These are some photos of my build of the “Black Princess,” a Revolutionary War privateer based on the Aurora “The Buccaneer/Black Falcon” model kit. First, a little background- In 1958, Paramount Pictures brought forth “The Buccaneer,” a movie
about the Battle of New Orleans. Pirate/Privateer Jean Lafitte (Yul Brynner, sporting a fine head of hair) has to decide whether to ally himself with the underdog United States, or throw in with the mighty British Empire. To complicate things, he’s wooing
Annette (Inger Stevens), the daughter of Governor William C.C. Claiborne (E. G. Marshall). Of course, he eventually decides to help Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson (Charlton Heston) drive the dastardly English back to the sea! A classic of Hollywood
bombast, it didn’t worry too much about historical accuracy. The movie never mentions the irony that the battle, although undeniably a great American victory, took place almost three weeks after the Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812. There’s no
real evidence that Jean Lafitte was even AT the Battle of New Orleans (although his brother Alexandre was). Additionally, Governor Claiborne’s daughter was only two years old at the time, a mite young to be a-courtin’. There’s a LITTLE bit of truth to
the romantic angle, though, as Lafitte actually was engaged in an affair with the Governor’s wife, *cough cough* and let’s move right along. Newsweek reviewed the movie and called it “two hours of the most pretentious nonsense to lay claim to a
moviegoer’s spending money.” So there.

Okay, but what’s this got to do with ship modeling? Promotional tie-ins! Aurora Plastics Corporation (started in Brooklyn NY but moved to West Hempstead NY (Nassau County) at stone's throw from Felix Bustelo's palatial mansion) did a lot of movie
promotional model kits, usually monsters or science fiction. For “
The Buccaneer” they produced a model of a sailing brig, entitled (with great imagination) “The Buccaneer.” It has been re-issued several times, occasionally renamed “Black Falcon.” The
scale looks to be maybe 1/100 or so. I ran into one of these re-issues at the local hobby shop. I had been considering taking a shot at a good sailing ship, maybe the big “
Cutty Sark” or “USS Constitution,” but I wanted to hone my sailing ship chops a bit
first. I saw the kit and thought “
Hey, I bet I can make something REALLY GOOD out of that!

Ha ha ha ha ha! What an idiot I am.
Actually, I think I did a pretty good job, but man, it was a rough row to hoe. The model is typical of the time, cast in black plastic and with an exploded instruction diagram. Thick, heavy, clunky, overdone detail and indifferent fit. Right and left hull
halves, and a full-length deck that didn’t really fit quite right without plastic surgery and putty. The first thing I noticed when I got it home and opened the box was that the deck had molded-on rope coils, looking like nothing so much as so many piles of
doggy doo. Fortunately, an X-Acto knife with a chisel blade made short work of them, followed by rescribing the deck with a dental pick and sanding it smooth. In each corner of the waist were the mothers of all Aztec stair steps, rising up to the
forecastle and quarterdeck, respectively. More work for the X-Acto knife. I filled the resulting open areas with card and putty, then sanded smooth. I replaced the stairs with photo-etch from the spares box.

The anchors looked like toys and had to go, but I had some much nicer ones in a drawer to replace them. The original cat’s heads pointed strait forward, and were totally wrong, so more surgery to turn them 90 degrees outboard, forming proper cat’s
heads. The sprit yard was a simple plastic bar that went right through the bowsprit, so I simply cut it off and replaced it with a yard from the spares box. The biggest problem was one I could not solve- the fife rails around the masts were simply big
semi-pyramidal boxes with the tops of the belaying pins sticking out of the top edges, with the mast rising from the middle, and totally useless for belaying lines. To make it better I would have had to cut them off, replace the missing deck, drill holes for
the masts (which themselves would have to be replaced so that they stepped properly in the keel), and scratch build two sets of fife rails. I chickened out and left them as is. I wound up leading rigging lines down to the tops of the belaying pins, then
trying to hide the whole mess as much as possible with loops of line. I drilled out the cabin skylights and windows. Using various reference books, I devised what seemed like a plausible rigging plan. Another problem for me were the shrouds and
ratlines. The kit-supplied plastic ones were ugly as sin and were not to be borne. I rigged my own, but I’m not very happy with the result. Barrels, bitts and cleats from the spares box, scratch-built capstan bars and rack, breeching cables for the guns,
rigging blocks from Bluejacket. Finally, I was thumbing through a book about ships of the Revolutionary War and came across a line drawing of a privateer out of Connecticut that made one cruise in 1781. It was remarkably similar to the model and I
decided on the spot that I was building the brig “
Black Princess,” Humphrey Crary, Master.
Most of the "older" modelers out there, who grew up building models in the 1950s and 1960s, will remember with fondness those icons of modeling art, the kits from Aurora Models of West Hempstead, NY. Whether it was the garishly colored plastic
of their airplane kits or their 1:600 scale warship kits, Aurora's motto of "Hook the Youngsters with Cheap Model Kits!" was a staple of the Ozzie and Harriet and Howdy Doody Generation. The
Black Princess from the Aurora Black Falcon kit is just a
sample of this loved model company.

Mark Leonard
Santa Rosa, California
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