Building your own model pirate ship is a stellar way to spend an afternoon indoors. Unless you are a shipwright, however, building a model buccaneer’s brigantine can be downright difficult. Like a pirate captain and his map, you'll need to make this journey tenable by charting your course ahead of time. And at the end, the final result might just be a work of art in its own right.
Determine your scale. A pirate brig in 1/72nd scale, where 1 inch equals 6 scale feet, will be about 1 foot long on the waterline and is a good place to start. Another popular scale for ship models is 1/32nd; the same brig in that scale will be just over 2 feet long.
Choose your rig. Pirates used a wide variety of sailing ships, from tiny trading pinks to 30-gun men-o-war. For your first plan, choose something simple like a two-masted brig from the early 1700's with two sails on each mast and a dozen guns. In this era, merchantmen could be of almost any rig, and pirates often preferred the simpler sail plan of a brig.
Find some good reference pictures. If this is your first plan, find a pirate brigantine with two masts. Unless you are modeling one specific vessel, use artistic license, mixing and matching the features of many ships into your plan.
Decide how big your scale drawing will be. The scale you choose for the finished model will determine the proportion of each block on your graph paper grid relative to the finished model. Making each block 1/2 inch, for example, will mean that your main deck will be 24 blocks long for a 12-inch model.
Take out your graph paper and make three drawings: one of the deck, one from the side, and one from the front of the ship. The deck drawing will serve as a guide for the placement of details on the other two.
Draw the ship’s main deck first. Merchant ships from the late 1600's tended to be roughly five times longer than they were wide. Their front corners, the bows, were rounded, and they generally tapered aft of the waist to a rather narrow stern.
Draw circles in the center of the deck for the masts. The bowsprit is placed about 1/8 of the way back from the front edge. The foremast should be marked about 1/4 of the way back from the front edge, while the main mast should be placed at about 2/3 of the way back.
Draft the ship’s profile, using your plan of the main deck to align details. Start with a straight line across your page for the waterline. Use your reference pictures to draw the ship’s side above the water, including a forecastle and raised stern. Make the bows bluff but slightly rounded where they enter the water. Don’t forget to add a triangular beakhead that extends forward from the main deck but meets the bow at the waterline.
Draw your masts on the profile. The bowsprit rises above the beakhead at an angle between 30 and 45 degrees. The foremast was about 3/4 of the ship's length in height. The main mast was generally as tall as the main deck was long.
Draw a bows-on view, the view from the front of the ship. This view will show the taper of the hull from toprail to keel, or to the waterline if you’re only building a waterline model. Check your reference pictures to determine a good curvature to the hull. Make sure you draw the yards -- those long poles that held the sails -- in their positions across the masts. Check your references for their placement.
Add rigging to both the profile and the bows on view. The masts were held in place by the shrouds, which were triangular webs of rope on either side of each mast attached to platforms extending from the ship's side. Drawing the rigging will help you determine where, on the final model, to place your belaying pins and cleats.
There are many ways to build a wooden model pirate ship, each with its own rewards and drawbacks. The construction method you choose determines the level of detail you need in your plans.
Begin with the end in mind. As you draw your ship's plan, try to envision how you will craft the details you are drawing.