The first question most people will ask is, “How did you get that big ship inside that small bottle?”
According to William “Buff” Morris, a Marco resident and a “ships in a bottle” (SIBs) hobbyist, “you have to build the ship outside the bottle first and attach 60+ strings to all the large pieces.” And then “folded flat, slip the ship ever so carefully through the bottle’s neck.” That’s the secret.
For Buff, the most difficult part is standing the ship inside the bottle. The secret is the sails, masts and other sail supports are pulled up into position with controlling strings. The first string to tug is the rear mast and you work yourself forward.
They are called Ships in a Bottle (SIBs) and the hobby has a long history which coincided with the introduction of mass-produced transparent bottles. The glass became thinner and more transparent.
Just like the sailors aboard the tall ships during the Nineteenth Century, Buff makes all the components using wood scraps, cloth, strings and ropes. Some of his ships are modeled after great clipper ships with as many as seven masts and some were equipped with guns. Most of the classic sailing ships are now preserved in bottles in maritime museums across the world.
Buff is originally from Richfield, Connecticut, and started coming to Marco for 15 years and then began living permanently here for the last 5 years. He learned to sail from his father—so he is familiar with all the nautical parts of a ship. Buff was also a member of the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) for several years and had several of his SIBs on display at the Constitution Museum in Boston.
Early on, his son got a SIB kit from a Cub Scout grab bag and put it together. Buff thought he could do better, and he has been doing it from scratch for the last 45 years.
According to Buff, it costs him 35–50 cents of scrap or inexpensive materials to make one SIB, but it would take anywhere from 100–200 hours to complete. The larger the ship, the more detail and the longer it would take to complete. His USS Constitution model took him 200 hours to complete.
Buff’s SIBs are “sailor’s models” – the type a sailor would make when they were out to sea for a couple of years. They are not exact replicas. For the sails, Buff used small pieces from an old pillowcase. To give it a yellowish aged tinge, he dipped it in tea.
He has a drawer of antique bottles given by friends. Buff signs all his SIB using the inside of the cork with his name and the date and year it was finished.
He seals the bottle airtight with wax and everything inside is preserved.
Buff’s SIBs are true to the original art. He has a few finished in his collection and at least one in progress to keep him busy. Buff is a US Marine veteran. He has been married to his wife Ginny for 50 years with three children and seven grandkids. His son is serving as a helicopter pilot in Northern Iraq.