After two years of constructing ships in bottles and completing over 30 bottles, I realized that I had not yet built a model that relates a more direct association with where I grew up. I'm originally from Mathews, VA, just south of the Rappahanock River on the Chesapeake Bay. I've built many Chesapeake boats, but nothing that could identify the state of Virginia and the county of Mathews precisely.
Upon brainstorming for this model, I thought of old steamboats, oyster dredgers, large schooners, and buy boats of times passed. However, these boats were common to all areas of the Chesapeake and I could think of no boat typical of Mathews itself. Finally it occurred to me, that there was a ship which could symbolize the state and a lighthouse, which could stand as a link to my home town. This is how I came up with my state’s tall ship, the Schooner Virginia
passing the Wolf Trap Lighthouse, which sits on a shoal directly off of Mathews County.
The Schooner Virginia was commissioned by the Virginia Pilot Association and built in 1916 in Staten Island, New York. She was a knockabout schooner, which means, having no bowsprit, all sails could be handled on the deck, and it was therefore possible to handle her with a very short crew, which was ideal for her mission as a pilot boat in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. She was also used as a training vessel that had no auxiliary power at first and was only subsequently equipped with a 75 hp engine.
Photo taken at Opsail 2012 in Norfolk.
I am also finding there is no prettier item to add with your ship in bottle than a lighthouse. With this additional item, the scene becomes lively and can tell a story, displaying a typical event of passage, which was assuredly recorded in any captain's logbook. I myself have passed this lighthouse on multiple occasions, and with this structure as a reference, can nearly recall the exact weather we were having on the day.
As far as construction is concerned, the hull and its cabins are
carved of basswood. A thin tipped
drafting pen was used to mimic the deck seams and the masts were turned from
strips of yellow pine. All the deck fittings and the wheel are created from tiny watch pieces and sails are cut from archival calligraphy paper to avoid future deterioration or discoloration due to acid. The cove stripe on the hull is gold paint, and you can even read the hand painted name on its blue flame. Overall, the relationship between ship and lighthouse are as close to scale as possible at this miniature size.
The Lighthouse was built in three separate pieces: the lower base and deck, the main house, and the light tower, all of which were pre-assembled before inserting it into the bottle. It proved quite difficult to carve the octagonal shape of the house and roof as well as the cylindrical base from a square block of wood, but eventually it came to form. The railings are
made from wire and string, windows and doors are paper, and the light tower is a piece of plastic tube with a shard of glass glued inside to reflect and appear as the light.