When does a hobby become an obsession?
That’s the first question that pops to mind when I’m reading the impressively detailed answers to a series of questions I’ve asked Jan Indekeu, also known as Modelbuilder on Cruise Critic’s forums.
Jan prefers to go by John when talking to English-speakers (he’s Belgian) — just to make it clear he’s a man. Fair enough; John it is.
John, a sales and marketing director for a firm that makes industrial-sized magnets, has been building models since he was 16, starting with “those plastic model planes, like many of us did,” he said.
The trouble for John was that the models never really lived up to what he imagined. “Even when I was 16,” he said, “I was never happy with the results.”
John eventually graduated from model planes to cheap, radio-controlled boats. Unhappy with those, he then moved on to kit models of small, sea-going vessels, while constantly tinkering — adding to or taking away from what was supplied in the box to make things more realistic. As much as he worked, though, John wasn’t satisfied.
“I made them look better and nicer,” John said, “but it was never the perfection.”
John was restless. He knew he wanted to build boats, but his exacting nature demanded a type of model building that would be truly challenging.
A full year went by before the thunderbolt struck.
“One day I was waiting outside of a store for my wife.” John explained. “Right in front of me was a travel agency with a big poster of an NCL ship on it. The picture was taken from the sky, rear-side view. I looked at it and I thought it was just awesome, the beauty and grandeur of this ship. The hunt was over.”
John started building cruise ship models around 1995, before the advent of Google image search. In order to have photos on which he could base his model cruise ships, he made pilgrimages to travel agencies and trade shows, collecting brochures that showed the ships he liked.
Ultimately, he decided his first model cruise ship would be Splendour of the Seas, at the time the newest in Royal Caribbean‘s fleet. “It looked the best;” he said. “Its colors are beautifully balanced.”
John ordered a hull from a model company — but they only had one design, Europa, an upscale ship operated by German line Hapag-Lloyd.
“The hull was not a perfect match, but it looked like the hull of a modern cruise ship,” he said. “It took me a year to build what I still call today ‘Frankenstein’s Splendour.’”
According to John, it was a clean build that handled well in the water with an “off-the-shelf” propulsion setup. He was happy, but there was still something missing.
A year went by after the Splendour build, and again John was restless. He went to another travel trade show in Brussels, ostensibly to collect more brochures. This time, though, he brought photos of his model Splendour.
After striking up a conversation with a Royal Caribbean representative, John showed him the photos of the model.
“Then something happened that changed my modeler’s career and my view of vacation forever,” John said. “I was invited to come see the real Splendour of the Seas in Amsterdam.”
“With a group of travel agents we had a window of a few hours to look at this ship and I was just overwhelmed. Wow!!!! This thing was huge, enormous, impressive, so beautiful, so detailed, so elegant, and I fell in love with a ship for the first time. I remember very well the smell of the soap on my hands.”
John took 150 photos at the Royal Caribbean press event, and it irked him that his model was not an exact replica.
He went home, and with an electric power saw cut off the top decks of his Splendour model — “everything above the tenders. It took 10 minutes.”
No regrets, said John, and he was hooked.
He went on his first cruise on Enchantment of the Seas that summer. He photographed deck plans during a bridge visit and took hundreds of photos of the ship.
“Enchantment was my first true detailed radio-controlled cruise ship,” he said.
It wouldn’t be his last. John has built 29 ships in total, among them are the cruise ships Seabourn Legend, Disney Fantasy and, his current project, Voyager of the Seas. (Don’t worry, he prioritises work and family time first.)
The ships are between six and eight feet long and take up to five years to build. He has a full model-building workshop, including a set of lasers that he uses for the exacting measurements required to make the ships as close in detail as possible to the real artifact. He’s never tried to sell his models — it’s strictly an amateur hobby, he said.
But John says he won’t go on forever. He’s considering giving up the hobby, but there’s one challenge that’s still on the table.
“I have been looking at the Oasis of the Seas of course,” he said, noting that the model would be about 10 feet long.
“I can build that without doubt, but I just don’t know. Usually, after I’ve seen it for real I will react differently. So who knows …”
Take a look at John’s work in our Slideshow.
Should John quit or should he keep on going and build Oasis? Tell us in the comments below.
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