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Model Builder Carves Out A Miniature Navy

The native of Puerto Rico served in the Air Force, but his family built fishing boats.

By Beth Browning | Special to the Sentinel

July 11, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Authenticity important.

POINCIANA -- When Manuel De La Paz exhibits his handiwork, he needs several assistants -- one for each of his model ships.

In addition to operating the radio control, the assistants help transport the boats, which range in size from a little longer than 3 feet to nearly 8 feet.

De La Paz, 66, started building radio-controlled boats about 15 years ago. Then he decided to focus on making authentic warships.

He builds the hull from balsa wood, and he carves the stern and bow from the same wood.

He makes the accessories and weapons from pieces of milk containers and plastic cans.

"I prime the finished boats with white paint, then apply a light gray color," De Le Paz said. "Black paint is applied below the water line, the bottom and sides of the boat that are under water. A final finish protects the boats and makes them water-worthy."

De La Paz puts 20 to 30 pounds of lead into each boat for balance.

He puts 45 pounds of lead into his aircraft carriers.

For the airplanes on the carriers, De La Paz buys and assembles kits.

"This isn't an inexpensive hobby," De La Paz said. "Each boat requires a radio-control unit so the boat can be run to the right, left, backward and forward. Boats like the aircraft carrier have five to six escort boats, including one for refueling."

To be sure of the authenticity, De La Paz studies the history of warships and researches naval architecture.

If he works on a boat every day, it takes about six months to complete it.

A former military pilot, De La Paz said he bases his models on ships from the World War II, Korea and Vietnam eras.

"I became interested in boats at a young age," he said. "But my background in the Air Force, so it's sort of strange that I'm building boats instead of planes."

De La Paz wants to teach others to build the boats.

He would like to form a group of all ages, not only to build the boats, but also to exhibit them.

His home backs up to a lake, so he hopes running the boats there will pique his neighbors' interest.

He showed his work at the Osceola Center for the Arts in May.

He would like to exhibit them around the state to show people how they run and to sell them.

De La Paz has about 25 model ships.

Originally from Puerto Rico, De La Paz came from a small village where his family made fishing boats.

He moved to New York, then to Poinciana three years ago.

"Building the boats relaxes me," De La Paz said. "In today's world, a hobby is a good way to forget about everyday events.

"And, you use your mind and inborn creativity when making items from scratch."

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