Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mary, Mary, quite contrary (a British 3rd rate in 1:1200 scale)

...In which our protagonist rediscovers his sense of humour, and (incidentally) talks about an English 70-gun ship of the 1660s.

Sleek and sexy HMS Mary, aka Langton Miniatures' AD9: British 3rd Rate.
Back again, with yet another post! I meant to sneak one in before the end of February... But then I didn't.

Not much booty on Mary... and I'm not talking about "pirate booty", either. Yes, I'm talking about her rear end, which, by 17th century standards, is fairly low and unimpressive. Admittedly, it is a definite step in the direction of improved seaworthiness.
Anyway, the topic of said post is my sense of humour, which, when last we checked, had been sewn into a bit of sailcloth with a couple of spare cannonballs for ballast and heaved overboard. However, it now appears to have resurfaced (perhaps because of the corrosive effects of immersion in saltwater). Consequently, my writings now threaten, as of old, to be swamped in irrelevant and irreverent sass, for which I profoundly and insincerely apologize. Sorry.

Another view of the aforementioned booty, aka taffrail. From this angle it's more impressive, since you can see all the Stuart-era bling.

Isn't there supposed to be something about Mary in all this?

Oh yes, Mary. She's a pretty little thing, so I don't mind talking about her. In fact, bring on the pretty maids, I say! Woo!

Ahem. Actually I'm talking about Langton Miniatures' AD9: British 3rd rate (Mary, 70 guns) in 1:1200 scale. Long and lean, this "great frigate" is representative of the new generation of heavy cruising ships built by the Royal Navy starting in the mid 17th century. Built for speed, maneuverability, and long endurance for overseas deployment, the type underwent some significant teething pains. For instance, the Speaker (Mary's original name, during the Commonwealth) was originally without a forcastle, and consequently tended to ship white water all the way up to the base of the mainmast. Who needs freeboard, anyway? Certainly not the British! Indeed, it was customary on English ships to cram in as many and as heavy guns as possible, to the detriment of unimportant things like crew safety or seaworthiness. The Speaker, built to carry 50 guns, eventually found herself carrying the aforementioned 70. Unsurprisingly, the extra topweight did little for her vaunted speed or maneuverability, and in point of fact didn't do much to increase her firepower, either; being so low in the water, fair weather and a calm sea were prerequisites for her to open her lower tier of gunports! Very clever, those English...

Mary has got some pretty nice top-hamper, if you know what I mean.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying this was a poorly designed warship. Far from it. By combining (at least on paper) good sailing qualities, decent firepower, and a fair turn of speed all for a reasonable cost, the Mary and her sisters can be considered the ancestors of the great two-decker ships-of-the-line of the 18th century, the famous 74s. Heck, all it took was the French, who who made the astounding decision to build hulls large enough to actually keep all the guns they were planning to put in them above water (yes, I'm aware that all you Francophobic Brits are going to pretend you didn't read this. Whatever).

A good view down Mary's mizzen. She really knows how to run up that Red Ensign!

It isn't how big it is, it's what you do with it that counts.

Of course if she tells you that, it means she thinks you have a small... cog? But of course size is the issue here, and it is the ship I'm talking about. The model Mary, a 3rd rate, is longer than the model English 1st rate, and considerably larger than the Dutch 70 gun ship. Yeah, British men-o'-war of the day tended to be larger than their Dutch equivalents, but Mary was, as previously mentioned, built for only 50 guns, while the Dutchman is a purpose-built 70. Sculpting error? Maybe. Langton does use builders' plans to make their models as accurate as possible... but there were no builders plans in the 17th century (as astounding as that is!). To me, Mary just seems too big. Part of it is that she's riding high-- as mentioned above, British ships in particular tended to sit very low in the water, yet model Mary's lower guns are perhaps the highest-sited in the Anglo-Dutch range, English or Dutch.

Sometimes bigger IS better.
Perhaps another reason the ship looks so big is that she's got small gunports. How small? Too small. To paraphrase the blessedly long-retired Sir Mix-a-lot, "I like big 'ports and I cannot lie." More pertinently, the only depiction I could find of the actual ship is one of the ubiquitous van de Velde drawings; and to all appearances the port lids on the model are smaller than they ought to be. Shrinkage? Hey Mary: is the water too cold? Are those only 12-pounders on your lower deck, or aren't you happy to see me? (ha ha ha!) ...Anyway, maybe our protagonist should get his mind out of the proverbial lower deck, and back to griping nitpickishly about unimportant trivialities.

Do you know why they call her "three-penny Mary"? Because she's three pennies long. That's why.
But there are benefits to being big; don't let anyone tell you differently. For one thing, bigger means more intimidating, which can be very important on the gaming table. For instance, witness the following exchange during an Anglo-Dutch Wars battle:

          Dutch player: "Hey, how come yours is bigger than mine?"

          English player: "Heredity."

          Dutch player: "What? Oh. ...Get your mind out of the
                               proverbial lower deck, you English sod!"

As you can see, the player with the biggest ship possesses a clear moral advantage. Additionally, bigger models are also easier to rig, as well as easier to identify at a distance. There are probably even more advantages, but since good things come in threes (and because I'm lazy), I'll stop here.

Next time: Something else. Then again, maybe not. We'll see.


  1. Astoundingly beautiful.....and I'm not talking about your sense of humour..... although it is good to see it returned!

  2. Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful! All those ropes! Amazing work!

  3. Mike, drop us a line. I'd like to forward a copy of WS&S 59. There's an article on the Battle of Plymouth 1652. Contact me at

  4. Wow, beautiful designs. Its absolutely wonderful. I am appreciating your works. Expecting your new designs
    buy thesis online

  5. Many students are undecided about the best affordable custom research papers and informative speech essay help company to deal with due to the high number of companies that offer similar services.

  6. We are one of the best custom writing companies as we submit our papers on time and students will have a satisfactory time to go over the essay trying to counter check for any mistake or error which might need urgent correction. Order a custom assignment help and get the best results.