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KniazSuvorov16 May 2016 6:18 a.m. PST

For a change from square-riggers, I tried my hand at Langton Miniatures' tiny little 1/1200-scale xebec-hulled offerings. These were quick and fun to make, and they turned out suitably piratical-looking.


The Xebec:


'Xebec' (also shebeck, sciabecca, xebeque, etc.), like many nautical terms, seems rather ambiguous. It can be used to describe either the flat-bottomed, high-and-narrow-pooped, sharp-beaked hull type, OR the use of lateen sails on three pole masts. A vessel combining all these characteristics would DEFINITELY have been considered a xebec… or perhaps a pinque. A vessel with some of these characteristics might be called a xebec or it might not.





Anyway, xebecs were used as merchantmen and also as cruisers, first by North African corsairs, and later by European countries who needed something to catch the corsairs. The main advantage of the lateen rig was its ability to lie close to the wind, allowing it to escape from square-rigged cruisers by sailing in a direction where they were unable to follow.



The Polacca


A later derivative of the xebec was the polacca (or polacre). In its original pole-masted variant, it replaced the lateen on one or more masts with square sails; the same vessel could be rigged as either a xebec or a polacca simply by changing the yards and sails.



Somewhere along the line, larger polaccas seem to have developed into "xebec frigates" (why they weren't called "polacca frigates", I don't know). Indeed, since square-rigged ships carried a lateen sail on their mizzenmast until well into the 1770s, the difference in rig between some polaccas and ships prior to that decade would have been negligible. This was especially true of the largest polaccas, which by dint of physics had to be built with stepped masts (as ships were), rather than the traditional pole masts.




I based this model on Lanton's "32-gun" xebec frigate, which, as the name suggests, has a large frigate-sized xebec hull (and, despite what the name suggests, is only armed with 26 guns. I know; I can count, even if the sculptor couldn't). I've rigged it as a pole-masted polacca, even though finding poles and spars for a polacca this big would have been all but impossible. Obviously, looking good is more important than realism.







ModelJShip16 May 2016 6:32 a.m. PST

Very nice boats and a photos very well taken!

jpattern216 May 2016 6:36 a.m. PST

Beautiful! The Xebec is my favorite sailing ship.

jowady16 May 2016 6:41 a.m. PST

Very nice!

Cavcmdr16 May 2016 7:17 a.m. PST

I love the colours of your sails.

Darkest Star Games Sponsoring Member of TMP16 May 2016 7:24 a.m. PST

Those are beautiful, and you might be a bit nuts for rigging them up! Very impressive!

IronDuke596 Supporting Member of TMP16 May 2016 9:16 a.m. PST

As one who is not familiar with this scale about how long are the smaller Xebec ships?

Also if one was to game the War of 1812 lake battles (sloops, schooners, brigs and gunboats), what scale would you recommend?

BTW exquisite painting and rigging. Thanks for sharing the excellent photos.

Terry3716 May 2016 6:12 p.m. PST

Beautiful work, and the water is superb as well!


KniazSuvorov17 May 2016 6:18 a.m. PST

Thanks, all. I think these two boats turned out okay, considering I dropped BOTH of them on the floor after rigging them! You can see in the pics where some of the thread tension got messed up.

Hi IronDuke: Sorry, I forgot to include a picture for scale in this set. The answer is "not very big". That base measures 65mm x 40mm, so the actual xebec is much smaller.


For 1812 Great Lakes, the only lines I'm familiar with are Old Glory's 15mm, War Artisan's 1/300 (about 6mm scale), and Langton's 1/1200. Pick a scale based on how much room you've got to game in, how adept you are at small-scale modeling, whether or not you want to add crew figures, and how deep your wallet is!

War Artisan 1/300 would give you the most bang for your buck--they're cheap to begin with, plus they're cardstock models, so you can make as many copies of each file you buy as you want.

I'm a big fan of Langton's 1/1200 models, but be warned: their Great Lakes stuff is very, very small. I can rig a sea-going frigate as well as anyone, when the hulls are at least 30mm to 40mm long, but I have a lot of trouble with the smaller stuff.

I'll give you the same advice that I give anyone contemplating getting into 1/1200: start with the BIGGEST vessel you're interested in owning, and work your way down. A 120-gun ship-of-the-line is VASTLY easier to paint and rig than an 18-gun ship-sloop.

But, just to show what can be done, James White has some great pictures of some of the Langton Great Lakes stuff he's built:

tshryock17 May 2016 7:03 a.m. PST

The thought of doing the rigging on such a small ship (or any ship, for that matter) makes me dizzy.

Ben Avery17 May 2016 8:34 a.m. PST

I am impressed by your dedication. Lovely work.

IronDuke596 Supporting Member of TMP17 May 2016 8:59 a.m. PST

KS; many thanks for the advice…it is most constructive and useful.

HarryHotspurEsq18 May 2016 3:25 a.m. PST

Those are beautiful!

whitejamest19 May 2016 7:21 a.m. PST

Really beautiful work KS! I really like the look of your sails. What sort of paper do you use, and is it pre-colored, or do you color it yourself? What do you use to add the reef lines? Top notch work!

jpattern219 May 2016 10:31 a.m. PST

Those look like Langton's beautiful cast-metal sails, but they might be his equally beautiful photoetched ones. I'm sure KS will be along shortly to let us know.

Regardless, the painting really does bring them to life.

Volunteer Fezian19 May 2016 10:26 p.m. PST

Very nice Mike. I like the xebecs too.

