Higher and higher every day, till over the mast at noon.
(S.T. Coleridge, Rime of the ancient mariner, I, 29-30)
The Grand Princess will go down in the navigation history as the symbol of the marine engineering challenge to the epochal change of the third millennium.
As long as three lined-up football fields, with the same height of a fifteen-floor building, supported by a steel structure with a weight equivalent to three times the Eiffel Tower: this is an innovative project, a highly technological industrial product, with exceptional dimensions and a great complexity.
In short, a ship which represents the skills of the Italian industry on all the seas of the world.
The construction of the biggest cruise ship in the world (in 1997, the year of its launching) was a titanic enterprise; its reproduction in a scale of 1:48 required a great accuracy.
Carlo Bardelli and the members of his team, model makers with a great passion for this work, have been working for almost seven months to create a reproduction of the Grand Princess with a length of 6 metres and 20 centimetres and an overall weight of about 380 kg. Each element of the model has been entirely constructed in the Bardelli laboratory, and nothing of what is amazing us when we observe the Grand Princess was bought already assembled.
The creativeness and technical skills, combined into a powerful and indissoluble couple, led to the construction of the biggest ship model in the world, exhibited at the National Maritime Museum of Greenwich.
Carlo is working with passion, like every day for some years now, in his laboratory of Vittuone. Suddenly, the phone interrupts his work...
On the phone there is Fincantieri, the most important Italian naval industry, which conceived, constructed and launched most of the cruise ships of the world fleet.
The request made to Carlo has the enchanting fascination of a great challenge: constructing the greatest and most complex ship model of the world, to be exhibited at the National Maritime Museum of London, the “Sancta Sanctorum” of all the navy lovers. More than three million people, coming from all over the world, visit this Museum every year.
The chain which led to the creation of the Grand Princess model starts from an initiative of one of the oldest English naval companies: P&O. This company, the owner of the Grand Princess and other luxurious cruise ships, allocated to the National Maritime Museum nearly 6 million pounds, 50% of which to be destined to the museum and the other 50% to the construction of a brand new and futurist gallery, in which rooms P&O would have a place of honour.
All the age-long history of P&O is now here resumed in a special 20-metre-long armoured window which, with a controlled inner atmosphere, contains five models: the ‘Antonio Lopez’ sailing ship, the sail-steam mixed-propulsion ship ‘Rawlpindi’, ‘Strathmore’, the first ship with a hull entirely made of iron, its advanced version ‘Uganda’, and the latest creation by P&O, the biggest cruise ship of the world: the Grand Princess.
The four existing models, constructed during the years, are all in a scale of 1:48: this is why this proportion has also been imposed for the reproduction of the Grand Princess, the pride of the company. This meant that the model to be constructed would have had a length of 6.25 metres, a width of 1.04 metres and a height (from the keel to the mast head) of 1.37 metres.
Going through the “Passenger Gallery” dedicated to P&O in the London museum, the impressiveness of this latest model with respect to the previous ones is immediately evident.
The outline of the Grand Princess can be seen already at the middle of the gallery, it is slowly discovered behind a half-curve... and it immediately and magnetically captures the greedy eyes of the visitors.
As you can understand, the construction and “success” of the model had a vital importance for the shipping company, for the managers of the museum, for Fincantieri.….and Carlo had the great responsibility of satisfying the requirements of all the parties.
Before accepting the job, the model maker of Vittuone carried out various inspections in the dock of Trieste where the construction of the Grand Princess was being terminated, in order to “feel” the object which he would have interpreted; he had long talks with the managers of the London museum, with the designers and architects of Fincantieri, he considered and weighed up the charges and possible unexpected circumstances which could arise... The charm of the challenge, which will have brought him beyond all the projects accomplished in his laboratory, was conquering him …. The optimism of the will prevailed on the imponderable pessimism proposed by the reason!
This is how, with an unexpected phone call and a lot of doubts, the enterprise of the miniature Grand Princess started.
The model maker, who had to face some structural problems difficult to be solved, did not leave out any detail of the original ship.
In fact, the challenge would have brought him beyond the limits of his past experiences, even though complex and wide (we are talking about hundreds of models created!). It is not possible to face this task without a suitable preparation!
The size and complexity of the project need above all the accurate planning of each stage of the work.
First of all, it is important to examine the original drawings and projects of the Grand Princess, to establish the dimensions and plan the chronological order of the working stages. In the Carlo’s laboratory, where everyone is “energetic and concentrated”, the general planes are unrolled, the plastic sheets are cut, the needed material is ordered.
And the construction starts.
Given the unusual dimensions of the Grand Princess, it is impossible to assemble and then transport it. It will therefore be necessary to carry out all the operations already on a mobile support which will be used in all the stages up to the transfer to the Museum. For this reason, once the problems concerning the scale reduction have been solved and the sequence of the operating procedures established, with a far-sighted eye, the model makers thought to the creation of the “slipway” which, in this particular case, would have been a suitable carriage made of iron on which the model would have been assembled and moved.
