A modeler's masterpiece

Ship: An Eldersburg man painstakingly crafts a miniature version of the vessel that brought the first English settlers to Maryland.

March 12, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Every schoolchild in Maryland learns about the Dove, a British trading and scouting vessel that set sail for the New World 368 years ago.

But when Raymond K. Miles of Eldersburg tried to build a model replica of the 40-ton ship that brought the first English settlers to Maryland, he could find few details. It took the 73-year-old retired newspaper carrier four years of research and nearly a thousand hours in his home workshop to create a nearly exact replica of the Dove -- a model so accurate that Historic St. Mary's City Museum has asked to borrow it for two years.

"We are thrilled to be able to use Ray's model," said Capt. William S. Gates, the museum's maritime curator. "It will help people get their minds around the human scale of the ship and the reality of 17th-century life."

The Dove accompanied the Ark, an armed merchant vessel 10 times its size, on a five-month Atlantic voyage that began at the Isle of Wight off England's coast in 1633. The ships sailed up the Chesapeake Bay to the mouth of the Potomac River, bringing about 140 people to Maryland shores.

The smaller and more manageable Dove led the way, scouting a location that would be safe to establish a colony where settlers could freely practice their religion. They chose St. Clement's Island, about 20 miles from the mouth of the river, a spit of land that has eroded to a fraction of its size today.

"The Dove was essential to the colonists' survival," said Gates. "It helped carried supplies and helped them get around once they got here. It was like the Jeep that you tow behind the Winnebago."

Miles' 43-inch-long, 41-inch-tall model will make its way to St. Mary's City, Maryland's first capital, next week in time to celebrate the state's founding March 25.

The three-masted Dove is a fully functional replica of the scouting and trading vessel, at a scale of a half-inch to 1 foot.

"The rudder works and the hull is waterproof," said Miles. "Theoretically, this ship would sail."

Miles frequently visited the full-sized reconstruction of the Dove docked at the museum waterfront in the Southern Maryland city, taking photographs and notes of the ship's details.

"We exchanged many e-mail messages regarding arcane 17th-century rigging and sail details," said Gates. "I was very impressed and pleased to see how well the model turned out. It would be very difficult to tell his model from the real vessel in a photograph. It is unusual for amateur model makers to achieve this level of craftsmanship."

Miles said, "I wanted something that pertained to Maryland, and what could be more Maryland than its founding ship?"

The model bears the same colors as the life-size replica moored at St. Mary's City waterfront -- a $300,000 ship that took two years to build before it was launched in 1978.

"Ray's model will present an exciting, three-dimensional representation of the historic Dove and will help prepare visitors before they actually come aboard the full-size vessel," Gates said.

The original was built of oak, but Miles chose basswood -- "easy to shape, sand and glue," he said. "It also takes paint and heat well."

From the cannons on its deck to the flags atop its sails, the model reflects the attention Miles paid to historical detail. Its sails can drop or be rolled up to the spars. Anchors on both sides are tied to belaying pins and rub rails protect the ship's sides.

"I had a really good time doing this, and I was authentic as I could be," he said. "I had a seamstress make and hem the sails. But I did all the rigging, and it is exactly the same as the St. Mary's replica."

Before he selected wood for the hull or cloth for the sails, Miles located the only known plans of a 17th-century English trading vessel. William A. Baker, a naval architect, who based his drawings on his study of early English merchant ships, drew those plans in the 20th century.

Baker willed all his plans to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and it was there that Miles found and purchased them. He had to sign a permission to build and a promise that he would not sell the plans.

But he soon found he needed more research.

"I have been making model airplanes since I was 10, and I just used the same skills, tools and inventory to build this ship," he said. "I dove in. But I don't think Baker ever built a boat. The plans were lacking details, and I tend to go overboard on details."

Gates said little is known of the construction of the original vessel. The Dove probably carried a crew of seven, who would receive no pay until they returned to England, and a few indentured servants who would work in the colony until their passage was paid. The ship also carried supplies, such as tools and seeds.

The colonists' first harvest was so successful, they were able to send the Dove north to Massachusetts Bay Colony to trade corn for fur and lumber -- products that were bound for England. About 18 months after landing in Maryland, the Dove departed for England. It was never heard from again.

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