Why a rookie should build a cruiser and which one to build
As a Rookie
The three biggest factors in this hobby that determine how effective a captain is as a battler are in order of importance: captainís ability, ship reliability, and ship choice. This article is meant to address how choosing the right ship for your experience (none if you are a rookie) can help you be a more effective captain.
I am by no means an expert battler or builder, but in my time in the hobby so far I have talked to many experts and seen many very good ships. I started to write down some of the things that the veterans were telling me to try to keep track of everything for my own reference and I noticed there are some things that everyone suggests. It seems that there are some standard ways of doing things in this hobby. In this article I have attempted to compile some of the information that I have learned so far that I would have liked to have known when I was just starting out. There are some things in this article that are opinion based but like I said, my opinions are the result of talking to many veterans and experiencing several battles.
Before we start, the first thing you have to realize is that as a first time builder, you cannot be an innovator. Take the advice of the people who have done this for years. Do things that have worked consistently for many people for many years.
Why build a cruiser first?
Cruisers can stay out of trouble. At 23 seconds, you will be one of the fastest ships on the water and can run away from someone who should otherwise sink you. Rookies with battleships canít run away from veterans with battleships. They are forced into confrontation and have a higher likelihood of repeatedly get crushed by more experienced captains with more reliable boats. Furthermore, most cruisers are short and donít stick out of the water too far. A smaller target is harder to hit.
Cruisers have stern guns. Stern guns are the most common and most important gun placement in the hobby. As you become an effective cruiser captain, you will be setting yourself up to be an effective battleship captain by learning how to use the most essential gun in this hobby. Stern guns are the most accurate gun and the easiest gun to learn and you get the bonus of staying out of trouble and away from sidemounts. It doesnít take long to learn now to put a hurt on someone and escape unscathed in a cruiser. You will be doing your fleet a great service by putting nearly all of your bbís into an enemy and taking almost none in return. In my opinion, the learning curve of a cruiser allows for earlier gratification and can be a huge factor in how much fun you will have and how much frustration you might avoid as you learn. If you build a battleship first and get crushed every battle for a year or two, it is demoralizing (not to mention more difficult to learn if you are sitting out most of the battle when you were sunk in beginning of the first sortie) not to say that you absolutely wouldnít have any fun though, it is always fun to play boats, even if you are getting sunk.
Cruisers are low maintenance. You will make a lot of mistakes in the building process. These little mistakes are unavoidable until you have more battling and building experience. Since typical cruisers only have two guns, direct drive motors, a pump, a radio box, and a CO2 bottle, they are easy to maintain as the mistakes you made while building translate into reliability issues on the water. Even if you donít make many mistakes, things break. I have seen many experienced captains continuously go out to battle with only 1 or 2 guns working on their 5 unit battleship. For a rookie who is still learning how to drive in a straight line and is trying to get used to how their boat handles and performs, this can be rough going.
Cruisers are good secondary ships. Eventually, you may want to move into a bigger boat. Since cruisers are allowed by the rules to reenter the water during Campaign at NATS and because they are so portable, many people keep their rookie cruiser as a secondary boat. Furthermore you have a backup if something is just not working in your battleship for a sortie or two. It is also common for people to bring their otherwise secondary cruiser to NATS as their primary ship to make traveling easier.
Cruisers are a good way to learn the hobby. You probably donít realize it yet, but there are some ships that are really good in our hobby and some ships that are dog meat, that no one should ever build. There is no way to know which ones are good and bad until you have more experience. Beyond that, there are different boats that suit different battling styles better. As you battle your cruiser you will learn what types of ships have what types of roles and which role you want to step into. If you think you want to dive into the action and go toe to toe with someone, you might want to see what types of ships other people have success with as a turn and burn ship. If you find while battling your cruiser that you would just as well sit on the outskirts of the fray, take your shots at opportune times and get out of Dodge, you might want to see what captains have success with different run and gun boats. You need to learn what type of battler you are so you can select a boat and gun set up will work for your personality before you build. Again, the only way to find out is to get experience. Each ship has strengths and weaknesses that you need to experience in battle before you can select a ship that will work for you.
Things to think about when selecting a cruiser:
The best rookie ships seem to be 23 second 3 unit cruisers. You want to ideally have first and foremost twin stern guns and secondly a full unit pump. 2.5 unit ships only get a half unit pump and generally canít take as much damage, but since they are faster they shouldnít take much. They also have a smaller rudder and wonít turn as well, so often times they are better left for vets who are not learning how to avoid getting shot up like a rookie is. Trust me, you will have more fun and learn faster if your boat can take some punishment and stay on the water late in the battle. Though the 2.5 unit cruisers are a little faster at 22 seconds, few enough people them that a 23 second boat will probably be one of the fastest at almost every fleet battle.
