WILL SAIL AGAIN - IN MINIATURE
The Guardian/Nigel Armstrong -David
Thomson of North River, P.E.I. looks over a model of the Marco Polo he is
constructing using wood salvaged from the wrecked ship by a farmer when it sank
off Cavendish on July 25,1883. Mr. Thomson, an accomplished maker of musical
instruments, constructed the model from a piece of wood just 17 centimetres in
diametre and 25 centimetres long, which he split and sawed into more than 2,000
tiny pieces. He estimates he has put some 250 hours of work into the model over
the past two years. He hopes to complete it this winter. Next summer, on or as
close as possible to the 122nd anniversary of the Marco Polo's sinking, he
hopes to sail the model over the site of the wreck. The original Marco Polo was
launched from a shipyard in Saint John's Marsh Creek in 1853, and set a record
as the fastest ship in the world.
model builder hopes to sail mini version of Marco Polo
David Thomson of P.E.I. has great plans for the famed vessel once his
replica is complete
The famed Saint
John-built clipper ship, Marco Polo, may sail again.
at least, a tiny version of it that musician and model builder David Thomson of
Warren Grove, P.E.I., is painstakingly crafting from a piece of planking a
local farmer salvaged when the vessel foundered and sank off Cavendish on July
Mr. Thomson has some big plans for his little
model, which is just 589 millimetres (roughly two feet) long, once he adds
intricate rigging to the nearly-complete hull over the winter months ahead.
On, or close as possible to the 122nd anniversary of the
Marco Polo's demise next summer, he dreams of being able to sail out of Stanley
Bridge, along P. E.I.'s northern shore, to the ship's watery grave - about
1,000 feet off Cavendish Beach - "and re-sail my model over the
If Mr. Thomson, 62, gets his way, there will be
music by his band P.E. I. Country and a guest list of at least 60 or 70 people,
including Elmer Peters, whose father Jeremiah salvaged the Marco Polo planking,
and Tommy Gallant, who found the wreck about four decades ago.
"And I would like to have a priest and minister, or
perhaps both, do a little service," Mr. Thomson said Wednesday. "I've read that
on a voyage from Liverpool to Australia, there were 55 people who died of
measles and there was one person who died salvaging material after she sank off
It was at that time, he said, that Jeremiah
Peters of Mayfield salvaged a 30-foot-long, 10 by 10-inch beam from the Marco
Polo, which became the main beam in his house in 1983, when a new foundation
The old beam was chucked behind the barn. It
lay there for years until Elmer Peters sold the property and took it with him.
"It wasn't 10-by-10 anymore," Mr. Thomson said. "It was
ate out with ants and rot and was only seven inches in diameter. And the piece
he gave me, it was seven inches in diameter and 10 inches long."
That was in 2002.
Since he was
already a maker of violins, mandolins, guitars and even a stand-up bass, his
first thought was to make a mandolin. But in talking with his good friend Alan
MacRae, one of them came up with the idea of building a model of the famed
sailing vessel from which the wood came.
"I chopped the
block into pieces with an axe and then I used a band saw to make little
planks," he said, explaining his approach. "And out of those little planks, I
made jigs sort of to form the ribs into the proper form for the ship. And then,
I made planks to do the hull and the deck and the masts."
Amazingly, Mrs. Thomson has used 2,000 pieces of wood and
still has plenty left.
"I have worked on it for two
years, a total of 250 hours to get this far," he said, "And it's not complete.
I have the copper bottom put on it, and I have the copper looking sort of
antique by putting sulphate on it that made it turn green. The copper is just a
foot above the water line, down to the keel. The top part of hull and deck is
black and white."
Along with the rigging, this winter's
work will include carving anchors out of one of two pieces of steel that came
from the original Marco Polo beam. He said the the younger Mr. Peters, now
nearing 91, vouches for the authenticity of the plank salvaged by his father in
"I knew the Marco Polo was carrying lumber when she
went down, and questioned whether it could be part of the load," said Mr.
Thomson. "I was told `no', because there were two steel pins in it."
Mr. Thomson has had no contact with Saint John
schoolteacher Barry Ogden, the visionary behind Saint John's own Marco Polo
project. However, he said he did get architectural drawings of the Marco Polo
from the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John and has visited the Port City to
check out two larger models of the vessel, including one now on display at
"I didn't know how the rigging worked."
Mr. Ogden spent 18 years pushing a floating replica of
the Marco Polo for Saint John but, due to the high price tag, settled for a
one-third scale, nonsailing replica now under construction. When completed, it
is expected to find a home as part of the Saint John's waterfront development.
Mr. Thomson would like to see his model displayed, too.
In the end, however, the father of three grown sons, and
grandfather of four, would like to see it stay in the family. "When you build
something, you hate to part with it," he said.
Thomson said he approached the whole project as a hobbyist.
"If you make it a job, it just ruins it," he said. "So, I
just work at it when I'm in a mood to work at it."
original Marco Polo was launched from the yard of James Smith at Marsh Creek on
April 17, 1853. She was the largest ship the yard had built.
On her most famous voyage, she sailed from Liverpool to
Australia in just 76 days, making her the fastest sailing ship in the world.
Previous voyages had taken 100 to 120 days.
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