At the conceiving stage, the operators start thinking about how to ensure the closest correspondence of finishing and decorations to reality. In order to proportion each detail to human measures, Aldo is used: this is a little man with a height of 37.5 mm which, in a scale of 1:48, corresponds to a person with an average height of 1.80 metres, and it will be used as a reference point, for example, for establishing the height of those accessory details whose drawings are not available (for example, pieces of furniture and furnishings).
The proportions between the man and the architectural and decorative elements are derived from an impressing series of photos taken by Carlo during his inspections on the Grand Princess.
All the details and the ideas developed during the construction progress, the work progress, the problems …. are discussed with the engineers of Fincantieri and the managers of the Museum, during some meetings rigorously held every month at the laboratory in Vittuone, which then becomes, together with the gulf of Trieste where the “big” ship is carrying out the sea tests, the centre of the world with reference to the “small” ship.
The creation of this jewel of model ship construction, and not only, starts from the ship framework: the hull. It is easy to understand the importance of this stage of the work: the skeleton of the ship will then support all the superstructures and finishing. The expected weight of the finished model is around 400-450 kg and it will endure a travel of hundreds of kilometres on a truck to be transferred to the London museum.
In order to create it and make it very resistant, the same procedures used in shipyards are employed.
First of all, the keel, which is the “backbone” of the ship, is prepared; afterwards, it is the turn of the frames, made of 20 mm-thick plywood and connected to one another by means of wind-bracings which strengthen the structure.
Each segment of the hull is a little independent wood sculpture, studied in all its details, smoothed and shaped, which perfectly fits into the complicated mosaic of the framework. Different applications of epoxy resin and 2 mm-thick carbon fibre fabric make the hull even more resistant.
The result is a hull with sinuous and new lines.
Already at the end of this first stage, it is evident that the Grand Princess is a real “queen” of the sea, that it will have a majestic and light movement just thanks to its shaped “shell” which is ready to plough the waves, leaving a foamy wake of admiration behind it.
This shell, skilfully processed and smoothed so as to eliminate all roughness, suggests the great internal and external surfaces of this navigating city, which can accommodate over 3,800 people.
A special merit has undoubtedly to be granted to the slot made astern and already predisposed for the introduction of the plastic module which reproduces the mooring deck: a real cameo which will complete the structure of the hull.
Many little tricks and an incessant care have also been necessary for painting the enormous hull. Three clearly distinct coloured bands - brick red for the quick work (the part which comes into contact with the sea water), green for the waterline and white for the upper works – have been made without smears by applying some newspaper sheets to mask the parts to be excluded.
A patience test worthy of the biblical Job is the creation of the nearly 350 window openings on the hull: they are drawn with a millimetre accuracy, holed, carved and completed with small mirrors made of opaline Plexiglas and adhesive aluminium door frames.
Like in a complex and wise play of Chinese shadows, looking through some windows it is possible to “observe” some delightful scenes of the typical life on board, people caught in natural attitudes, such as drying themselves after a shower, drinking a cocktail and even making a veiled strip-tease.
So the Grand Princess starts becoming animated!
The construction of the superstructures is carried out at the same time of the one of the dull for those components which can be predisposed independently on the ship construction work.
The components of the Carlo’s team work side by side on different parts of the model, but with the harmony and concentration typical of people who work with a common ideal.
The mainmast with yards, navigation lights, radars and sensors, the propellers, the capstans and the helms, are all perfectly in scale with respect to the original components ... and proportionate to the dimensions thanks not only to yard drawings but also to the ever-present Aldo!
At the same time of the completion of the dull, the smokestack is created, that is to say the group of all the ducts which bring outside the fumes produced by the conditioning machines, the kitchens, the energy generators and the propulsion motors. This is a real sculpture, requiring an extremely prudent study and creation.
The very intricate mass of the 22 tubes has been reconstructed in ABS plastic: the ducts are bent as the real ones and, finally, caged so that at the end only their extreme ends can be seen.
The tubes are glued and screwed so as to guarantee their stability during transportation.
The cage which partially hides them is formed by parallel arches and ellipses of a decreasing width, forming a grid with a special veiled effect. Once the cage has been finished, nothing inside it can be touched or moved any more without compromising the whole work.
No details – even the most hidden ones – are left out: the doors, extinguishers and machinery are identical to the original ones, and they have been created by processing, shaping, cutting and painting simple plastic pieces.
Now it is the turn of the stem and the stern. The slim structures starting at the stem with concentric ellipses, conceived on the basis of the most advanced theorems of marine engineering, go up, absorb the smokestack almost completely and end at the stern, with an enormous aileron, which accommodates a disco suspended at 54 metres over the sea level (in the reality).
The external covering made of plastic and glass fibre is already predisposed for accommodating the architectural elements and furnishings which will compose the different housing environments.
All the – internal and open-space - housing and recreative spaces are reproduced in the model with accuracy and maniac care in their smallest details.
