on the planet – 5000 tons (that’s twice the displacement of the Second World War Destroyer HMS Cavalier that I’ve posted about in the past). Anyway, thankfully I don’t have to work with these things in anything approaching full scale. These are 1:1200 scale (and I think a little on the small side compared to Langton’s miniatures – The Victory is certainly smaller).

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So I’ve got these ready for priming. Bowsprit and yards are attached as these should be easy enough to paint along with the rest of the hull, but I’m leaving the Fore, Main and Mizzen masts off until that’s done. One difference I have noticed with the NAVWAR miniatures compared to the Langton Miniatures is that the masts are much thinner and much flimsier on these. I’m not looking forward to rigging them, but I know I’m going to have to for two reasons… First, it makes them look better. Second, it does exactly what it did on the real ships – holds them together and gives them stability.

As you can see I’ve also based the ship’s boats (they can perform certain actions in the game, and they come with the miniatures, so it was a no brainer). As I have a lot of similar ships (well, identical as far as the models are concerned) I’ll try and make some look a little different with the addition of boats to the decks or hanging from davits as well.

So that’s one part of the prep today, another part has been a conversation with my mum. She attended the Jutland recreation in August and she’d obviously read my post about how we could make this one better. She came up with some good stuff. Mainly that we need some way of explaining to people what’s going on, a narrator or something like that… I’m still not sure what the answer is – but we’ve got three months to work it out. It was interesting because she’s looking at it from a non-gamer’s perspective, so I think there will be further conversations on the subject. One of the things we might need to do is simply stop calling it a recreation – it is a game, so maybe that’s what we should call it?

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And the third part of the prep is research. Some of it is easy, some not so easy. I picked up a book on Nelson. It covers his career including Cape St Vincent and Trafalgar (so it might come in handy in the future). So that was fairly easy. The not so easy is something I can’t seem to get a straight answer to… What colours should the ships be?

You’d think that’d be easy enough, after all HMS Victory is sat in a dry dock in Portsmouth, but that’s NOT the colour she was in 1797. She appears to have been a much lighter colour and wasn’t painted with either the chequerboard gunports (we’ve got Nelson to thank for those in the 1800s) or with black strakes (horizontal planks). She actually looked like this in the 1700s.

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The miniature, however, is modelled with strake detailing I would assume to make it easier to paint them – not needed for the year we’re looking at. Something I was expecting, but you might not is the fact that she is flying a red ensign in this painting rather than the modern white ensign. At this point the Royal Navy was split into separate fleets, Red, White and Blue (with Red being the senior) and the ensign flown showed which fleet the ship belonged to. Nowadays the white ensign is for the Royal Navy, the Red for the Merchant Navy and the Blue for things like certain yacht clubs or Royal Naval Reserve units.

It’s even harder to find reliable research material for the Spanish Vessels – there’s a huge amount of conflicting information out there. Anyone with a definitive answer, feel free to chip in at this point.

Why and How?

(Warning – this is a looooooooooooong post)

One of the problems we experienced with the Battle of Jutland recreation was that a lot of people simply didn’t understand it. How it worked, why we were doing it or how it was relevant. I think the gamers who attended got it, but we certainly had conversations with people who drifted in and out who it either took a bit of explanation or they walked out afterwards still thinking it was all a little, well, silly.

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From my point of view (and hopefully for the members of the club) it was worthwhile. We did engage people in conversation. We spoke to people who had families on the vessels who survived and to the families of the lost. Some of them even brought personal belongings in to show us. I think we put the battle in context, we illustrated how the prevailing tactics and technology at the time affected the outcome and we related it to the Chatham Division of the Royal Navy. One thing we didn’t do was glorify the battle or the conflict. We always knew that the losses on the tabletop would be more severe than those at sea simply because it was “a game” and there was no need to protect real ships or real people for the next battle or for the protection of a nation.

Anyway, we’re about to do it all again…

I’ve posted a couple of things about the Battle of Cape St Vincent already, but I don’t think I’ve properly explained the “why” or the “how”, so here goes.

