Small Fortune

The works of this world-class model master are, in fact, art. And priced accordingly.

Model boatbuilders come in three types: amateurs, obsessives and true professionals. Then there's Rob Eddy, who takes from 1,500 to 5,500 hours to build perfectly scaled models of both power and sailing yachts. In some cases he charges almost as much as that of a full-size boat; that is to say, his models run from $30,000 to $200,000.

Robert H. Eddy's work graces homes, yacht clubs, and the interiors of magnificent sailing yachts, such as the 154-foot Scheherazade. He's not your grandfather's model maker who carved replicas from solid blocks of wood. Though Eddy does use wood, he also uses fiberglass and acrylic, and even more exotic materials; among the tools he uses are computers and laser cutters. "What technique I use," he says, "depends on each project."

There is seemingly no limit to the lengths Eddy will go to make a model. He will make his own hardware, choosing not to use standard model fittings cast from ready-made molds. But he also spurns mere metal, choosing instead to play alchemist-fashioning winches, cowlings and cleats into true-to-scale jewelry using white and yellow gold. Then there's his tendency to put diamonds in the handle recesses of on-deck winches, which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "brightwork." How does Eddy explain it? It seems that, having developed his own line of jewelry, he feels more comfortable working with exotic gems and precious metals than with tarnishable stainless or bronze. "Though the original outlay for materials may be more expensive," he reasons, "it's actually less costly than the labor-intensive task of plating items made of lesser materials."

Even knowing all this, an Eddy work of art is not as simple as it may sound. When someone orders a model of his yacht, he first gets the manufacturer's lines, then he goes and makes actual measurements on the yacht, noting the position of all fittings and any design changes that invariably have taken place. This can take him around the world. And when at the yacht's location it is not unusual for him to spend 200 to 300 hours just collecting data. To get all the details-to photograph, video and measure the blocks, wheel, rudder, and deck hardware-Eddy can spend two weeks with a yacht.

Using this hands-on, detailed information and his computer, he draws a complete set of lines, and then reduces them to scale. Next he decides on the modeling technique that's suitable for the hull, lays out a timeline and-finally-starts the process.

To help him work in minute detail, Eddy has acquired special tools such as a miniature lathe, a small table saw for cutting 1/8-inch deck planks and a crucible for liquefying gold. He also considers the model's display, and plans for that, too-where there is no room for a large replica, he has built special mirror-lined cases so that a half model can look like a full-size model. This he did for Scheherazade when companionway widths prohibited the display.

Such compulsive attention to detail didn't come to Eddy by accident. Ever since his mother presented him with a modeling kit as a boy, he has trained to an incredibly high level. And though boats are his passion, Eddy started as an architectural modeler in Boston. He went on to apprentice as a jeweler and then designed his own line. He's also worked in a number of boatyards, including Wayfarer in Camden, Maine, and Rockport Marine in Rockport, Maine.

Born in Cooperstown, New York, he moved at four with his parents to Camden. Here he eventually became known as the "cellar dweller," for he often worked at home in his basement shop. He is also known as the "Rotten Robby," a title bestowed upon him by his "loving fans" on a card celebrating his 50th birthday last year. The nickname comes from his very youthful exuberance when he would build models and then blow them up.

In a man of such superlatives, the most amazing thing about Rob Eddy is the time he takes to build a scale model that is as intricate and true to form as the original. It took him 1,500 hours to produce Snowhawk. Its cost: $72,000. Feast on the details: white gold cowlings and guards, tiny coils to scale of halyards hung on mast cleats, even deadlight prisms of acrylic in the cockpit deck. But it's the 11/2-point diamonds inserted in the socketed holes where winch handles fit that really raise eyebrows. "Finishing off winch tops with diamonds is a trademark I started a while back," he says. "It puts a little pizzazz in the boat."

But it is elegance, not pizzazz that describes his biggest project-a two-and-a-half-foot model of the 122-foot Atlantide. It took 5,270 hours to create a replica of the 1930s vintage sailing motoryacht. How over-the-top is that? Consider that 2,000 hours is a year's work (40 hrs./50 wks.) for most of us.

Some of the other 27 models Eddy has finished over the past 30 years did not take as long. "The average project," he says, "runs about 3,000 hours." Wow. No wonder "bookings require from one to three years of lead time."

This amount of work is accomplished not by a hobbyist but by a master. "You have what I consider hobbyists, and semi-hobbyists," says Eddy, meaning semiprofessionals, "and then you have the true professional who does it for a living. Hobbyists, generally, don't take the pains or go to the level of detail I do. I authenticate to scale and re-create all the actual hardware." This includes masts, rigging, hull shapes, even the color of the bottom paint. And he does it to viewable scales of 1/2 or 1/4 inch to the foot.

Although Eddy separates himself from the hobbyists he also recognizes that "among professionals there is a great variety of specialists. I do what I do, which is different from those who have more historical and documentary interests," he says. "Some people ask me if I'm "the best in the world?" Well no, I'm not. But I am pretty good...." Shipbuilder Erik Ronnburg thinks otherwise: "In our world of about 12 top-echelon modelers, Eddy is definitely the Number One guy." Obviously, Eddy is a busy fellow; still, he has his dreams, just like the rest of us. Well, sort of like the rest of us: Eddy dreams of the day when he can tackle two different projects. The first is a model that epitomizes "vintage"-Sumurun, a William Fife design built in 1914, named for a princess in a Max Reinhardt pantomime. Sumurun is a stunning boat, a classic, both "fast and bonnie," wrote Fife. She's a 94-foot ketch restored at Wayfarer in 1982 that will race this May in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge.

The other project involves a full-size boat, not a model, of his own design. "I've drawn up the lines of a 34-foot double-ender. Maybe someday...."

But someday is not likely to come very soon. He is just starting on a 65-foot sloop model, which could take the rest of this year. When he finishes, Rob, as always, will build a display case and, finally, supervise the moving and set-up of the model whatever its destination, be it New Zealand, France or here in the United States. This new model will then take its place on Rob's list of completed projects, which includes the 138-foot Herreshoff schooner Mariette, the 154-foot Andromeda, the 80-foot Turmoil, and several 40- and 50-foot sloops and ketches.

Contact: Robert H. Eddy & Associates, (207) 236-6579; www.yachtmodels.com.