Bluenose Canadian Schooner

Deck Plank Planning

May 29, 2016

Day 59.

The next big part of the build is the ship’s deck.  Getting the deck in place seals up the hull, making it a pretty big milestone.

However, unlike the hull, the deck does not get painted.  The deck is the first thing I’m working on that will be left ‘natural’ and be fully visible on the finished ship.  So, I need to do it right.

Before I can start planking the deck, I need to figure out how I will handle plank lengths, and I’ll need to do some mock-ups.

The Model Shipways Bluenose plans don’t show any end joints between planks – it looks like one strip runs the entire length of the fore deck and another single strip runs the length of the quarter deck.  This seems to be the approach suggested in the practicum, as well as most of the build logs I’ve seen.

It would certainly be easier and faster to do it that way, but is that ‘correct’?

Plank Size and Layout

The model is 1:64 scale, and measuring the fore deck shows that the ‘real life’ size is somewhere around 64 feet.  That seems too long for a single plank.  Those crafty Canadians would have need a lot of tall trees to cut this many 60+ foot long planks.

Pictures of the original Bluenose deck are hard to find, but I was able to find many of the Bluenose II, including some from construction.  In these photos, joints are clearly visible in the deck planks.  So, I do think it would be appropriate to add them.  But how long should they be?

From research, it seems like deck plank lengths vary wildly, based on available materials and the construction of the ship.  The planks need to have their ends rest on the bulkheads, so we’ll start there.

On this model, the bulkheads are 1 11/16″ apart on their centerlines.  In 1:64 scale, this translates to about 9′ between each bulkhead.  So, if we want our planks to be more reasonable lengths (25-45 feet on the real ship), we need to use planks that span 3, 4 or 5 bulkhead spaces.

The Nautical Research Guild has an excellent tutorial on planning deck layouts.  I won’t bother explaining it in detail here (just go read it yourself).  Basically, this tutorial shows how to alternate plank layouts every 2, 3, 4, or 5 planks.  The goal is to choose a plank length and layout that staggers the joints between planks to create an appealing and realistic pattern.

I decided to use that as my guide.

For these patterns to work in this case, the ‘every’ number needs to line up with the bulkhead spacing.  An ‘every 4’ layout will use planks that span 4 bulkhead spaces, etc.  So, I need to decide between an ‘every 3’, ‘every 4’ or ‘every 5’ layout.

In addition to deciding between ‘every 3’, ‘every 4’ or ‘every 5’ layouts, I can decide which ‘position’ to start with at the center line.  This ends up being very important.

On the Bluenose, there are two wide planks on the fore deck (that are the width of two ‘normal’ planks).  These provide the foundation for the windlass (a big winch-looking piece of machinery).  Since these two wide planks need to go in a certain spot, they are going to force some joints at those locations.  We don’t want our planking layout to result in joints too close to these, or it will look wrong.

To help me plan, I drew everything up in Photoshop.  The drawing is a little crude, but I was careful to ensure that the spacing and sizing of everything (bulkheads, planks, etc) was to scale.

Every 3

Using an ‘every 3′ layout will give us 27’ planks, which is probably just about right.  However, only having three planks to alternate doesn’t give us many options for shifting the joint next to the centerline.  There are only three possible results with this layout.  The pattern for this layout is 1, 3, 2.

Looking at the three possible layouts for an ‘every 3’ setup, we see that two of them will result in a plank joint being right next to the wide planks.  We want to avoid that.  There is one layout that works – if we start with joint 2 on the starboard side of center.



Every 4

In this layout, we create a pattern that repeats every 4 planks.  The joints fall on four bulkheads, which we’ll number 1-4.  This would result in planks that are about 36′ long on the actual ship.  To get a good pattern, the guide says to place your joints on bulkheads 1, 3, 2, and 4, in that order.  We’ll look at several uses of this layout that start with a different joint at the center line.


Again we’ve got several layouts that put a joint right next to the wide planks.  Starting with joint #4 on the starboard side of center looks like it would work, but if you look closely at the port side (top), it still has joints pretty close to that wide plank.  I’m not sure I like that.



Every 5

We can also use an ‘every 5′ layout.  This rotate through 5 different joint positions, and uses longer planks.  These cover 5 bulkhead spaces, resulting in planks that would be 45’ long on the real ship.  The pattern for this layout is 1, 3, 5, 2, 4.

Using the ‘every 5’ layout gives us the most options, but again only one variation avoids putting joints right next to the wide planks.



Finalizing the Plan

There is a way to make each layout plan work by shifting the starting position.  So, we can’t trivially reject any of them.  We have to consider other factors.

After staring at the three workable layouts, I finally settled on ‘every 5’, with joint #4 on the centerline.  Several things contributed to my decision:

The ‘every 5’ layout gives a good balance between joint layout and a clean look.  The plank length is a little long, but I doubt this will be the only thing on my ship that isn’t ‘historically accurate’.