First the “why”.

In 1797, the year of the Battle of Cape St Vincent, the Royal Navy had two distinct methods of acquiring vessels. First, they could purchase them – either built to specification by a commercial shipyard or as an already built vessel that was then fitted out for use by the Royal Navy. The second method was to have a vessel constructed in one of the six Royal Dockyards in existence in the 1700s. Those Royal Dockyards were Portsmouth, Woolwich, Deptford, Chatham, Sheerness and Plymouth (Devonport). If you’re not sure about the difference there, the Royal Dockyards were government funded facilities not private enterprises. Their construction, staffing and development were paid for by the crown and by Parliament and they were overseen by the Admiralty.

Ships also came in two broad varieties. Rated and Unrated. Rated ships were larger, heavier, purposebuilt ships of war, the most impressive of which were the First Rates like Victory and Second rates like Namur. The most common were the Third to Fifth Rate vessels, smaller, faster ships with good sailing characteristics that were still relatively well armed. Unrated ships were a mixture of Brigs, Sloops, Cutters and a whole host besides. If you’ve ever wondered where the term “first rate” comes from, well now you know.

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I’m aware I still haven’t got to the “why”, but trust me, I’m getting there.

Of the fifteen rated Royal Navy vessels at Cape St Vincent, nine were built in Royal Dockyards and of those five were built at Chatham. That’s more than half of them at only one of six Royal Dockyards. Only one was constructed at Portsmouth and the vast majority of the twenty two Royal Navy ships (including the unrated) were built in and around London and the south east of England.

HMS Victory is without doubt the most famous, iconic product of the Royal Dockyard Chatham. But she is just one of over 250 wooden sailing vessels that the Dockyard produced for the Royal Navy. The five Chatham built ships at Cape St Vincent, Victory, Prince George, Barfleur, Namur and Diadem were a small example of the work produced by Chatham over its 385 years of shipbuilding. At its peak it was a 400 acre site which employed and educated a huge number of the local population. It is an important site with an important heritage – as are the other Royal Dockyards.

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Next year is 250th anniversary of the launch of HMS Victory and The Historic Dockyard Chatham is holding an exhibition to celebrate the career of the ship – which is more than just the Battle of Trafalgar. The remains of HMS Namur, a second rate ship of the line, are still on the site of Chatham Dockyard to this day. They were discovered underneath the floor of an 18th century building in 1995 and a large project is currently underway to properly display and interpret the timbers.

So that’s part of the “why”, the ships. The second part is the battle and the state of the Royal Navy itself.

Just as Victory’s career was overshadowed by its accomplishments at Trafalgar, so too was the Battle of Cape St Vincent.

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The Battle happened near the start of the Anglo-Spanish War of 1796 – 1808 and was a part of the French Revolutionary Wars. The Spanish fleet was attempting to join a French fleet at Brest and the British needed to prevent that from happening. The Royal Navy was outnumbered and outgunned (but nowhere near as much as they would have been against a combined fleet) but turned the battle to their advantage largely in part to the leadership and tactical acumen of one man, Commodore Horatio Nelson onboard HMS Captain. And Commodore Nelson is one of the more interesting parts of the battle. He disobeyed orders (or if we’re being charitable we could say he had a rather loose interpretation of his orders) and closed with the Spanish vessels far quicker and more aggressively than the overall commander, Admiral Sir John Jervis wanted or expected. But Nelson was followed in his actions by other commanders, he even used one enemy vessel as a bridge to capture another (by moving troops across it from his own), he was wounded in battle and he was hailed as a hero afterwards.

If it had gone wrong, it would have been a court-martial and the true legend of Admiral Lord Nelson would never have come to pass.

So you might think then that the Royal Navy was in a good position generally in 1797, but this was also the year of the Spithead and Nore Mutinies. The mutinies may have started largely over disputes about pay and conditions, but by the time they reached demands for British Parliament to make peace with France and actually blockaded London, it was obviously an incredibly severe situation which ended with incredibly severe consequences for those leading the mutineers (30 of whom were hanged following the breakdown of the Nore Mutiny). This was a time when the country should have been pulling together in its conflict with France and Spain, but instead was pulling apart, all only eight years prior to Trafalgar.

