Model Boat Builder Constructs Replica of HMS Nimrod

Alan Lunn of Sippewissett looks over the model of the HMS Nimrod that he built by hand and recently finished. He plans on displaying the piece at Eastern Bank on Main Street in Falmouth.
Christopher Kazarian - Alan Lunn of Sippewissett looks over the model of the HMS Nimrod that he built by hand and recently finished. He plans on displaying the piece at Eastern Bank on Main Street in Falmouth.

Inside Alan G. Lunn’s modest home on Sippewissett Road are a number of nautical artifacts, from seaside paintings to models of boats to lamp shades adorned with boats, that blend seamlessly into the background.

These are just a few indicators of Mr. Lunn’s passion for all things related to the ocean, particularly his fascination with building boats, both large and small. The latest is a scaled-down replica of the HMS Nimrod that sits in his unfinished basement.

That is where Mr. Lunn has spent the past eight months, roughly two hours a day, fine-tuning his miniaturized version of the boat that attacked Falmouth during the War of 1812.

Boat building is a slow, tedious process that Mr. Lunn said requires four specific traits: “You need to have the eyes of an eagle, the patience of a saint, the hand skills of a surgeon and the ability to curse like a sailor.”

As to the latter, his wife, the late Joan W. Lunn, often knew when he was frustrated with the process of building a handmade boat from scratch. “She would often say, ‘I can hear you swearing down there in the cellar.’ She was a good sport,” he said. “She loved boating too, especially canoeing. We canoed every river we could up in Maine.”

It was such a favorite activity for the Lunns that their oldest son, Peter Lunn of Beverly, painted a scene of the two canoeing that proudly hangs in his living room.

There, last week, Mr. Lunn talked enthusiastically about his love of boating, interrupted only occasionally by his cat, Sheeba, a calico, pawing his leg for attention.

The 84-year-old Mr. Lunn was born in Woods Hole and the water was never far away. He boasted that his father, Grant J. Lunn, once operated a boatyard on the east side of Little Harbor in Woods Hole, across from the Coast Guard base, where he assisted in hauling boats in and out of the water.

Instructor's Helping Hand

As a student at Lawrence High School, he said, he began honing his skills as a craftsman under the tutelage of his shop teacher Wilbur M. Merrill. “I remember everybody made furniture and he asked me, ‘What do you want to make?’ ” Mr. Lunn said. “I told him ‘I want to make a boat’ and he said ‘Nobody’s ever done that before.’ So I was the first. I made three boats while I was there.”

That would be the start of a trade he would carry with him for the rest of his life. He has continued building larger, manned boats, from skiffs to canoes, and currently teaches a boat building class at the Woods Hole Historical Museum every Saturday. “It is a disease,” he said, laughing. “I guess it comes from my love of watercraft.”

Boat building is a slow, tedious process that Mr. Lunn said requires four specific traits: “You need to have the eyes of an eagle, the patience of a saint, the hand skills of a surgeon and the ability to curse like a sailor.”

After graduating from Lawrence High School in 1947, Mr. Lunn took a post-graduate course in boat building at the Barnstable trade school before serving three years in the Coast Guard as a boatswain’s mate.

In the 1950s he operated his own party boat, the Kingfisher, taking people out on fishing excursions during the summer. And for a short time he operated his own boat shop off Palmer Avenue, where he made an array of small boats, from sailboats to catboats, for customers.

In 1958 he married Joan Smith of Taunton, whom he had met through the John Wesley United Methodist Church in Falmouth, and a year later he began a 37-year career with the Marine Biological Laboratory, where he was in charge of maintenance for off-campus housing.

During his time there he became friendly with former Coast Guard Captain Robert P. Dinsmore of Falmouth, who served as a consultant at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and that friendship was only strengthened thanks to their attending the same church.

And “every once in a while he would ask me technical information about ships,” Mr. Dinsmore said. “I was able to get him plans that he ordinarily might not get.”

Mr. Lunn would use those plans to build what he estimates to be three to four dozen miniature representations of real ships, the majority of which he has given away to family and friends. Several of his pieces have been showcased at area banks for patrons to enjoy, which he hopes to do with the HMS Nimrod.

advertisement

In addition to that most recent model, Mr. Lunn has kept five of his finished pieces in his own home, where they are proudly displayed on bookcases and shelves.

Among those is a replica of the Concord, Bartholomew Gosnold’s ship that landed in Cuttyhunk in 1602. “I built it in 2002 on the 400th anniversary of him coming here,” Mr. Lunn said.

In a glass container on a bookshelf in his living room is an 1880s model of the Island Home ferry.

The oldest of his collection is a nondescript boat sitting in a glass bottle on an end table in his living room; it was the first such boat he built when he was a child.

Crafting Models For His Friend

Over the past eight years he has meticulously crafted models of ships for Mr. Dinsmore, including the cutter Cook Inlet, which he  captained when he was in the Coast Guard. Mr. Dinsmore also had Mr. Lunn build entirely from scratch a four-stack destroyer the Coast Guard used as an anti-rum running vessel during Prohibition.

Mr. Lunn also built him a model of the Nantucket Lightship, a vessel that Mr. Dinsmore, himself, has helped to save and is working to restore with the goal of turning it into a floating museum. In May 2010 the lightship, the largest vessel of its kind ever built, passed through the Cape Cod Canal on its way from Oyster Bay on Long Island, New York, to Boston.
“Alan has built several models for me and on the whole they are quite professional,” Mr. Dinsmore said. “He could be rated as a professional model builder.”

When you build a model you are freezing that piece of history in time. Everything comes to pass, but a model lasts a long time.

                                         Alan Lunn                                

Prior to starting any project, Mr. Lunn will research the subtleties of every boat he builds, studying everything from the history of the vessel to the actual plans, many of which he has acquired through Mr. Dinsmore’s connections in the Coast Guard. And when he has been unable to unearth plans, Mr. Lunn relies on photographs in an attempt to determine the size and scale of the boats.

With the HMS Nimrod he was able to obtain plans for the ship from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, as well as materials from the Woods Hole Historical Museum that proved useful in the project. What he discovered was that the ship was part of a British fleet called the cruiser class.

During his research, he uncovered a factual error in a painting of the Nimrod found at the Falmouth Public Library. “It shows that it is a two-deck ship, but according to the plans I got, the Nimrod had only a single deck,” Mr. Lunn said.

The process of building the boat, he said, was at times painstaking—to construct the rigging he took individual strands of fiber from a broom, glued them together and spraypainted them black. These are the moments, he laughed, when the hands of a surgeon are necessary, but are far too often overshadowed by the cursing of a sailor.

In the end, though, he acknowledged it is all worth it. “I enjoy this because you are building a historical representation of a ship,” he said. “When you build a model you are freezing that piece of history in time. Everything comes to pass, but a model lasts a long time.”

Comments

No comments yet.
Please sign in and be the first one to comment.