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Nautical Tips

” When in danger or in doubt, Slow down, Stop, or go about”

I couldn’t help but remember this rhyme that my Father taught me when I was learning to drive and, of course, sailing model yachts. It’s very sensible advice and has served me well through life. The strange thing is, I cant find the actual quote on Google. It’s actually not really appropriate at all for this blog entry but when I came up with the title, the rhyme instantly came to mind!

The idea of this blog was to collect a few ideas that I have used whilst building my Medieval fleet and to follow up my last Blog, building the Sarissa Precision Cog. I am sure that the ideas are not at all unique and as usual, in the main, I have ‘borrowed’ them from other modellers but I thought it useful to gather them all together.


It seems strange to be painting MDF and Balsa to look like wood when it is in effect, wood but when it comes to models, we are trying to recreate how a much larger original would look. It is also a case that there are different materials being used and the idea to to make them look like one consistent method has been used to build them. I usually prime the completed models with either a matt black or brown army painter primer. This is done as much to seal the wood, balsa or greyboard so that it doesn’t absorb the subsequent coats of paint.

A galley and Cog, both painted as detailed below

Once primed, I start with a coat of Chocolate brown 70872. I will give the model a thorough coat of this colour, ensuring that as much as possible, everything is covered. Once this coat is dry, I will then apply a coat of Flat brown 70982. This is done fairly quickly and I am not too concerned if I miss some of the corners and crevices on the model, leaving the Chocolate brown as a ‘shade’. Again, I will let this coat dry before moving onto applying a coat of Flat earth 70983. This is applied as a ‘wet brush coat’ and it doesn’t matter if you miss some of the nooks and crannies on the model. I follow with another light wet brush of Orange brown 70981. I should mention that using a flat brush rather the the normal round brush helps to give a ‘wood grain effect. The idea of the ‘wet brush’ is to allow the two coat to blend in places and it will begin to build a nice light colour on the raised areas. It’s worth letting this coat dry to the touch dry stage before moving onto the final coat of Yellow Ochre 70913. This is applied as a light dry brush to bring out the details and give a crisp edge to planks etc. You can apply another highlight if you think it’s appropriate. Vallejo Basic Skin Tone 70815 actually works quite well or even 70986 Deck Tan, according to your preference. This should just be a very light dry brush on the tips of any detail.

As well as working on ships, this is also a good recipe for painting wood generally – I use it on my wagons. Here is a link to another project, showing a step by step guide:



I made my sails from an old bed sheet that I had been using as a dust sheet for decorating. To give the impression of panels, I asked a friend to run a line of stitching down the sails. The next challenge was to figure out how to transfer a design onto the sails. My freehand painting would never have been good enough. I then remembered how I used to trace designs as a child. I simply printed of the image that I wanted from the internet, having resized it. I then taped this to my patio window and then taped the sail over the top. It was easy to see the design through the sail and then to trace over it with a pencil. The picture below shows the process.

Design taped to the window and sail taped over – you can see how easy it is to trace the image onto the sail.

The next challenge was to get the sail to look as though it had some shape and was filled with air. To do this, I draped the sail over a balloon. I then gave the sail a very liberal coating of white PVA glue. As well as stiffening up the sail, it also sealed the cloth to enable me to paint it.

The sail is draped over a balloon, as centrally as is possible.
The sail is liberaly coated with PVA – dont worry it wont stick to the ballon!
The painted sail!


I had quite a problem trying to get a realistic look to my furled sails. After many attempts to try and tie the sails to make them look as though they were hanging naturally, I realised that I would need some kind of former. I cut a former from 5mm foam card and then wrapped the former with some cloth ( bed sheet!). You need to glue the top edge in place, wrap the cloth around the former a couple of times and the cloth is then held in place with sail thread binding. Incidentally, I use a dot of super glue to hold my knots tight! The picture below illustrates the process.

Use foam card to make a shape that resembles furled sails.
Furled sail attached to mast with rigging thread.


Some of my ships have planking on the decks. The easiest way of reproducing this is simply to use a ruler and good HB pencil to draw the planking on the decks. See picture above. I’m also sure that you will have noticed that I have used Cocktail sticks for flag poles, BBQ sticks for Oars and Spars and wooden doweling ( from my local DIY shop) for masts.

I’ve also mounted my archers that man the fighting tops on 15mm bases so that they fit in comfortably. To give them some extra weight, I’ve glued some 15mm metal washers to the MDF bases. It just helps to stop them toppling out.

Well that’s about it for now. I hope to complete a further article on a step by step guide to building a galley. keep an eye out for the release of Never Mind The Boat Hooks!


I hope that you all enjoy your hobby as much as I do – remember that our web site will have much of what you need! Click here to see our shop:


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Happy Modelling!