John McNulty talk: report and video

Model shipwright: John McNulty at Tayvallich, Loch Sween, during trials for his model of King George V

CRSC’s Zoom presentations have been gathering steam over recent weeks, and it was John McNulty’s turn to take to the small screen on Wednesday 10 March.  Under the title ‘Master of Models’ John provided his 122-strong audience with a presentation as meticulously assembled as his model building. It was an enthralling display into how John has employed his creative vision and engineering skills over the years, to become the consummate ‘model shipwright’ that he undoubtedly is. Here Stuart Craig looks back at the evening. At the end of his report you will find a link to the video of John’s presentation.

A pharmacist by profession, John has spent most of his life living near the shores of Loch Fyne and was introduced into his craft by his father (also called John). They were pivotal in the formation of MARS. No, not the Sou’West paddler nor the planet, but the Mid Argyll Radio Sailing club. We were shown images of their models surfing the sheltered Glasgow park ponds at Rouken Glen, Queens Park and Maxwell Park, as well as in the Crinan Canal at Cairnbaan and finally taking to the sea in Loch Fyne, Loch Shira and Loch Sween.

Maid of Ashton: the models were quite small at first

Starting with a mini version of Maid of Ashton, the model shipwrights expanded the size of their models and their fleet, to such an extent that bigger cars and houses were needed. Skills were honed with plywood, sandpaper and ‘anything lying around’, and soon John was constructing his own models with a keen eye and an adroit hand.

The fleet was soon expanding, as was clear from the veritable ‘Duckworth and Langmuir’ assembly of Clyde steamers we were shown. Think of a favourite steamer and it was there!

Explaining that larger models performed better on the water, John increased the scale of his ships as the years went by. Soon he was working to a scale of ‘½ inch to the foot’ or  1:24 in ‘new money’. The result was a truly astounding model, completed in 1974, of Duchess of Hamilton – which (as you have already calculated) was nearly 4 metres long and weighed 80kg.

Soon he was also experimenting with different materials, such as glass-reinforced plastic and thin aluminium sheeting. The result was Jeanie Deans in 1979 and King George V in 2017, both to the 1:24 scale.

The availability of radio-controlled accessories allowed for dependable navigation of the models around the hazards of park ponds and sea lochs. John inevitably embraced the new technology, and demonstrated this by bringing his ships to life on our screens with video footage, some shot from the deck; we were back aboard the ‘King George’ again!

Lady of Mann in ‘dry dock’ at John’s home workshop

My personal favourites of the evening included a film of Lady of Mann ploughing the waters of the Crinan Canal, and a stunning set of images of Jeanie Deans at ‘Minard Pier’. There was also a poignant image of her at Tighnabruaich with a ‘real’ Waverley steaming towards the pier in the background.

From the engineering perspective it was fascinating to learn that John employed all sorts of unusual components to achieve forward propulsion: windscreen-wiper motors, electric wheelchair motors and lawnmower belt drives. Nothing gets thrown out in the McNulty household. Interior fittings are also included in the lounges of his models, for which dolls house furnishings came in handy.

A dining-room scene from the ‘Jeanie’ looked so realistic that I expected to see a roll and square sausage lying on a plate on one of the tables. Miniaturisation was embraced — the ‘King George’ has working winches and a ringing bell telegraph.

John also gave us food for thought regarding scale wave heights, wind speeds and the alarming thought that a shoal of mullet passing his models in Loch Fyne looked like a shiver of basking sharks (yes, I looked up that collective noun).

John has exhibited his models at Ship Ahoy! exhibitions, aboard Waverley and elsewhere. Look out for future road-shows – the quality of his work is astounding.

Once again we had CRSC members from across the Pond – the Atlantic, that is, not Maxwell Park – and from Switzerland, delighted that they could take part in a Club meeting.

We are all indebted to John for the time he took to prepare his presentation. Thanks are also due to Robin Copland for his technical skills in making the evening run smoothly, and to Donald Thomas for recording the video. For me, I am suitably inspired, so as soon as the shops re-open I’m off to buy myself an Airfix aircraft carrier. And if I fail to complete that, there’s always LEGO.

Click on the arrow below for the video of John McNulty’s presentation. Further down you will find a selection of photographs showing his model-making exploits.

How it all began: back in the 1960s John McNulty senior (left) gave the model-making ‘bug’ to his son

An early gathering of the McNulty fleet

For John, it was always about making his models as realistic as possible

Getting the right hull shape for Jeanie Deans

The growing sophistication of radio control helped John to advance his art

In June 2017 John gave a presentation to the 22 pupils at Strone School, with his Jeanie Deans model as centrepiece. It transpired that none of the youngsters had previously been aware of the Clyde’s shipping heritage

Jeanie Deans and Waverley, together again at Tighnabruaich

An extraordinarily lifelike Duchess of Hamilton in repose

Scene from John’s workshop: repairing the propeller shafts of Duchess of Hamilton

King George V taking shape….

….with funnels and superstructure now in place

Sophisticated modern radio controls help her to keep a course

The real thing or a model? Well, both actually. The view aft from the top deck of John’s KGV model

King George V resurrected!

Passenger certificate for John’s KGV model


King George V returns to Oban

Published on 12 March 2021