Friday, October 14, 2005

Old Reliable


Shortly after the completion of the Queen Mary 2, I identified the need for at least one smaller vessle. Something more practical, that I didn't worry about dropping or capsizing. It took some muscle sometimes to get the Mary out of the water. I needed not a speedboat, but something just easier to handle.

The size of the vessle should have been between 4 and 6 feet long. Lightweight. Something that could be driven by a single radio-shack motor, and steered by a single servo. Basically, it was to be a beefed-up Bremen.

The vessle selected to model was the United States Line's S.S. America of 1940. I had come across Larry Driscoll's excellent book on the ship, and it had nice building plans in the appendix. I had never dreamed that much about an America model, but in retrospect, she was the perfect choice.

Begun in late March 2004, the America was 55 inches long. At that time, I was still busy enjoying the QM2, so the America took a few weeks to complete. As I recall, she was not completely finished at the time of the QM2 disaster.

When the Mary2 sank, I quickly focused my attention on the new little liner. Surely her design addressed the issues that destroyed the Mary2. In fact, the America became a remarkably stable little vessle. She did carry special weights in her hull in response to the QM2 sinking, but she was inherently stable!

Her low profile avoided catching the wind. Her smaller overall size helped. In fact, to capsize, she would have to tip so far to the side, that her decks would be awash.

Not suprisingly, the America is still afloat. However, her decks are not fiberglassed, so I still need to be careful.


The America made her maiden voyage shortly after the QM2 sinking. Her maiden voyage began at the same spot of the lake where the QM2 sank.

She was an immediate success. Unlike any other ship of mine, she sailed almost exclusively on the neighborhood lake in the Scottsdale greenbelt that I call "Lake America" after her. I know no official name for the lake near McCormick Parkway and Hayden Road. She became a familiar sight to the residents living along Lake America. After each voyage, I gradually increased her sail time until I was able to circumnavigate the lake (a voyage of about 30 minutes). Many times I started her motor at the northwest corner of the lake. Many times, I leisurely sailed her under the footbridge.


The America earned the nickname "Old Reliable" because of her relatively long service, many voyages, and especially the trouble that she has gotten in AND OUT of.

I recall a voyage where she had just sailed past the bridge, and was sailing near an area of the lake where I suspect water is pumped into the lake. Suddenly, she stopped cold! On a boat where there is no speed control and I cannot reverse her, this is especially concerning! I moved her rudder side-to-side, trying to wriggle her free to no avail. She just sat there, propeller spinning uselessly. Finally, after maybe 10 minutes or so,and some more twisting of the rudder, she came free! An examination of the hull revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Her rudder had apparently gotten snagged on something related to pumping water into the lake.

On a later voyage, she had just gone past the bridge again, when she suddenly became unable to steer. I assumed the wind was too much for her. She beached on the side of the lake. I removed her rudder hatch and saw the control rod working normally, so I set her out again. AGAIN, she seemed unable to steer and beached on the OTHER side of the lake. This time, I took her out of the water and found the problem. The rudder was GONE! The wood stick I had used to mount the rudder had finally rotted away and fell off. It is now somewhere on the bottom of the lake. I soon replaced the wood rudder shaft with aluminum.

On another occasion, she was sailing in that same damn south corner of the lake when I began to notice that there was alot of debris at or near the surface of the water. No sooner had I said "damn, there's alot of crap in this water", than did she suddenly stopped moving again! She was snagged, and her rudder wasn't gonna twist her out of this one. She was beyond my arm's reach, so I had to ask a neighbor to let me borrow a long wooden stick. It was not quite enough, so guess who got to go out into the water again? Up to my waist......... but I got her back.

It was around this time that I nicknamed her, because she always seemed to come back.

The America is not a large or glamorous vessle, but she is special. If any of my ships has attained a personality, it is the little America.


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At 3:27 PM, Blogger Robbie said...

Could you please send me the plans to the s.s.America or tell me how you built it i have been looking for an rc version of this ship for a long time.My email is


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