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Sailing ships in bottles . .  . here are a few by Alex Bellinger.

I’ve heard them called “patience bottles” and “impossible bottles.”

But how many of these have you seen, tugs in bottles?

Alex, whom I’ve know for 30 years, writes:  “the tugs are for my  older brother, who worked on tugs out of New Orleans along the river and through the Gulf for many years, until he grew tired of them and wanted more deep water work so spent a number of years on LNG tankers in the Sea of Japan and Malaysia.  He finished his career at sea on cable laying ships.”

I made the attached model of a tug for him many years ago, and another soon after, which I sold.  A little more recently I made the small tug with a schooner, inspired by Gordon Grant’s watercolor, “Bon Voyage”.  That’s about the extent of my tug in bottle work, done more fun than serious work.”

Another friend, Frank Hanavan, rigs tall ships as well as ships in bottles.

So how do they get in there, and what are all these strings?


Let’s go back to Alex’s work, and I summarize his explanation here: This is a model of Ingomar, built 1904 in Essex MA and wrecked in fog on a beach nearby in 1936.  By the time she was known as “queen of the halibut fishery,” in 1923 her crew received a record premium of $400 (in 1923!)  for their catch.

The scale is 1: 228. The model measures 6 inches from the waterline to the mast top and is 8.2 inches long.   The hull is made of pine. The deck planks, bulwark, railing and deck equipment are made of the same. Masts, yards, spars and the capstan drum are made of bamboo. Parts of the deck equipment were made from index card paper, as were the dories.

When the wooden parts were finished, the deck was stained, the masts, rails and the spill with a slightly darker stain. All surfaces that are painted are embedded with acrylic primer. After painting, grooves were carved to represent planking. The parts of the deck equipment were made from index card paper, as were the dories. Load hatches and the deckhouse rails are made of pear wood.

The mast rings were made from a copper strand of an ordinary extension cord, wrapped around a pin about the mast diameter, and cut into rings with fine nail scissors.  Parts of the deck equipment were made from index card paper, as were the dories.

In total there were 35 threads to raise parts of the rigging one it was nested inside the bottle.

The model was nested in on a Saturday and finished the following Friday. The white wire is part of a coat hanger that holds the model in place while I sort the threads and carefully tension them. The wire is fixed outside the bottle with a duct tape.

Many thanks to Alex and Frank for sharing these photos.

For some exceptional ship bottles, check this translated article.

And finally, from Frank, it’s two of his ship models, one in a bottle, all in one painting.  More Frank photos here and here.

For an entirely different form of ship’s models, these in cases, there’s a must-see museum in Savannah GA.  I visited it here.


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July 2020