Category Archives: Vesuvius

Vesuvius – Superstructure and details

Back home in time for hurricane season and back at the bench.

Continuing to construct the main cabin, conning tower, skylights, vents and guns.  For the most part, using cardstock and balsa to keep the weight topside to minimum.


Companionways, skylights, etc.  The hull has been painted with flat white spray paint.  The propeller shafts are left masked off to be ready to apply the red bottom paint later.

Details forward.  The capstan is carved from maple.  The scuttles for the chain storage locker are made from flared copper tubing, as are the hawses.  I will add the brass portholes later.








A bit farther along.  Ventilators are carved from maple.  Portholes are brass eyelets (3/16″) from Tandy Leather, filled with clear epoxy then epoxied into the hull.  I left the brass unpainted as it looked pretty, although the original would have been painted steel.

Superstructure mostly painted a buff (tan) color, with some details in black.  (stack, guns)

Hull after painting the bottom red.  I used a gloss red spray paint.  Probably not entirely authentic, but pretty.






Nearing completion.  The deck furniture and fitting are in place, and the foremast is rigged.   This bow – on shot shows the blunted bow I used on the model.  The actual boat had a very sharp bow, but I did not model it that way, as I thought it would be too fragile if there would be a collision.  As with a dock or something similar.


Finished model.  Anchors are carved from ebony.  Because the deck is removable, the anchor chain is made from a cheap necklace from Michael’s and the necklace fastener used to connect to the anchor as the anchor is fastened to the removable deck, and the chain to the hawse of the hull.  Guns made up from sections of aluminum and brass tubing.


Another shot of the bow to show some detail.

The stanchions were made up from 22 gauge brass wire, then threaded with 20 gauge wire to make railings.

Main battery guns with boom cradle and foremast.  Chocks and bits made up from maple.




Rest of foredeck with companionway, conning tower, and the 2 pounder guns.  I modeled them after Hotchkiss guns of the period, although it is not known what exactly the guns used on the Vesuvius might have been.  Barrels carved from maple and trimmed out with brass wire, brass flat stock.  Base made up from cardstock.







Forward part of the main cabin.  Wheel made up from turned boxwood ring and brass wire.  Wheel base, engine room telegraphs, and binnacle carved from maple.  Life boats carved from pine, then covered with “canvas” made from tea bag tissue and painted.  The coal scuttle access ports are painted buff.  Probably not as on original, but they show nicely when painted this way.

After portion of the main cabin showing the carved ventilators and lifeboats and rigging of the life boat davits.  The small launch can be seen on portside aft of the cabin.

This is the third 2-pounder gun on the stern.  This probably reflects the original armament of the vessel, and was later augmented with additional 2 pounder guns.



Stern view with props in place.  Ready to go.






Another view of props and rudder.





The model atop my desk, with pictures of the original vessel behind it.  Awaiting spring weather for final sea trials.  I did do a bath-tub test to verify waterline and check radio control functions, but will await warmer weather to try the bayou.

Best regards.



Vesuvius Hull – Superstructure 1

Vesuvius – main cabin

I fabricated the cabin from card stock and thin plywood to keep the structure light, as I intend to ballast the hull low to keep it stable.

Here is the start of the cabin on the workbench.

I cut out for the windows and doors, saving the cut outs to make frames later.

The cabin sides are fastened to the plywood base and trial fitted into the deck recess.

The circular chart table is modeled, but I later decided not to detail the interior of the cabin, so it just serves as reinforcement.

The plywood top of the cabin is trial fitted  in place, and the windows and doors are framed with cardstock trim.


The cut outs of windows from the cabin are re-cut to make frames for the windows.  Painted and glued to plastic, they will be installed before final gluing of the top plywood piece for the cabin.

The upper deck is 1/64″ plywood, planked with cardstock planks, as the main decks.  Once it is detailed, it will be fastened to the upper plywood former of the cabin.

Windows in place, upper deck planked and installed, smoke stack and life boats roughed out and railings started.


Time to take a summer break and head to Santa Fe!  See you in September.

Vesuvius Hull – Decks -1

As mentioned before, the unusual shape of the hull led me to ballast heavily low in the hull and to keep the upper portions of the decks and superstructure as light as possible, lest the model turn turtle when in the bayou.

There are basically two decks.  A main deck about two thirds the length of the vessel, and a higher forward deck.  The shape of the bulwarks of the hull reflect these two deck levels and have in addition a third level in the extreme forward part of the hull which is also decked and covers the hawse pipes.

