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Build the Mercury

- by Jim "Goose" Goodwin

The following is from the Storyboard Instructions for Making the Mercury used in the movie "The Lovely Bones"

The Mercury Ship & History

The Mercury was built on Ocracoke, NC island in 1806 and served as a Revenue Cutter  (the early Coast Guard).  During the War of 1812,  British Admiral Cockburn's fleet arrived off Ocracoke Island with the intention of landing forces & invading North Carolina.  Captain Wallace of the Mercury sited the British invasion fleet & set off to warn the Governor in New Bern.

Cockburn sent 4 ships to catch the Mercury.  Capt. Wallace pressed on all sails, cut away the long boat, dumped several cannons, and successfully out sailed his foe. Wallace's outstanding seamanship saved North Carolina from invasion.  With his surprise thwarted, Cockburn left North Carolina waters, sailed up the Chesapeake Bay & sacked Washington, D.C..  C.S. Forester's fictional seaman, Horatio Hornblower, is based on Admiral Cockburn.

The Mercury is known as a double topsail schooner.  In 1812 seaman terms, she was called a "Jackass Brig".  The term "jackass" refers to being a "mixture or cross"...like a mule. The Mercury has the fore & aft gaff-rigged sail of a schooner, like the Hattie Creef, & square sails like the Bermuda. 

From a sib-craftsman perspective, it is the most challenging of "The Lovely Bones Fleet." The Mercury SIB has a two-piece hull section.  The lower piece is already positioned in the bottles. The way that the square sails are rigged, both masts will rise together by pulling one group of lines.         

Inserting the Mercury

1.  Remove the ship from its working jig.
2.  The Mercury has three (3) control line groups "J" controls the jib sails & raises the fore mast & aft mast, "2" controls the fore sail, & "1" controls the aft sail. On the "1" & "2" sails, the tan line controls the bottom boom, and the two black lines control the upper boom.
3.  Gently pull away the aft sail first, then the fore mast. Lower the masts part way and then rotate the square sail Yard arms so that they parallel the masts.  Lay the sails so the curl of one sail laps over the other.  Continue lowering the masts to the hull.  Jib sails should curl over the fore mast & hull.
4.  Insert the aft sail first into the bottle, then insert the fore sail.  Try not to cross the lines.

5.  Insert the Mercury hull.  Make certain that the sails neatly overlap each other.  It should side in easily with a little wiggling.

6.  Using the long tweezers, grip the bowsprit near the hull. Clear away the pull strings that pass through the bowsprit before gripping the bowsprit.  Note:  the Mercury's hull is too heavy to use the polypus in this step.  Use the long tweezers.

7 .  Place Mercury hull on the lower hull section.  You do not have to hit the dowel pins at this point.

8.  Pull gently the "J" lines. Masts & jib sails will position themselves. You can switch to the polypus tool now if you desire. Grip the lower portion of the bowsprit near the hull.

9.  Gently pull the "2" lines.  You can wrap the tan line around the ring finger tip for more control in pulling the sail.

10. Gently pull the "1" lines with similar technique as in step # 9. This insertion process takes about 3 minutes.

11. Grip the lower fore mast & place upper hull on to the dowel pins of the lower hull.  Use a knitting hook to press hulls together. check the fit, then remove upper hull & set it towards the port side away from the lower hull while applying glue.

12. Place some white glue on a Q-Tip dowel.  Do not overload the Q-Tip with glue...it will drip. Make sure Q-tips are taped to the dowel with white masking tape.  Blue painter's tape is not correct for this film's time period.

13. Insert glue-laden Q-tip dowel & spread on lower hull section. May need several applications.  Don't worry if white glue gets on ocean or lower hull sides...it will dry clear. If glue drips on pull strings, use a water / spit laden q-tip to clean up your mess.

14. Place upper hull on to lower hull with polypus gripping the lower foremast.  Press hulls together with clean knitting hook.


Follow the masts & sails securing steps for the Hattie Creef, steps 15 - 25.  Secure masts & sails working aft to fore to jib. It is the same process.

Note:  Since the hot-wire method for removing bowsprit lines is to be used, make certain that when Krazy Glue is applied to the Jib sail lines passing through the bowsprit that the glue is placed on the upper part of the bowsprit.  Glue will permeate through the lines, yet you do not want excessive amounts of krazy glue on the lines below the bowsprit that will hinder burning. Also, all lines are waxed.  Waxing lines takes out the kinks & tangles when working with long strands & reinforces the lines.  With respect to the hot-wire line removal method...the lines are candle wicks!

Once fore & aft sails,  masts & jib sails are secured, square the sails w/ the brass hook tool (see step # 23 in Bermuda story board)




Note: To accommodate for masts raising, the position of the ship is slightly forward than the completed Mercury bottles.  This was done so that the mast could be closer to the deck & give more dramatic effect.  Also, the square sails in these bottles have been glued so they will not need severe adjustment as when the ship first goes into the bottle.  Fore  and aft sails are close to the masts to enhance the visual "ooh - ahh".  You can experiment with pulling all three pull groups at once...or have "father & daughter" pull specific lines.  When pulling the lines, one hand should be on the bottle somewhere near the stand to keep the bottle from sliding out of the stand.

1.  Mercury mast raising bottle as it was sent: note: tan clay securing pull lines in two places.

2.  Pull the "J" line group first.  Then pull "2", then "1" .  Masts & sails will be in position.


3.  RETURNING / DROPPING THE MASTS - After pulling the lines, the masts can be lowered by: 
  1. giving some slack in the jib lines with the brass hook.  Pull slack on jib lines between the fore mast & bowsprit
  2. using knitting hook or polypus, gently push the masts down.  Can place hook on the top sail.