Boat-building expert details life on the sea

Smooth sailing

Posted: Thursday, September 06, 2001

Don Ronda has been building model ships for almost 60 years, and in the process, has become something of a historical expert on the ships he replicates.

"To me, one of the most important things is getting all of the details on the ships accurate," Ronda said. "So I read about the boats, look at pictures and study the plans if I can find them. I pick up a lot of information when I research the ships and their history."

Ronda's precision with measurements and attention to detail has earned some of his models prominent display in museums all over the country.

He said he first began model-building around the age of 10. At that time, he would put together kits that came with precut pieces and all the boats' accessories included. He still owns his first boat model and displays it in his home.

Years later, he decided to build a model of his fishing boat. Since he had no kit, Ronda said he took measurements of the boat and calculated the scale to which he would design the model.

"I knew I could figure all of that out," he said. "After I built that one, a friend asked me to build a model of his. One thing just led to another."

When Ronda heard the Pratt Museum was looking for boat displays, he decided to build models to represent the fishing industry in Alaska.

"I wanted to make a model of each type of fishing boat that was fishing Alaska waters at any given time. I don't think enough people realize the impact of Alaska's fishing industry, and I think it's something that is important to know about."

Ronda's latest model, a replica of the Homer-based crabber Time Bandit that recently went on display at the Pratt Museum, took two years to complete. Modeled after the 132-foot vessel that sits in the harbor, it is based on a scale of one-half inch to the foot.

The wood, fiberglass and glue model was completely constructed by hand and is accurate down to the last detail, such as the crab pots on its deck and ventilating window in the wheelhouse.

Upon completing the Time Bandit, Ronda began work on several new projects, including a model of the

Resolution. The Resolution and Discovery were vessels that Capt. James Cook sailed on his 1778 voyage in an attempt to find the Northwest Passage, a hoped-for sea link between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. In the process, Cook discovered the body of water that eventually bore his name -- Cook Inlet.

"I had some old plans from the model of the Endeavor (one of Cook's earlier ships) that I had done. I really had to modify those plans to fit the Resolution, but I made it work," Ronda said. "Whatever wasn't on the plans, I drew on by hand and decided what kind of details I wanted to add to it."


A close-up of one of Ronda's models shows the amount of detail he puts into his work.

Photo by Sean Pearson

Ronda read several books on Cook's voyages to get a clear idea of what life was like on the ship and how things were laid out. He also got several life-size pictures of the ship purely by accident.

"My wife and I were traveling with an Elderhostel group to Australia when I spotted the mast of a ship anchored off the coast," Ronda said. " I knew I had to get a closer look."

He had inadvertently stumbled upon the Resolution, restored to its original glory.

"I couldn't believe my luck," he said. "I took pictures of every detail I could think of."

Ronda said he is unsure how long it will take for him to finish the Resolution, or any other model he has started.

"They're done when they're done," he said. "I try to not to set any time limits for myself or it takes the fun out of it."

In the meantime, he stays busy with other woodworking projects, including model airplanes and furniture for the house. He also leads historical boat tours at the Homer harbor three days a week, where he passes on his knowledge of the types of boats, their uses and history.

Ronda said he always returns to work on his models, even the ones he finds frustrating.

"I have one model of a shrimper called the Peggy Jo that I've worked on for several years. I've had all kinds of problems with it, including the wood on the hull cracking. But I always come back to it. It's definitely a labor of love."

Sean Pearson is a reporter for the Homer News.

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