How do you build a ship model? Research, research, research!
Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that it is one of the most celebrated ships in American history, no one knows what the Bonhomme Richard really looked like. For this reason alone, Howard Chapelle lists it as one of the ships that model-makers should never build.
I don’t agree. To capture a sense of what it must have been like to watch John Paul Jones’ ship sail into battle, I’m willing to go with a well researched and “plausible” design. Twenty-five years ago, Jean Boudriot came up with just such a highly researched and plausible reconstruction of how Bonhomme Richard might have appeared, with beautiful 1:48 scale plans to match.
William Gilkerson, whom I always admired for his scrimshaw, worked with Boudriot to create excitingly vivid pictures of the Bonhomme Richard and the Battle of Flamborough Head.
And then we have those wonderful descriptions of the battle itself, the first and best written by John Paul Jones himself, followed by many retellings, most recently by Evan Thomas.
With my love of American naval history and the Revolutionary War, how could I not want to build this model?
And so I began planning what I know will be a very long commitment. Following the plans, it would have to be a scratch-built plank-on-frame model. But would I build it admiralty style? The frames would be there, why not show them off? But all the decks, down to the hold, would also be there, so why not expose them, too?
Then, I read John Camarata’s Waterline Dioramas, and I realized that I want to build a waterline model of the Bonhomme Richard as she may have looked on the night of September 23, 1779, riding on an eerily calm sea, just moments before she engaged the H.M.S. Serapis …