Each furnishing element is created in enormous quantities: 800 tables, 800 deck chairs, 2,400 chairs, 150 lanterns to be scattered by the decks, as well as other hundreds of details including armchairs, flower boxes, beds, sculptures, pots, bar accessories such as coffee cups and bottles.
All these are created by assembling very small profiles and thin plastic sheets or using self-constructed moulds.
1,300 cabins, 3 restaurants, 5 swimming pools, the disco in the spoiler, theatres, casinos and 5 bars are introduced into the already prepared “shell” made of plastic, wood and Plexiglas.
All the spaces are furnished in a complete and likely way, so as to allow 2,600 passengers and 1,200 members of the crew to live on this navigating city.
22 self-constructed motorised lifeboats with a single length of 28 cm, completely equipped, with life-rings and relative hauling cranes complete the set of accessories.
Over 300 miniature passengers, caught and reproduced in natural attitudes, are introduced into these sumptuous and elegant environments.
So we can find sitting women who touch up their make-up in the mirror, skilled divers who dive into the pools of the various decks, men sitting at the bar for an aperitif, sportsmen going to the tennis field .
All the characters who populate the ship are painted in the Bardelli laboratory, where, with experience and irony, the few stereotypes on the market are adapted to the need for making the model of the Grand Princess the most lively, spontaneous and complete that is possible.
The quiet and intimate interiors, the luxurious recreative spaces complete with all details, grant to this cruise ship the comfortable, refined and holiday atmospheres of the golden epoch of the oceanic crossings.
Looking at Carlo and the members of his team while they are working, we are impressed by their ability to create the different accessories using the most different materials, a plastic sheet or small objects of the everyday life.
The last effort has been the construction of the “crest” at the stem, a surrogate of the old figure heads on the sailing ships, hand painted on the already finished hull, and the two C and B flags which have been hoisted on the mainmast as a signature.
Together with the construction of the super-structures, also the technical tests are carried out to define the lighting of the inner spaces.
The managers of the London Museum strongly suggested the use of an optical fibre system for lighting the Grand Princess.
But, after different tests, Carlo decided that a much better result could have been obtained using three 220-V low-consumption lamps, painting the interiors with white and installing some deflector screens for bringing the light to the most hidden corners of the hull.
Thanks to this type of lighting the plays of light and Chinese shadows animating the interiors are visible and above all closer to reality.
On the contrary, in the disco an electronic psychedelic card has been installed which turns on and off 15 coloured lamps at the rhythm of the “disco dance”.
In this way, it has been possible to create a pleasant and suggestive night effect.
The maiden voyage of the Grand Princess followed the same oceanic course of the legendary Titanic ... (Southampton – New York); on the contrary, the reduced version was carefully transferred from Vittuone to London (through the highway).
The 18 March 1999 is the great day ... the baby Grand Princess must leave for its definitive residence. The preparation of the packaging requires the intervention of a carpenter, who crates the Bardelli jewel into a wood structure and covers it with cellophane as it was a chaste veil.
Satisfied with the work they have accomplished, with the compliments and admiration of those who visited the laboratory on those last days of work, and finally released of an intolerable tension, the model makers get ready to say goodbye to it.
Trieste street is closed to traffic, and always thanks to the carriage on which it has been assembled, the Grand Princess is lifted by force by 10 bold “young people” and carefully loaded onto the lorry which will transport it to London.
The applause of the people in Via Trieste where the TIR is parked, says goodbye to the Princess of models which is leaving forever.
At the moment of parting the emotion plays nasty jokes .…. After almost seven months of Saturdays and Sundays at work, of sleepless nights, of sandwiches and chocolate pies to “pick up” the workers, someone who was coming into the already empty laboratory, saw Carlo who furtively shed a tear…
“God save the Queen”... and the Grand Princess!
The operators in this field and the British press showed a real enthusiasm for the arrival of the Grand Princess, to which they dedicated several pages of articles and photo reportage, especially focusing on the most peculiar details of the model.
The marine fleet is known to always have been the pride of the crown, from the times of that cunning fellow of Francis Drake!
The inauguration with great pomp of the P&O gallery was attended by the most important managers of the companies taking part into the event (P&O, FINCANTIERI, National Maritime Museum) as well as by the cream of the British nobility.
Carlo Bardelli presented his “creature” at its first coming out into the presence of Her Majesty Elisabeth II, attending the ceremony together with her husband the Prince Philip and her son Andrew Duke of York.
The interest of the Windsor seemed more than sincere according to the questions they made to the model maker and their curious admiration for the details of this meticulous work.
The Carlo’s satisfaction reached its top when Andrew Duke of York, at the end of a speech of thanks, shaking his hand cried: ”Well done…Carlo!!”
This is the end of an adventure started in a half-hidden laboratory of Vittuone, among the honours of the newspapers’ accounts, of the society life and of the photographs’ flashes: a fabulous experience, made of sacrifices, characterised and sustained by a great confidence in one’s own work, while being aware of one’s peculiar limits, by the real effort to invent and create every day a new detail for being able, in the future, to create a work of world-wide importance, a work which once more confirms the excellence of the Italian creativeness.