Thursday, November 17, 2016

Buckminster Fuller's Model Boat Collection, Part 2

In this post we look at the remainder of Buckminster Fuller's model boat collection that was recently donated to Penobscot Marine Museum. See our previous post for the first half of the collection.

Chinese junk model for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
Chinese junk. Lightweight wood, possibly bamboo. This model has enough detail so that it might be possible to associate it with a specific type, even though some of the features are overly simplified (e.g., the capstan) and others appear to be out of scale. The rigging and the house, however, have received a good amount of care and seem to reflect accurate observation of a real vessel type. The masthead devices, if accurate, may help in identification. 

Chinese junk model for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
With the hull's extreme tumblehome, the vessel is clearly a bulk carrier, and the scale of the house indicates it's a fairly large one. I believe the deck planks, laid athwartships, would lift off on the real ship to facilitate loading and unloading. Three heavy wales at the waterline strengthen the hull and serve as fenders. The three-masted, fully-battened balanced lug rig is supplemented by one long sweep on each side, which I believe makes this a vessel intended for river/inland use.

Deckhouse detail of Chinese junk model for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
Deck beams extend through the sides of the house. Housetops are made of woven material, probably meant to represent bamboo or palm leaf matting.

Stern detail of Deckhouse detail of model Chinese junk for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
Details of mizzenmast, deckhouse, transom and the large balanced rudder of complex construction. 

Foremast device on Chinese junk model
Masthead device on foremast

Mainmast device on Chinese junk model
Masthead device on mainmast (mizzen is similar).

Ma-Yang-Tzu junk from Ships of China by Valentin A. Sokoloff
Although there are many differences between the present model and this image of a Ma-Yang-Tzu junk from Ships of China by Valentin A. Sokoloff (not the least being the single mast of the Ma-Yang-Tzu versus the three-masted rig on the model), there are a number of similarities that indicate a possible relationship, including: heavy round cross-beams at deck level; sweeps on both sides; the capstan well aft of the bow; a barrel-backed deckhouse with a raised barrel-back coachroof; a tall athwartship "horse" (located over the deckhouse, forward of the coachroof on this vessel); red-topped pins sticking up from the transom; and a balanced rudder with an acute angle at its lower aft corner.
The Ma-Yang-Tzu is a river vessel, and the heavy cross-beams reinforce it and provide points of attachment for the tow line for upstream travel. The pins on the transom are for storing spare towlines.

Model Chinese seagoing junk at Penobscot Marine Museum
Chinese seagoing junk. With its deep rocker and high gunwales, this model represents a seagoing junk. Much of the rigging is in disarray but otherwise the model is in good condition. Although some details are out of proportion (for example, the weight of the sail battens and of the rail around the aft deck), there may be enough accurate observation here to facilitate identification with a real ship type.  The color scheme on the sides, the design on the transom, the colorful pole-mounted device on the aft deck, and the shape of the oculus are especially promising in this regard.
The vessel is a three-masted rig with fully battened lugsails that have a distinctly ovoid shape. The foremast has a forward lean; the mainmast is approximately vertical; and the mizzenmast rakes aft. 

Stern detail of model Chinese seagoing junk
Stern details, including painted transom design, unbalanced rudder, and heavy wales at the waterline.  

Deck detail of model Chinese seagoing junk
There is a capstan aft of the foremast and a tall windlass at the aft end of the main deck, probably used for raising sails. Two tall “horses,” (please advise concerning the correct term in the Comments) one each aft of fore and main masts, appear to be tying-off points for running rigging. There are deck hatches fore and aft of the mainmast. 

After deck detail of model Chinese seagoing junk
"Horse" aft of mainmast;, windlass; crossbeams beneath the aft deck extend through the sides of the hull. Is the pole-mounted device on the aft deck a lantern or a symbol identifying the vessel's port of call or purpose? 

