The Cutty Sark has fallen on hard times

In that post about building models as a kid, I mentioned how my old models were left behind at my grandparents’ house, and later demolished (with my permission!) by younger family members. I forgot, though, that there was one rescue, and it came home with me. My grandparents asked me to build a decorative model sailing ship for their mantel, and they bought me a kit.

I worked hard on it, since it was to be a gift for them, and it had to look good and classy. I spent months on it, and remember being a real perfectionist in getting all the shroud lines perfect and taut, staining the sails to get that perfect tone, painting every little detail. I’m proud to say that it was gloriously displayed in their living room for many years afterward, until their deaths. That was the one model my family saved from destruction and brought home for me.

It wasn’t exactly perfectly preserved.

The bowsprit was snapped off, the spars have been torn away from the masts, the rigging is sagging, it’s dusty and stained. I’m thinking, though, that it might be a pleasant project to repair over spring break…a little superglue, some delicate forceps work, I could maybe get the major stuff back in alignment and get it looking battered but presentable. I wouldn’t want it pristine, though — it has a history.

Also, when I lean in real close and sniff, I can still smell my grandfather’s cigars. They added some patina to the sails.


  1. Bruce Fuentes says

    My father and I worked on a balsa model of the Cutty Sark when I was a kid. Must have been early to mid ’70’s. It got lost or destroyed in one of their many moves. Thanks for the memories. Bittersweet, but those seem to be some of the best memories.

  2. Big Boppa says

    I hope your restoration plans include recruiting a crew of seaworthy spiders. One with a peg leg or two would add a bit of authenticity.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    I’m currently building a British fleet for a Napoleonic miniature naval wargame and I’m now down to the rigging for my frigates and brigs. Granted, at that scale I’m working with (1/700) the rigging won’t be anywhere as detailed your model, but so far the process has been… challenging to say the least.

  4. jack16 says

    I’ve been seeing ads for a clear dental type glue that is set with UV light.
    Hot melt glue comes clear and in varoous colors and is fast. Holds better if the sites can be preheated with a heat gun. (Harbor Freight, $10)


  5. Ridana says

    That reminds me of the 20 Mule Team Borax kit we put together when I was a kid. Nothing nearly as intricate as that, but somehow the working handbrake levers on the wheels always intrigued me.
    I love miniatures, so I don’t know why I wasn’t more into kit building as a child. When I visited the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, I probably spent 3 hours just on Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle. I could’ve spent a week.

  6. says

    I built a couple of those wooden things — not the borax kit, but I remember a conestoga wagon, and yeah, the working wooden brakes were kinda neat.

  7. antaresrichard says

    Were it me, what with my bleak humor, I’d probably be tempted to leave it largely as is, but perhaps adding some rocks and shoals instead.


  8. Thomas Scott says

    At least it fared better than the original. She burned to cinders in drydock a few years ago.

  9. killyosaur says

    @9 did not know the wagon model had a name. I made one of those in my youth 😁

    I also did a number of models: Av-8A McDonell-Douglas Harrier, a Jurassic Park Velociraptor, one of the space shuttles, I forget which one, a muscle car, and then there were the fun custom things that did not start as kits I did for class projects (trebuchet, cut away model of the Mayflower, clay model great white shark)…

    Weird how this is my type of nostalgia :P

  10. KG says


    Given the extent of the destruction in the fire, I think it’s doubtful whether what is now on display after “restoration” is. the Cutty Sark, or just a larger version of PZ’s model!

  11. Loree says

    @15 KG so you’re saying it should be renamed The Ship of Theseus? Have I ever shown you my grandfather’s axe?

  12. bodach says

    Do it, do it! What a great opportunity to connect with your youth and your grandfather. Olfactory connections are the best. Even better, with your wife gone, you can spread it all over the dining room table.

  13. Mobius says

    I loved building models. Mostly tanks, but also aircraft and ships. My best job was probably a 1:35 BF 109 E, the version used in the Battle of Britain. I did a few sailing ships, my best being a 1:96 model of the Constitution. That was an enormous amount of work with lots of little knots tied with forceps.

    Unfortunately, the cat got a hold of the latter just as I was about to get it finished. Alas.

    I have been thinking of getting a Cutty Sark model to build in my retirement (no cat, just a dog). What a project that would be!

  14. Ray, rude-ass yankee - One inseparable gemisch says

    That ship would look amazing with a crew of hardy spiders up in the rigging!

  15. Ray, rude-ass yankee - One inseparable gemisch says

    I mostly built car & hot rod plastic model kits. Also fictional & NASA (real life) space ship models. Star Trek, Start Wars, Gemini, Apollo, Shuttle and the like. My bedroom ceiling was painted dark blue with glow in the dark stars & ships flying everywhere! Ah, youth! I haven’t thought of that in years.
    One of my favorite models to build was the visible V8, after which I got the visible chassis to mount it in. Truly a sight to behold! Chugging along with moving pistons, functional hydraulic four wheel drum brakes and multi speed manual transmission!

  16. pilgham says

    Put it in dry-dock! My favorite models are ones of ships under repair or cut-away models showing the insides.