Big passion for little boats

A retired naval consultant builds ships - the miniature kind that make a splash at shows.

Published February 9, 2007

Ed Singer's love for ships surrounds him in his Spring Hill home.

Just about every nook and cranny in his garage is filled with replica ships, from World War II warships to Coast Guard cutters. Even more can be found on display in the house. It's more than a hobby.

"It's a bit of an obsession," says the 66-year-old retired naval consultant. "Every day, I look forward to going out to my bench to see what I can come up with."

An avid modeler for more than 30 years, Singer finds the activity more than just a mental stimulant. It helps to distract him from the constant pain he suffers from a back disability. His garage workshop offers a welcome respite where his creativity is virtually unlimited.

"I get satisfaction from every part of it," Singer said. "Building a model from scratch offers a lot of freedom. I enjoy the challenge of taking an idea from my head and turning it into something I can look at and hold."

Singer, who is president of the Suncoast Ship Model Society, figures he's turned out about two dozen miniature vessels. He has built everything from vintage speedboats to modern super aircraft carriers. Every aspect of his models, from their beautifully curved balsa wood hulls to their soldered brass deck rails, is handcrafted. Singer has even outfitted his replicas for radio-controlled operation in water. A large-scale model might require upward of 400 hours to complete.

Singer, who spent 20 years in the Navy as a submarine communications officer before retiring in 1978, began his ship modeling hobby while in the service. After years of building kit models, he took the plunge into scratch-built craft. He found a company that offered template plans and searched books and on the Internet for historical photos of ships he wanted to build.

Construction begins with laying up the keel or the spine of the model. Using quick-dry glue, Singer will then build up the hull using strips of balsa. Once completed, a coat of fiberglass is applied to strengthen and waterproof the hull. The deck is laid in sections to allow for installation of motors and radio equipment.

Though he has no particular favorite, Singer admits a fondness for his one-eighth scale model of the cruiser USS Cleveland. The 6-foot, 4-inch-long model, with its meticulously detailed deck guns and a plank deck constructed from mahogany veneer, exemplifies Singer's articulation for detail work.

The model has earned top awards at model shows and will be on display Saturday at the Suncoast Ship Model Society's expo in Weeki Wachee. Singer looks forward to showing it off.

"When you work on something for a long period of time, it becomes part of you," he said. "I think that when people see my ships they also see the pride that went in to building them."

If you go

The Suncoast Ship Model Society will have its annual show and demonstration from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Weeki Wachee Senior Citizens Center clubhouse, 3357 Susan Drive, Weeki Wachee. Suggested donation is $1. Call Jim at 592-6419 for information.