Model of small Chinese junk at Penobscot Marine Museum
Small junk, China. This model, somewhat less detailed than the previous one, represents a smaller, simpler vessel. It has a single deck with lower gunwales and what might be termed a schooner junk rig, with two masts, the forward one shorter and raked sharply forward. The mainmast has a slight forward rake. Both masts are set with fully battened lugsails. The foresail has a straight, vertical luff and a moderate amount of roach to the leech. I believe the mainsail is similar. As on the previous model, the rigging is in disarray.
There is a capstan just aft of the foremast, and a windlass just aft of that. Also as on the previous model, there are deck hatches immediately forward and aft of the mainmast.

Bow detail of model of small Chinese junk
Bow detail. The bow transom is painted red. Atop it is a heavy beam tying the gunwales together and extending beyond them: perhaps fishing nets would be drawn over it?

Deck structures on model of small Chinese junk
One bow-backed deck shelter is covered with fabric, and a framework is present for a second shelter to be erected should the need arise. This makes me think this vessel is occupied by a family who would use it for small-scale commercial fishing and/or trading.

Stern details on model of small Chinese junk
The rudder is unbalanced; the tiller is missing from the top of the rudder post. A crossbeam at the top of the stern transom is smaller in diameter than the one at the bow and does not extend beyond the vessel's sides.
I do not know the purpose of the horizontal beams on both sides of the vessel extending past the stern transom on this and the previous junk and on the raft that follows. They don't appear to serve as davits. If you know their purpose, please explain in the Comments. 

Taiwanese model seagoing bamboo raft at Penobscot Marine Museum
Bamboo Raft, Taiwan. This very touristy model, essentially a nicknack, was built of shell or horn and represents a seagoing bamboo raft of a type once used for fishing. It is believed that Micronesia was settled by people using vessels like this prior to the development of the outrigger canoe.

Taiwanese model seagoing bamboo raft at Penobscot Marine Museum
Heavy crossbeams at the bow and stern are etched with zigzag patterns to represent lashings to the craft’s main longitudinal members, which would have been bamboo stalks. The mast rests on a heavy step that serves as another crossbeam amidships. On the foredeck is a representation of a basket of elaborate shape, probably for keeping the day’s catch. The item on the aft deck might represent a basket-built dinghy, a deckhouse, or possibly a net. Oars are tied to tholepins on both gunwale rails. Whether they are for propulsion or steering is unclear.

Sail detail on Taiwanese model seagoing bamboo raft
A fully battened balanced Chinese lugsail is represented, but the model is entirely without rigging. The sail is inscribed “Taiwan” in English. Translations of the Chinese characters and explanations of the other symbols on the sail are welcomed in the Comments.

Model Thai market boat at Penobscot Marine Museum
Thai Market Boat. The model represents a Thai market boat of the type used in the famous Bangkok floating market. Market gardeners bring their produce to the market in these boats and sell directly from them. The model shows the construction of this boat type fairly accurately. It is a plank-built boat of sampan construction, with wide planks laid on deep frames. An important function of the frames is to support the tall washstrakes. Boats like this are often built of teak, and the model may be as well.
Most photos of the Bangkok market show paddles being used for propulsion, but the model has a long oar or sweep that pivots on a waist-high post and that would be rowed in a standing, forward-facing position. Perhaps the oar is used for efficiency in open water, then removed in the close confines of the market, where a paddle then comes into play.
A teak Thai market boat very much like this model was restored by the Small Open Boats shop in Port Republic, Maryland.

Bow detail on model Thai market boat
The long overhanging square bow allows for easy boarding and loading/unloading over the bow onto a wharf or other walkway, and the metal strips would protect it, especially if that walkway were of stone or concrete. Given the crowded conditions in the floating markets, over-the-bow loading a more efficient use of limited wharf space than tying up side-to.

Floorboards, frames on model Thai market boat
All the decks and floorboards of the model are loose and removable, notched to fit over the deep frames.

Rudder, tiller on model Thai market boat
The boat is steered by an underhung transom rudder of elegant shape. We speculate that when the oar is in use, the oarsman or -woman might operate the beautifully-curved tiller with one foot.


  1. The Chinese reads: Yi1 Fan1 Feng1 Shun4, meaning have good wind on your journey

  2. Michael, thank you for the translation of the characters on the Taiwanese raft model's sail.