Fantail Launch

Kenneth Ruxton's scratch built launch

After work one 20 years' ago, my older brother decided to build a model of a fantail river steam launch with a working steam engine from the Heritage Steam Engine Co. and when he showed me the article in the magazine from which it was going to be derived, I knew it was going to turn out to be fantastic, and so it was. However, while he was building his Fantail launch I was building a tug and was going to use the same size Heritage Steam engine, and so this became a bit of a challenge, the aim being to build both models and race them on our local Van Cortland Park pond.

My brother built his Fantail boat so well one would feel bad putting it on the water and never mind running the steam engine, but the race was on which in the end I won for some reason or other. It is possible that the flat back underside of his fantail boat caused it to drag slightly in the water, but nevertheless the 'displacement' tug was the winner by a boat's length. Anyway, this was the motivation to build a Fantail launch for myself, and so I have, albeit it 20 year's later, but the wait has been worth it.

This model

The overall length and beam of my brother's model was 20 x 8.5 inches and those are the overall dimensions of this model, but the rest is guess work and the model construction is also different.

First, two 3 inch wide balsawood sheet boards were held together along their narrow edges with Sellotape (just like book pages) and then after folding the two boards together, a round tin was used as a template to draw a semicircle for the back curve of the fantail boat and a smaller curve for the bows. Once opened out, the two boards now had the full shape of the fantail from a vertical upwards underneath view. By simply repeating this process, the top of the hull was also created, having the same length and width of the bottom section, but with an opening cut in it. Two ribs were then cut to size, having a slight vee shape on their lower edges and a curve on their tops, but overall matching the width of the upper and lower pieces. Two strips of cut balsawood front to back helped keep the top and bottom pieces apart and at the right inclination and this whole framework was held together by tape before being permanently bonded together with Superglue. This main structure of the hull, without the keel, took about as long as it has taken to write this paragraph.

The outer vertical sides were then planked from stern to bows with a light pinstripe wood alternating with wider dark wood strips, also it has to be said, all completed in a very short time. The bottom of the hull was planked with dark wood strips, although admittedly it did all look now a bit like a Chinese Junk, so a 'sun' effect was created on the foredeck deck using light and dark wood veneers.

This basic hull was sanded to a smooth finish before the rear keel was added using an upper and lower long plank of solid wood but filled in between these pieces with vertical coloured planks as the photos show. An internal balsawood coaming/bulkhead was made around the inside of the top cutout and then laminated with a hard wood veneer, which was then varnished and painting flat bottom of the hull in white gave some external contrast.

The canopy is from an unbuilt African Queen kit and the running gear, railings and anchor are from an equally unbuilt American Coast Guard Cutter model. The four, somewhat spindly tyres are from a diecast model car, sprayed white. The entire model has been generously sprayed with clear varnish to complete the overall finish.

The Heritage Steam Engine looks great, but is not fully assembled as this has been intended to be a static model, but yes, it does float. Total time to build, paint and varnish was 14 days' worth of evening spare time, and it does make for a nice display model that is a bit different.

Enjoy your hobby - Kenneth Ruxton