It seems that Johnny Depp has a lot to answer for. Well, not just Depp, or even
the rest of the gang in the smash-hit Pirates of the Caribbean movie trilogy.
According to Avshalom Zemer, at least some of the “blame” for the surge in
interest in sea craft of yesteryear can also be laid at the door of some of our
Soviet- and Russian-born fellow Israelis.
Zemer is director of the
National Maritime Museum in Haifa, where a new exhibition of model ships opened
last Saturday, and he is expecting the museum box office to do brisk business.
“I think people have been fascinated by model ships for many many years,” says,
“but ship-model-building got a serious boost in this country when the Soviet
olim started arriving in the mid-’70s, and especially with the mass immigration
of the early ’90s.”
The new show features a wide range of model ships,
from miniature 17th-century English and French flagships, to warships,
boats and simple tugs. Regardless of scale, Zemer says, most of the
items are state-of-the-art offerings. “Model-shipbuilding is a very
very competitive field,” he states. “Some of the Russianborn Israeli
model-builders are nautical engineers and studied at Soviet naval
before they moved here.”
Igor Cherniak, who has a model in the new
display, has impressive professional credentials, having studied in a
naval school and subsequently serving as the captain of a submarine.
compatriot, Boris Volkhonsky, who also contributed a model to the
spent some time at a shipbuilding academy in Leningrad, and Zemer says
another contributor, Ephraim Ronen, spends most of his waking hours
“It really is an all-consuming hobby,” he
However, not all the items in the exhibition involved dawn to dusk
work. “Some are made by professionals and some by very high-standard
and others by amateurs of a reasonable standard,” Zemer adds. “But I
public will enjoy each and every one of the models.”
Zemer notes that the
pastime and interest in ships, on various levels, has been around for
“The earliest models dated back to the fourth century BCE, and they were
designed for votive purposes.
Seafarers would go to churches to make
offerings in order to ensure their safe return from an impending sea
Intriguingly, the basic Byzantine church structure was designed
to mimic the shape of a ship.
The main body of the church hall was called
the naos or nave (from naos, meaning ship in Greek, or navis, the Latin
THE NEW exhibition incorporates contributions from 11 local
model ship builders, all of whom assembled their miniatures from
can, of course, get a kit – but it’s just not the same thing,” says the
director. “Model builders often use glass for the windows, and the same
wood as the original, although today there is an increasing tendency to
balsawood, which is lightweight, and some even use cardboard, which they
acrylicize and then paint. It comes out looking just like the original
Model-ship-building also has a practical side to it, to this day.
“Sailors have lots of spare time on board and many of them used and
some of that time to make models of ships,” Zemer explains. “Because of
intimate knowledge of the craft the models are amazingly accurate
replica of the
Actually, that is not completely true. “The top part of the
models, above the waterline, is always accurate down to the finest
continues, “but the lower part is not generally at all accurate. The
don’t usually have much knowledge of the lower part of the boat.”
advanced simulation software readily available, one could be forgiven
assuming that models no longer have a practical role to play in the
business. Not so. “If you order any kind of sea craft today, the
company will make three accurate models of the boat for various people
to get a
better idea of what the final product will look like,” notes Zemer.
still like to look at something tangible rather than just an image on a
For Zemer there is simply no substitute for seeing the genuine
artifact for yourself, although he says there is more to it than just
eyeful of some esthetically pleasing miniature boat.
“Even in the virtual
era of the computer, the impact of seeing the actual models is still
It fires the imagination, especially the romance that sails generate.
also add textual explanations about the boats and the era in which they
operated. When kids, and adults, read about the Titanic or The Bounty at
museum, most of them later go home and read up more about them on the
Zemer says he is just as fascinated with the museum’s exhibits
as members of the public visiting the venue for the first time. “Orit
who also helped to put on the exhibition, and I lose ourselves in the
They conjure up all the excitement and color of the adventures and the
of those times. I get to work at 5 a.m. and I often find myself with a
by the evening because I’ve been so engrossed in the display models that
haven’t had a bite to eat all day.”Visitors to the new exhibition be
warned – don’t forget your pittas! For more information: (04) 853-6622