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Around The Fleet

Building Wooden Ships

Master builder takes pride in building history

Bob Duncan has been building models since he was 10 years old. At 93, not much has changed.


"I love building models," said Duncan, master model builder, Maritime Museum of San Diego. "I've got two or three around here that I've built. I'm retired and I love working here because it keeps me going. I've got grand kids, I've got great grand kids, and I want to be with them as long as I can."

"Each model tells a story in part because of what its function was when it was built," said Kevin Sheehan, manager of the collections, Maritime Museum of San Diego. "Some of what you might call museum quality or museum grade, which means they are meant to illustrate to a visitor or to the public in general how a vessel looked, it might not exist anymore in reality, but you can look at it and say okay, 400 years ago - 300 years ago, this is how people sailed across the ocean. Our models are almost like a celebration of naval architecture and indeed of model making itself."

Duncan is a master builder, and currently he's the only one of his kind at the museum.
Images of master ship builder

Images of master ship builder


"I built the model of the Surprise (HMS) and that's what got me started here," said Duncan. "It was 2007 and I brought it in when I finished it and my daughter says, 'we don't have any place for it, are you through with it?' I said yeah, so I brought it down to the museum and asked them if they'd like to show it. It's been here ever since."

Duncan mostly makes period pieces like schooners, brigs and early 17th and 18th century pieces.

"I built a model of the Californian, it was scratch built and the only plans I had for that was from the original build plans for 83/84 when they built it here," said Duncan.

"I love walking around the museum when we have visitors here and hearing their comments about some of the displays," said Sheehan. "You'll hear people talk about how their grandfather stood right there on the Missouri or someone will say 'that's the boat I served on, that's the vessel I served on,' so I guess models become a time machine connecting the past events with the present iteration and that's a fantastic thing to see."

For more information about Naval history, visit Naval History Heritage Command's website.
Graphic of lego ships

Graphic of lego ships