Quentin Robinson, ship in a bottle maker

Suffolk resident Quentin Robinson wrote a few days ago to describe his adventures with model ship and ship in a bottle making, together with this gallery of photos. Thanks Quentin! Here’s what he had to say:

‘I was at a loose end. It was a Sunday and there was a boot fair on, so I headed down to try to seek out that elusive bargain that I could take on the Antiques Road show and ask “how much?”

‘It’ll never happen, but I found a book titled Ten Simple Sailing Models,  which seemed a snip at 50p.

‘I started to have a go, and the schoolboy in me came alive. But I didn’t think ahead, for the trouble with taking on this new hobby was that I live in a very modest house, and I was going to run out of space very quickly. Having invested in tools, materials etc etc etc.I would either have to give up or find another way. So I dwelled on the problem…

‘Then it came to me. Ships in bottles! I vaguely remembered seeing somebody making ships in bottles on the telly, so thanks to the power of the internet I went into a research and development phase.  All I needed were  few more tools, and a few bottles…

‘First your have to find your bottle and then empty the contents… and after 18 years as a deckhand on tramp steamers I had no problem with that part.

‘Then you plan the ship – the only rule is it has to fit through the neck of the bottle. As this was my first attempt I kept it simple.

‘I firstly painted the inside of the bottle and then considered what would go in with the ship – it’s not enough to just pop the ship in – so I built a lighthouse and some rocks with a wreck aground, and a wreck buoy.

‘Next I worked on the ship. It takes a lot of patience, but fortunately with my seafaring background the rigging came easy. I currently have three ships in various stages of rigging – the one with the black sail will be “bottled” tomorrow, followed by the green-hulled vessel the day after, and the one under the masking tape will follow.

‘I then considered where they were to be presented. I came across the idea of wall mounted models. I had lots of wall spacebut very little shelve space. I did name the first two ships in bottles that I built, but then there was a change in my life which I shall now explain…

‘While all this ship building activity was going on, I started to go blind. I had no idea it was going to happen. Please don’t feel the need to say sorry, it’s a bit boring hearing this after the first few hundred times.

‘Things started to disappear from my life, forever. And I found myself unemployed. Every interview I attended would turn me away and refuse to employ me on the grounds of health and safety. So what next?

‘Again I pondered on this. Well there’s no point in getting down about these things, so I went into mass production of ships in bottles with a view to selling them via the Internet, craft fairs, boat shows and regattas.

‘I use a rope mat instead of a wooden plaque, and don’t give the ship a name plaque – the idea is, that you, the customer, gets to name the ship. And  after all, as the new owner you are in charge of your ship.

‘Also, I think it makes a refreshing change from all those models that are labelled ‘Cutty Sark‘, when most of them don’t look anything like the famous clipper.

‘So in time I will start to travel to various venues and will pop up in all the best places. If you see me come and have a chat. You don’t have to buy anything and you may even win a prize for completing the tongue twister I’ve written!

‘What’s next? As a bit of a special project, I quite fancy making a model of the SB Victor out of Ipswich.’

If you’d like to contact Quentin – perhaps to invite him to show his ships in bottles or to commission an item – email him at quentinrobinson62@yahoo.co.uk .


How to make a ship in a bottle

Model of the barque Penang in a dimple whisky bottle

How to make a ship in a bottle, Clive Monk’s way. Making a model ship in a whisky bottle might be just the thing for these chilly wintry spring evenings when there’s now some light but nobody wants to go out.

The dimple bottle takes me back – when I was young I remember I had a yachting great uncle based in Ayr who was a director of Haig.

Sitting by the stove drinking whisky is nice, but surely spring and summer will come soon? Please?

London’s ship in a bottle

Nelson's ship in a bottle 3

Nelson's ship in a bottle 1 Nelson's ship in a bottle 2

This giant ship in a bottle artwork in Trafalgar Square, London, by Yinka Shonibare commemorates Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

It also raises the time-honoured ship-in-a-bottle question:  how on earth did they make it?

Having seen it at close quarters and read about it, I still don’t know the answer. What we are told, however, is that the ship’s 37 sails are made of exuberant and richly patterned textiles commonly associated with African dress and is meant to convey the complexity of British expansion in trade and Empire, made possible through the freedom of the seas that followed victory at Trafalgar.

The bottle’s context is intriguing. Trafalgar Square is the usual destination of big demonstrations in London, and as I passed through on Saturday a crowd of Egyptians were celebrating the previous day’s events in Tahrir Square, and their countrymen’s victory over an oppressive regime supported by so many Western governments. I sincerely hope the cause of their understandable happiness lasts, although I fear Egypt is a country where there must be many dangerous people who have reason to fear the justice that democracy could bring.

Atop his column, meanwhile, Nelson serenely looked out over the River Thames and the Empire from atop his wonderfully impressive column. There’s something symbolic about the way he so resolutely turns his back on the political gestures and statements that ordinary mortals make in the square – I don’t know if it was the intention of the original architect and artist, but his stance could have been calculated to represent the establishment’s view of most of what happens behind him.

Nelson's ship in a bottle 4 Nelson's ship in a bottle 5