KniazSuvorov21 May 2016 3:23 a.m. PST

The sails are made of normal copy (aka printer) paper. I started with the assumption that if you can print a flag, there was no reason why you couldn't print an entire set of sails! The philosophy is pretty much identical: a double-sided "flag" glued around a flagpole (or in this case a "yard"), and molded into the desired shape.

I drew up the prototype sails using free graphics programs (Gimp 2, InkScape) and scaled them to the appropriate size.


I used copy paper rather than photo paper because it absorbs printer ink-- the colour won't rub off as you flex the paper, unlike with photo paper, which even sealant often fails to properly fix.

For the yards I'm using straight pins, aka dressmaker pins; you can get 100s for a couple of bucks at any sewing store. I tie two threads around the centre of the pin, a millimeter or two apart, giving four loose ends, which will be used to attach the sails to the model.

I cut the sails out with a craft knife and steel ruler (the same way you would a paper flag), cutting a small hole at the centre of the join to feed one end of each attachment thread through.

The "sail" is glued to the "yard" with what we call white craft glue in North America. I don't know what this stuff is called in Europe (PVA?), but the point is it's flexible even when dry, meaning the sails can be shaped at any time, regardless of if the glue has set or not. The only thing you really have to remember while the glue is wet is that the two thread-ends sandwiched between the two sail halves should be pulled to the sail's lower corners.


Trim the yards to length with clippers, paint the yards and sail edges, and the sail is ready to go. Use the upper thread-ends to tie the yard to the mast, obviously. The lower thread-ends are tied to the yardarms of the sail below. This tied-on construction makes my paper sails much, much stronger than traditional glued-on metal sails, since, unlike a glue join, the thread isn't brittle at all. I could probably throw one of these models against the wall without losing a sail (not that I'd want to, mind you).

All-in-all, it's been a successful experiment. If I have time this summer, I hope to go back and rework the graphics, to make them look better, and to make them more versatile. I made the original prototype batch by tracing Langton's photoetch sets, but the staysails especially tend to fit poorly on many models. Because I'm just churning these out on my home printer, I don't have to worry about high production costs, so making minor variants is fairly simple.

devsdoc21 May 2016 5:16 a.m. PST

Love your ships. Most of the smaller ships made by Langton's come with the photo etched brass sails as a part of a whole set (Model). All of the above is interesting and looks great! But I must ask, WHY? As you said above you just copy the photo etched ones onto paper. I could understand doing this for the bigger ships to save money. Or if you had Scratch built the whole thing. Saying that your ships and rigging on that size of model is outstanding. I know as I have made a number of them myself for in-shore Baltic fleets.
Be safe

Volunteer Fezian21 May 2016 9:15 p.m. PST

Super! Puts my mast log to shame!

KniazSuvorov22 May 2016 5:22 a.m. PST

All of the above is interesting and looks great! But I must ask, WHY? As you said above you just copy the photo etched ones onto paper. I could understand doing this for the bigger ships to save money. Or if you had Scratch built the whole thing.

Scratchbuilding is indeed my eventual goal. I'm a competent 3D designer, so mass-producing my own hulls shouldn't be a problem. Making masts out of brass/steel rod is simple. Factoring in economies of scale, I should be able to make my own age of sail stuff for a lot cheaper than I can buy it from Langton or GHQ.

There are a few other reasons to do what I've done, some general, some personal:
1) Cost: I never have to buy another set of sails now. In fact, the Langton unrated stuff with sails included is now effectively more expensive for me than their rated ships.
2) Sturdiness: as mentioned, ships with paper sails are far more resilient.
3) Customization: I don't need to cannibalize other sail sets if I want to add an extra sail or ten. I can produce sails for a specific vessel, rather than relying on one-size-fits-all sails. I can do fancy stuff, i.e. Elizabethan/Armada galleons with a different coat-of-arms on every sail.
4) Weight: I live and work in faraway places, living out of my suitcase. I allow myself 5kg of hobby-related stuff at any given time, and obviously a piece of paper (or, for that matter, a digital file) is lighter than a pile of metal.
5) I don't have to mess with those @$^%! brass sails. Some people love working with brass photo etch; personally, I can't stand it.

jpattern222 May 2016 7:24 a.m. PST

Absolutely ingenious, KS.

And I completely understand putting extra time into the sails. Not only are the first things that catch your eye on the tabletop, I imagine they're also very satisfying in and of themselves.

As for me, I'll spend days adding detail to a model airplane cockpit, detail that's mostly invisible when the canopy is glued on. But *I* know it's there, and that's sufficient.

devsdoc22 May 2016 7:55 a.m. PST

I now fully understand your points. Thanks for your interesting reply.
Be safe

whitejamest22 May 2016 9:52 a.m. PST

Thanks for the detailed description Kniaz Suvorov. Besides all the considerations you mentioned, I must say they also look fantastic.

I really hope you do get in to designing and producing your own 3D ship models. Think you might be in a position to put more kits on the market?

KniazSuvorov24 May 2016 8:56 a.m. PST

I really hope you do get in to designing and producing your own 3D ship models. Think you might be in a position to put more kits on the market?

Probably not 'kits', as my nomadic lifestyle pretty much precludes access to reliable postage services. If the hulls turn out okay, I can put them up on my Shapeways store, and interested parties can order their own. Rigging would have to be either scratchbuilt or ordered from Langton. Rod is usually good at selling individual bits and bobs if you ask.

That said, a lot of what I'm interested in sculpting is niche stuff that wouldn't necessarily be interesting to others.

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