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Building the Heller Chebec

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The Chebec...

The Chebec is a sleek lined sailing vessel used by the Barbary pirates in the late 17th century. The vessel could also be propelled by oars. To be able to combat the pirates on equal terms Spain and France eventually built their own Chebecs. The hull design suggests great speed but would have provided little crew comfort or shelter from the elements.

I first ran into a model of a Chebec when I was at the nautical college in Den Helder in Holland about 35 years ago. It was one of the legendary Imai models made of that beautiful wood like polystyrene and included cloth sails, metal pad eyes and for some strange reason a wooden bowsprit. I built her and loved the fine flowing lines of the finished modelís hull and the beautifully raked masts. Somewhere along the line, moving from town to town over the years the Chebec disappeared.

I was completely unaware until about 4 years ago that Heller had made a gigantic 1/50th scale Chebec until I ran into an article online in which someone mentioned buying one on E-bay. From that moment on the hunt was on for my own Heller Chebec. After 3 botched attempts to get hold of one on E-bay I finally managed, in the autumn of 2007 to get hold of my Heller Chebec in the USA for the eye watering price of $170,-, (that is including postage to Europe and import duties in Holland). The model is long out of production so if you see one on E-bay go for it. This Heller creation is a joy to build and if they ever decide to reissue this model Iíll be in line for a second.

The model I bought had been produced in 1977 and rolled off the Heller line when I was still an apprentice learning the ropes at sea. I must admit that it was with great trepidation that I started this build of a 30 year old model. I didnít realize starting the build that this vessel would consume nearly all of my modeling time in 2008.

The model was in excellent condition with crisp moldings, little flash and nicely executed carvings on the panels for the stern castle. The wood texture on all the planking was realistic enough to make me decide to do some further experimenting with oil paints to add a realistic wood look to my build. The obligatory plastic sails were included but I binned them right away. The only problem during building the hull and fitting the main deck was that the plastic had become very brittle and tended to split when it came into contact with super glue. Another sign of age was the amazing collection of ejector marks on the inside of the bulwarks that had me scratching my head for a solution at first; fill with putty or Mr. surfacer and risk losing the wood texture or leave them alone and hope that they would fade into the background when all detailing was added, (check the photoís to see what I finally did).

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About the Author

About Gremlin56


Very nice indeed - thank you for sharing.
SEP 06, 2010 - 06:14 PM
What an excellent writeup of a beautiful model! I also have a Heller Chebec (and a 1:80 Ertl Xebec) and I must say no other class of sailing vessel conveys a sense of speed than this design. Your work on this challenging (but rewarding) kit is an inspiration to us all. Regarding the commentary on the cannons, perhaps springing for metal barrels would be better for future projects? My Chebecs will eventually be rendered along North African lines--someday. --Karl
SEP 07, 2010 - 06:45 AM
Dave, Alec, thanks for the kind remarks Karl, the barrels were the least of the problems. Even if I had splurged on metal barrels I would still have had to add the necessary rope work to the gun carriages. I have the Heller HMS Victory sitting in my stash but the thought of lashing down 100 guns makes me cringe away from the model cheers, Julian
SEP 07, 2010 - 08:00 AM
Hi Julian! Working on those old time models can be a grateful project, and for the looks of yours, it certainly was! I like the overall aspect of the finished model, but with notes on the black wash/raw humber on the painted areas of the hull, drilling the small artillery barrels and weathering the cables and ropes from the main artillery carriages would be a A+++++ model - Perhaps I am being too picky Congratulations on a wonderful job on a wonderful scarce model - at least seen built!!!!!!! Cheers, Rui
SEP 07, 2010 - 09:26 AM
Hi Julian! For large scale sailing models, I find rigging relaxing, but the same does not apply to rigging steel ships even in 1:350 scale--very odd, isn't it? Regarding your HMS Victory project, I would forward Shepherd Paine's advice: don't bother modeling that which cannot be seen. In this case, I recommend dry fitting the hull and decks and observing just how much of the interior can actually be seen. I would bet that most of the guns (apart from their barrels of course) would not be seen at all, thereby saving yourself from having to rig 100+ individual carriage mounts. I have a couple of sailing-era projects on the boards, so it will be a nice change to get back to 1:96 modeling. --Karl
SEP 07, 2010 - 10:17 AM
Obrigado Rui, your observations are spot on. Coin dropped with a clang when you mentioned weathering the gun tackles. That would have toned them down nicely. Have to remember that on future builds. Hi Karl, with eyesight that seems to get worse every week I don't find rigging relaxing It is easier in in larger scale though. I have a nasty feeling that the Victory will be one of the kits in my stash that will never be built. It would consume a lot of time and effort and I seem to be drifting back towards WW I and II battleships at the moment. For the next few months I wil be working on the Haruna. Take the future from after that cheers, Julian
SEP 08, 2010 - 05:51 AM
beautiful job..Do concur about some discreet weathering though..Also reminds me I must tackle my IMAI version before the old eyes give completely.. I recently finished the Biggie Revell CONSTITUTION for the US Embassy here in Warsaw and the rigging is not so bad when you have the tools and just get yourself into the ''zone'. No coffee and about 60 to 90 minutes at a time..Job soon done. Same with guns..Just make a production line out of it...I also have the Heller Victory and have bought all brass cannons ready for her..
SEP 13, 2010 - 08:07 AM
Thanks James, How about some photos of your Constitution? My 1/96th Constitution is still standing half finished in my sauna and looking like it will never get finished Cheers, Julian (before anyone asks: yes, a sauna is a great place to store models until you turn the heat on)
SEP 13, 2010 - 08:39 AM
I think this may be the best simulated wood ever. Beautiful with the faded red...., I will have to try this technique next time.
JAN 30, 2011 - 03:41 PM
Extremely kind of you Norman, thank you ! Cheers, Julian
JAN 31, 2011 - 05:06 AM