For the deck camber, I used formers cut  using the ship’s lines from the plan as a guide.  I first rough cut out the two main deck pieces from 1/32″ plywood, using the actual hull as a pattern.  Then I laid out locations for the deck formers so they would fall between or adjacent to existing deck beams in the hull.

the formers were extended about half an inch or so to each side and then glued to a building board.

This snap shows the building board, after removal of the deck as discussed later, and two of the extra formers.



After gluing the formers to the board, I then glued the deck pieces to the formers and held the deck in place with rubber bands.

Both deck pieces were constructed similarly.

Once dry, the formers are trimmed to the deck width and then trial fitted to the hull, further trimming the remaining center portion of the formers to fit in the hull.

I then trimmed the decks to more precisely fit the hull, and notched the lower deck to fit inside the forward portion of the hull where it overlaps the upper deck by about half an inch.

For deck planking, I used strips of cardstock cut from manila file folders.  One plan I have shows deck planks on the forward deck and on the cabin top to be narrower than those on the main deck, and I duplicated  this feature on the model.

I glued the cardstock down with waterproof glue then lightly sanded and coated with several coats of polyurethane varnish, which provided a pretty decent white-wood finish for the deck..

This is a snap of the two main decks trial fitted to the hull.

Here I have marked out the position of the main cabin, as I will be cutting out the deck so the cabin will fit just inside the cut out.  I plan to have necessary running controls and switches accessible through this opening so it will not be necessary to remove the entire deck when running the model.


Vesuvius Hull – Part 3

Once the ballasting had been worked out approximately, it was time to move ahead with rudder installation and then the deck and superstructure.

The rudder was a bit challenging, as the hull is very narrow at the rudder post making installation of the usual rudder arm impractical.

One solution would have been to install a wheel or gear on the rudder shaft and link it by belt or gear train to the servo.

The approach I decided to use was derived from the old whipstaff/tiller arrangement used prior to the development of ship steering gear and wheels.   I first drilled and tapped a 3/16″ set screw collar and then threaded a 1/8″ rod to fit.

This shows the collar with set screw and the separate location for the threaded rod, with locknut.  The forward end of the rod has a wire loop soldered on, and it accepts an intermediate link made of 12 gauge brass wire.  This link passes through a collar which allows it to pivot as it swings back and forth to move the tiller.

In this view, you can see the plywood support for the pivot.  The wood is glued to a deck beam and the pivot glued to the wood.

This is a shot through the hull to show the pivot collar for the rudder linkage.   With this arrangement it was possible to set the pivot point wherever needed to get the greatest amount of tiller swing within the limits of the hull width, and the servo arm rotation.  I will install a heavy duty standard size servo with the rotating arm or disk beneath the forward end of the link.

Once the running gear was installed, it was time to begin the decks.









Vesuvius Hull – Part 2

Once the hull was off the building board and well coated with epoxy on the inside and polyurethane varnish on the outside, I did some buoyancy testing to get a sense of how stable this rather extreme hull would be.  As expected, without any ballast, it floated high and turned turtle quickly.  I added ballast to the bottom of the hull to increase stability and to also get a measure of how much weight it would take for the hull to float at about the proper waterline.  I determined that 4 to 5 pounds would be the approximate capacity of the hull.  Later, I re-tested the hull floatation with the motor, drive gears, ESC, and battery in place and used paper-wrapped rolls of 25 copper pennies as additional ballast.  These rolls fit snugly between the frames and against the keel.  Eight such rolls seemed about right, but I will re-adjust later in the process as needed.

The next steps included installation of propeller shafts and the drive system.  Because of the weight limitations and the need to keep ballast low, I decided to power the model with a single 550 brushed motor linked through gears with about a 2:1 reduction in speed to the two propellers.  Power will be from a 7.4 volt  LiPo battery, again a weight saving feature.

This view shows the drive in place.  The gears used at standard Dumas gears fitted into a piece of aluminum L-channel.  The motor mount is made similarly.  The ESC is in place, and you can see some of the paper-wrapped penny rolls used for additional ballast in place.

The prop shafts were set as low in the hull as I could manage and still clear the gears.  They emerge from the hull through a long stuffing box and then pass through struts at the very back of the hull, just before the rudder.  The result is a sort of Jules Verne looking rig, which seems right for the era of the vessel and is pretty consistent with the original plan.  The propeller shafts are made up from 3/16 ” brass rod, and the stuffing boxes are 7/32 ” brass tubing.  The boxes are also built up with telescoping 1/4″ and 9/32″ tubing where they emerge from the hull to better duplicate the original.  The stuffing boxes were then epoxied to the hull with marine epoxy inside and out.

