Refitting the Moltke

When a ship that is tired returneth,
With the signs of the Sea showing plain,
Men place Her in dock for a season,
And Her speed She reneweth again.

-From "The Laws of the Navy" by ADM. Hopwood, RN

After a full week of battling at Nats, the Moltke was in pretty rough shape. She was in every major fleet battle, the convoy battle, and few one-on-ones. As a result, she took a lot of damage. On top of that, I performed a quick and dirty re-sheeting at Nats in order to pass the hull penetration test. That particular sheeting job was effective, but it looked a little rougher than I would have liked. This is what she looked like when I pulled her off the shelf in late April:

So, I decided that I would re-sheet her before the 2006 Spring Regionals. Additionally, I wanted to check all the major components (main motors, rudder servo, and pump) since the ship had been sitting on the shelf for months. So, the first step was to remove all of the old sheeting. After that, the ribs and hull were sanded to remove any remnants of the old sheeting that were still adhered to them. At this point, I did all of my component testing, since without any hull sheeting everything in the ship was easily accessible. All of the motors sounded a little hoarse, but their operation improved after I added a couple of drops of light oil and ran them for a bit. I will be keeping a close eye on them during Regionals, but for now they seem like they are OK.

Left: Peeling the hull.
Right: The hull is sanded and ready for sheeting.

For this sheeting, I had ordered 1/32" balsa from Lone Star Models, which is generally recognized as having superior flexibility. To adhere the Silkspan to the sheeting and the sheeting to the hull, I used Weldwood contact cement, made by DAP. First I prepped the balsa sheets by attaching Silkspan to one side using Weldwood that had been thinned 50/50 with MEK (I got both the thinner and the cement from Lowes). I did this outside, as we are dealing with some strong smelling stuff here! Once I had the prepped balsa, I applied full-strength cement to the ribs of the area that I was sheeting using a small flux brush. Immediately after coating the ribs, I aligned the balsa on the hull (the side with the Silkspan facing towards the hull), smoothed it down, and then peeled it off. This left a faint, broken outline on the balsa where the ribs were touching. I then took the brush and used the cement to fill out those lines to ensure sufficient adhesion and water-tightness. Also at this time, I trimmed the sheet to remove any excess balsa, using the cement line as my guide. After cement was applied to the balsa and hull came the hardest part: Waiting for the cement to dry! Not completely cured, mind you, but after a few moments the cement looks dry and is tacky to the touch. At this point it is ready to be applied to the hull, but be careful. Once the two glued surfaces stick together, they are stuck! Thus, I had to double-check the alignment of the balsa before finally smoothing it down. The instant adhesion sounds like a problem, but it actually works to my advantage, especially in the curvy stern area of my boat (shown in the pictures below).

Left: Applying Weldwood to hull.
Center: Faint outline left after applying then peeling off the balsa.
Right: The trimmed piece with its fleshed-out glue line.
Below: The piece after being applied to the boat.


After the both sides of the boat were completely covered in balsa sheeting, I cut off any remaining excess material and sanded all of the edges of the balsa where it joins to the hull to smooth out the transition a bit.  This is a purely cosmetic touch that greatly improves the appearance of the boat and is easy to accomplish with a razor knife and a little bit of sandpaper. Once all the edges had been sanded and the excess balsa removed, I applied a layer of Silkspan to the outside of the hull using the 50/50 thinned cement. Once this had dried, I painted the entire hull grey so I could float the boat in the bathtub and mark the waterline. I paid special attention to making sure that this coat of paint was as thin as it could possibly be, in order to prevent the hull from becoming too hard after damage is patched and the red bottom paint is applied.

Left & Center: The hull is now completely sheeted
Right: The hull is now painted grey and ready for float testing.

During the float test in the tub, I took a pencil and marked where the waterline at intervals along the side of the boat. I made sure that all of the major bits and pieces were in the boat, along with some extra weight to reperesent CO2 and BB's in order to achieve the most accurate waterline posible. Once the boat was out of the tub and back in the shop, I connected the dots to make a guide line. Then, using a 1/2" brush (for more control)  I painted the area immediately below and up to the penciled line red. After that was completed, I took a larger 1 1/2" brush to finish painting the rest of the boat's bottom. Just like with the grey paint, I made sure to keep the coat as thin as possible.

Left: Painting the area beneath the pencil line.
Right: The hull after the entire bottom has been painted red.

Once the red paint dried, I applied the black waterline stripe using some 1/4" black tape that I found at West Marine. I applied a small piece at the bow and stern first, to make sure that the line wrapped around the boat evenly. Then, I applied the rest of each side in one piece, taking care to make sure that the line was as straight as possible. After doing this, I discovered I didn't quite paint high enough with the red paint in a couple of spots. So, I masked the black tape with some 1/4" masking tape and touched up the red to the line. Again, this is a cosmetic issue, but one that is easily fixed.

Left: Whoops! I have some grey showing below the black tape here.
Right: After masking the black tape, I am now touching up the grey spots with the red paint.

Now that the hull was essentially completed, I could turn to a couple of finishing touches. Fellow Axis captain Ken Kelly was nice enough to give me a couple of sheets of graphics that were used on WW I German capitol ships, including name plates, flags, and ship crests. I decided that I would add these to my boat after seeing how sharp they looked on his. The graphics were just printed on paper, so to water-proof them I used a small piece of a clear plastic tape that is used to patch holes in plastic greenhouse coverings. I decided to try it because I know it was water resistant and I had it close at hand. Once the names were applied to the stern and the crests to the bow, the only thing left to do was touch up the paint on the turrets and the rest of the superstructure. Finally, I water-proofed a German naval ensign and mounted it to the main mast.

Left: Here are the spiffy looking graphics I received courtesy of Ken Kelly.
Right: In this shot, I am in the process of water-proofing one of the Moltke's crests.



This little refit project went very well. There were no major problems with the running gear, and the sheeting process was a breeze. This is the second time I have used the Weldwood method to skin my boat,and overall I am happy with the results. Here she is, ready for action:

By Andy Rucker