Thermopylae was one of the loveliest
of all the clippers. She was designed by Bernard Weymouth and built by
Walter Hood & Company of Aberdeen. She was a composite ship, with iron
frames, beams, and keel. The planking was wood, sheathed with copper
below the waterline. She was specifically designed for the China tea
trade, and became the great rival of Cutty Sark. She
was sold to the Portuguese in 1897 for use as a training ship, and
renamed Pedro Nunes. She was deliberately sunk in 1907
after being found unserviceable.
This model is a waterline model,
set in a carved and painted wooden sea. It is based on the lines,
general lay-out, and sail plan drawn by David MacGregor. There are a
number of photos and paintings of the ship, and these were used for
various details. Most important is the model of her by Cyril Hume in the
Powerhouse museum, Australia. This was made in the early 20th Century by
an individual who interviewed some of the crew. This model provides many
details that otherwise would remain a mystery. The books by George F,
Campbell and David MacGregor on the tea clippers were a valuable source.
The book Masting and Rigging the Clipper Ship and Ocean Carrier
by Harold A Underhill was used for all rigging details.
hull of the model is made of basswood, with side and deck planking of
crabapple. This wood is the very best I have found for imitating deck
planking. All deck houses and fittings are made like the original. The
stanchions of the bitts and fife rails are all hand turned, with
finials. Brass is used for the signal gun, tops of the capstans,
portholes and binnacle. The side pinstripe, names, scrollwork, trucks
and cockerel are 24K. gold leafed. The figurehead is based on photos of
the ship, and the close- up photo of the figure on the original
builder's half model. The planking on the quarterdeck and aft house is
properly curved and tapered.
The masts and yards are made of
degama, and painted white where appropriate. Thermopylae
was unusual in having white rather than black spars. All rigging is of a
nickel-chromium alloy called Nichrome 80, designed to never disintegrate
like rigging made of thread. The larger sizes are twisted up to simulate
rope, and painted to represent natural or tarred standing rigging.
The sails are formed from a Japanese rice paper called masa. Wooden
formers were carved to the shape of the sail, and the wet paper gently
pulled over the form to give the curves in two dimensions. A cloth was
stretched over the paper to keep the shape while drying. This shaped
piece of paper was then painted and sanded to look like a sail. Cloth
lines were drawn on with pencil, and reef points made up of wire. The
flags are made from neutral pH glassine, painted and curled to represent
flags flying. The red duster is at the peak of the gaff, with the house
flag at the main truck. She makes her number, 1569, under the second
distinguishing pennant. This is from Marryat's code. The Hume model
shows the house flag painted on the ends of the catheads, and this is
done on the model.
A crew of 17 figures is shown about the decks
and in the rigging, with the ship's cat leaning into the lift of the
deck on the main hatch. The sea is carved from English linden wood,
which is harder and crisper to work with than American basswood. The
botanical difference is Tilia Cordata or platiphylos versus Tilia
Americana. The base is of strips of black walnut. The nameplate is the
artist's own original design, acid etched in a brass plate.