Prop shafts, struts, and stuffing boxes in place and epoxied


For props, I used plastic props of 2 inch diameter.  I cut them down to 1.5 inches and also sanded the blade edges to make them less modern in appearance and more consistent with what I thought the original vessel’s propellers may have looked like.  The propellers are notched and fit against pins soldered into holes in the shafts.  They are then held in place with 3/16″ collars anchored with set screws.

At this point, I also installed the rudder stuffing box.  I drilled through the center plywood of the keel between the additional material on each side of it and epoxied the stuffing box in place.  The rudder post will be 1/8″ brass rod, so the stuffing box was made from 5/32″ tubing.  The sides of the stern at this point were also built up with additional wood, wood filler, and epoxy on the sides.

After the preliminary assembly, above, I decided to further modify the propellers to more resemble what I thought the props on the original vessel might have looked like.  With the heavy stuffing boxes and the large diameter prop shafts, and the struts holding the props away from the hull, the ship was taking on a Jules Verne look, so I modified the props to fit with that.

This snap shows the props modified for the Vesuvius.  The original is on the left, painted bronze, and the modified props to the right.  They will be also painted bronze prior to final installation.


Vesuvius Hull – part 1

Using the plans for the ship’s lines, which I had long ago photo-reduced to 1/8″ scale from the original plan, I first enlarged them to 3/16″ scale.

Here is the portion of the plan with ship lines showing the profile of the hull at the marked stations

The plans had about 27 stations and I simply used them as templates to cut bulkheads/ribs for the model.  Through the wonders of a copier with zoom and image reversal, I could make up full size paper patterns for the hull at the stations.

Here is the combined plan for hull sections in the forward part of the hull




Here is the combined plan for hull sections in the after part of the hull.



I extended the ribs and keel as described below to extend them and allow them to be glued to the building board, then glued the patterns onto 1/8″ birch plywood from a hobby shop and cut them on a scroll saw.  I did the keel similarly.  I glue the paper onto the plywood with school glue, so the paper can be removed easily after cutting.

I use the “Hahn Method” to build the hull.  The hull is framed upside down by gluing to a building board, and is planked while still on the board.  Then the hull is cut free from the board and further finished off.

To use this method, it is necessary to extend the ribs and keel as above to a line corresponding to the building board. The Vesuvius has a hull with a long run of a straight horizontal keel, so it is particularly easy to use this technique.  First I drew a line on the plans about an inch above the top of the sides and a similar line on the side view, above the keel, making certain the location of the lines corresponded.  Then I extended the patterns for ribs and keel up to that line and cut the ribs out with a scroll saw.  I cut away the center on most of the ribs, leaving about a quarter inch thick rib along the side, and half an inch at the bottom, and notched the ribs to fit on the keel.

A 7″ x 48″ piece of half inch plywood from another project made a fine building board. I drew a line for the center of the hull/keel, then marked off the locations of the stations using the plan.  Then lines for the stations/rib positions were drawn perpendicular to the center line, and longitudinal lines at half and one inch intervals parallel to the center line.  These lines make and easy guide to positioning the ribs and greatly speed up the process.

In this photo, I am starting to set up the frames on the keel.  The small squares used to true the frames are above, and the remaining frames are lined up ready to glue in position.  The center frame in this photo is not glued yet, but is just holding the keel upright as the frames are glued into place starting at the bow.

Once the keel was spliced and set up on the board, the ribs were added working from front to back and using a small square to make certain they are perpendicular to the board.  The ribs and keel ends are glued securely to the building board.

The ribs are in place and ready for the planking.   At the stern, there are additional plywood pieces glued to the keel to accommodate the rudder shaft to be installed later.  The stern is so sharp, the rudder installation needed to be modified a bit, as will be discussed later.  At the bow, the keel is stepped up at the location of the most forward frames until it is at the height of the deck beam.

After the glue has dried, the hull is planked with 1/16″ thick pine planks, 1/4″ wide.  I cut the planks from 4 foot pieces of quarter inch think pine, available at the local lumber/hardware store.  Using 4 foot lengths of planking allowed me to run the planks the length of the boat and eliminated the need for butt joints in the planking, except as noted below..

Since the original vessel was made of steel plated riveted to steel frames, the wooden planks running longitudinally are hardly authentic, but it was an easy way to get the job done.  I ran several planks along the keel, using a slightly wider (1/2″) plank for the first plank, tapered fore and aft to fit snugly against the keel.  A garboard plank, if you will, as shown in the photo above..  These were only 24 inches long, as that is what I had on hand.  I followed with the first of the 48″ long 1/4″ planks.  Then I ran several planks along the top of the sides, and began to work down from that point, beginning to taper planks as needed to accommodate the shape of the hull.  Again, not the way I would normally plank a wooden hull, but quite satisfactory for this model.