It’s a pretty interesting year to look at.

So how are we going to do it?

Well, much the same way we did Jutland. With miniature ships on a table using some rules. And I think this is the bit we could have got better last time. We did involve people, but I think we could have done more. I’m not saying it was all our fault. People’s involvement depends on their level of understanding, of caring, of commitment. They had, after all, come for a day out, not to command what is essentially a toy boat on a painted table. And looking back at that sentence, it’s not even “command”, but rather “push a toy boat around”.

I get it. We as a group get it. But for some people that’s all it will be. That doesn’t mean they can’t learn something they didn’t know, find out more about stuff they already knew about or tell us some things we didn’t know. If we can start a conversation that makes them look at it differently, make people realise how important the place, the personalities, the ships, the battle and the year were… Well, as far as I’m concerned it’ll be worth it.

But the exact “how” this time is different to Jutland. We’re not using the fairly simple Victory at Sea rules, but the more complicated Trafalgar rules. And they need to be more complicated, the ships are more complicated. The rules take account of the different types of gun (Light cannon, Heavy cannon and Carronade), the different commanders, wind speed and direction, changeable weather, the difficulties of manoeuvring a 227 foot long, three and a half thousand ton monster that’s being pushed around by the wind and is made of wood, canvas and rope and filled with gunpowder… The ships this time around can collide, crews can board each other, become entangled with each other and so far in the play test games are very rarely sunk. They are more commonly reduced to ineffectiveness by virtue of losing their crew or being crippled (at which point they still present an obstacle as they drift around – potentially becoming a three and a half thousand ton battering ram).

Unlike with Jutland, the ships won’t be grouped into squadrons on one movement tray. Each individual ship will be able to move independently, and with varying success. Failed manoeuvres can lead to ships being becalmed, out of position or unprepared for that all important broadside. The game turns are quicker and simpler to a certain extent, so I’d like people to get involved more and I think it will look fairly impressive. The miniatures themselves are larger and more detailed than the 1:3000 dreadnoughts we were using for Jutland.

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With fewer vessels we can do more about each ship (or at least key ships) with any accompanying information and interpretation and I’d like to get out there a bit more and encourage local gamers and clubs to support the event. We’ve got some contacts and it’d be nice to see it appreciate a wider audience.

If there’s anyone out there in the Medway Towns or surrounding area who would like to help in any way, then give us a shout.

Cape St Vincent prep pt.2

Things are moving a bit quicker than I expected (not for the first time).

The order form for the 58 miniature ships was faxed over to NAVWAR on Friday 31st October, and when I came into work this morning on the 5th November there were these two boxes waiting for me at my desk.

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Exciting! (I have low standards of excitement).

When we were looking to order these, one of the problems we encountered was a lack of information regarding the quality of the 1:1200 NAVWAR miniatures. So, that’s one problem I can solve for others in the same boat (pun entirely intended).

They’re bloody good.

I know I said in the first post about the preparation for the Battle of Cape St Vincent that the Langton miniatures are gorgeous, but the NAVWAR ones are pretty impressive in their own right. To be fair I’ve only had a look at two so far, the Spanish first rate San Josef and the British third rate Bellerophon, but the quality is good. Where Langton’s tend to come with a separate stern piece, the NAVWAR miniatures are a one piece casting as far as the hull is concerned. Gunports, strakes and even deck planking is distinct and the masts and sails are all a lot better than I was expecting – bear in mind these are £3 each compared to around £10 for the Langton equivalent with white metal masts and sails (and you then pay extra if you want brass etch sails).

Have a look for yourself.

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So now I need to get cracking. I’ve got to get the plastic for the bases, the glue to hold the masts in (I’m thinking a two part resin would be better than bog standard superglue for these), primer and paint and then get a production line going. Hulls and masts are painted separately and then assembled and finally rigged.

Although there are only 58 models this time around, there’s still a lot to do…