Once planked, the hull was sanded, given two thin coats of epoxy, and then given several coats of polyurethane varnish.  Once the hull is varnished, it is cut free from the building board.  With the hull off the board, I made up a couple cradles for the hull and glued them to the board to hold the hull for the next steps.

 The hull cut free of the board.  The next steps include some additional planking along the top of the sides, trimming off the extraneous rib and keel material above the side, and epoxy coating the interior of the hull.

Vesuvius – The Model

I became interested in this vessel in the late 1960’s while a member of the Philadelphia Ship Model Society.  The group toured the NY Yacht Club and visited a small store, which sold ship plans of interest to us.  There I found a plan of the Vesuvius as built and as converted to torpedo testing boat.  I was fascinated with the extreme shape of the hull and the yacht-like overall appearance, not to mention the rather unusual armament.  One of the members of the Society in prior years had served on the ship and later shared a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and other memorabilia with me.

At first, I planned a model in 1/8″ scale which would have been a convenient size for shelf top display.  I actually started work on the model in that scale as a solid hull model in the 1980s, but it ended up stowed away, largely because I did not like working in that scale.  And in the meantime, the house filled up with large models of sailing ships in 3/16″ (1:64) scale, so the size of a larger model was no longer a problem.  I am married to a tolerant woman.

After building several RC PT boats, as described elsewhere in these pages, I decided to return to the Vesuvius project and dug out the plans I had on hand for the last 30+ years.  The plans had been obtained from the National Archives, and photos from the Naval Historical Center.  I planned a model in 1:64 scale, which would be RC with electric power.  This would result in a model with a length of about 48 inches and breadth of about 5.5 inches.  A very sharp bow and stern with a round bottom results in a canoe-like shape.  No wonder she exceeded the contract requirement for 20 knot speed!

Here are the lines and some drawings of the ship I used to  layout the hull and get started.

USS Vesuvius – The Dynamite Cruiser of 1888

Vesuvius (1888)

Displacement 930 tons;

Length Overall: 252’4”; Breadth: 26’6″; Draft: 9′

The USS Vesuvius was a one-of-a-kind experimental vessel launched in 1888.  She was built by William Cramps and Sons in Philadelphia, PA and powered by two triple expansion steam engines, each driving one propeller.  The contract called for a top speed of 20 knots, and the Vesuvius made 21 knots at her sea trials for acceptance.

The main battery consisted of three pneumatic cannon, which were mounted in fixed position taking up most of the forward part of the hull.  The three guns can  be seen protruding from the deck in the photo above.  The photo below shows the guns looking forward.

The guns fired projectiles of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine, explosives that were more stable than dynamite, but still sensitive enough to require the pneumatic cannon for firing.  The guns were fired by compressed air, and the hull also had space for large compressed air tanks, compressors, and storage for multiple projectiles.

One purpose of the design was to permit “silent bombardment” of civilian targets, rather than ship to ship gun battles.  Popular press at the time of her launch referred to the Vesuvius as the “Dynamite Cruiser” and “The Terror Ship” because the cannon were silent when fired and a target could be bombarded without warning.  The first indication of attack would be the explosion of the projectiles.

The Vesuvius participated in 8 shore bombardments of Santiago, Cuba, during the Spanish-American war.  Although some reports of the results were positive, particularly the fear induced in the civilian population, the ship was largely unsuccessful.  Aiming the cannon required orientation of the ship, as in the older former mortar-equipped bomb vessels, and the Vesuvius was also poorly armed to counter an attack from even small vessels coming out from the shore.  Vesuvius mounted only three 3-pounder guns in addition to the pneumatic cannon.

The Vesuvius had an extremely sharp hull, with an overall length of 252 feet, breadth of 26.5 feet, and draft of 9 feet.  Her lines at given below in a plan obtained from the National Archives.  The original plan is dated 1887.

Below is another contemporary plan including an outboard profile drawing of the ship, also from the National Archives.

One consequence of the rather extreme hull design and the powerful engines became evident when she was came under attack from shore based craft during one bombardment of Santiago.  Lacking adequate defensive weaponry, the ship needed to reverse quickly to escape the attackers and nearly put her stern under water due to the power of the propellers and the low freeboard astern.

As a result of the experience with the Vesuvius, there were no more pneumatic cannon equipped ships built, and in 1904-5 Vesuvius was refitted as a torpedo-testing vessel, equipped with three 18 inch torpedo tubes and one 21 inch tube.  At least one of these tubes was mounted in the hull, athwartships.  She conducted torpedo experiments for a couple of years before ending up at Newport as a station ship until sold and scrapped in 1921.