The smaller the boat gets, the more difficult it is to build it at or under the allowed weight. 3 unit cruisers are in general big enough to build with novice skills and are actually quite standard across the hobby for all levels. Also, because of the size, some of the smaller cruisers donít really even battle very well at their posted weight. All cruisers are different but as a rule of thumb, try to avoid building a first ship that is under 10 pounds. It is do-able but it can be difficult and is best left for a third ship. My Minneapolis is allowed to be 11.32 pounds and on a good day, I am a little over weight and don't really have any room to take weight out unless I make it less effective as a warship. I even know of some Baltimores that had trouble making weight at 14.58 lbs. However, advances in battery power with NiMHs are making it possible to build smaller ships with plenty of juice if you can afford it.
In general, you want to have a 4 shaft ship if possible. This allows you to add drag disks to the outside two and drive the inner two. Drag disks are a huge advantage in this hobby. It is easier to make speed with drag disks if you use a low tech radio box, often eliminating the need for an electronic speed control. Acceleration is better with drag disks because drag increases exponentially with speed (I wonít go into the physics right now so just trust me). Turning is better with drags disks because it acts like a little rudder that directs the flow of water in a way to help you turn sharper. For these reasons, it is easier and better to build a four shaft ship than a two shaft ship. Also, three shaft ships are generally not the most ideal situation either. Driving one shaft only causes the ship to roll as it drives foreword due to the torque of the motor and it causes the ship to turn slightly when it backs up.
The best turning boats in general are shorter and flatter on the bottom which gives more surface area for the bottom of the boat to pivot around on top of the water instead of cut through it. The lower length to width ratio, the better you will turn. This is where cruisers really loose. As a class they donít turn well because they are long, pointy, and skinny. Another thing that helps turning is length to rudder area. For example, a destroyer can actually turn quite well considering they have a ruder area that is only a little smaller than cruisers, but their length is half that of cruisers resulting in a ship that turns well. Obviously more rudder is better (twin rudder ships get a bonus) but since most cruisers have only 1 rudder and the rudder area is fixed according to our rules, the only way to alter this ratio is by building a shorter, fatter cruiser. My Minneapolis is 588 ft (49 inches) long, 62 feet (5.17 inches) wide and has 1 rudder. For a cruiser it turns fairly well. I have seen some cruisers that are like 675 feet long and they generally turn like crap. However there are ways to carefully position the props and rudder to help overcome some of the length disadvantage.
Because the nearly universally accepted best gun positioning for a 3 unit cruiser is dual stern guns, you might want to think about how the structure of your boat that will make your guns more effective. Generally, you want stern guns mounted as low to the water as possible so they will hit at a wider variety of ranges. Keep in mind that once a BB fired from a stern gun hits the water, it is essentially ineffective since it will skip off the water and loose a ton of velocity. If you have them mounted low and aimed parallel to the water, you will have the greatest effective range, being able to hit between 2 inches and 6 feet. If you have them mounted too high and aimed parallel, you will never do any damage except to someoneís pretty super structure. If you have them mounted high and aimed low, they have a sharper angle and a narrow range that they will hit at. The most ideal set up is to have them mounted as low to the water as possible and as parallel to the water as possible, maybe with a very slight down angle. The BBs will skim just above the water for several feet of effective range giving your target a nice low hole that will be under water when they start driving around (and you might even score some hits on the water line). This is why the step deck cruisers are awesome for gun placement. Also, with a low step deck, you will be less of a target on the water and hardly ever take damage astern of the step, which translates to less damage overall.
Stern Depth and Width:
This kind of goes against the step deck advice but definitely doesnít outweigh it. Because of the size of the rudder servo, gears, and anything else we use to make the rudder turn, some ships (especially cruisers and even some German battleships) are prone to having difficulties fitting the necessary equipment in the stern of the boat comfortably. It is difficult to describe how much room is enough or not enough and you will probably get it to work either way, but it is just one more deterrent to building a really small (in weight, depth, and width) cruiser. Even in my Minneapolis I had to use a low profile servo and carve away part of the deck and ribs to get it to fit.
The cool thing about building a cruiser is it makes a nice spare boat and campaign boat if you move to a battleship or battlecruiser eventually. With this in mind, it would be nice if it were on the same Ďteamí as your existing boat or the battleship that you might want to build some day. In my opinion, this is where the Axis kind of get screwed as the Allies probably have better choices for cruisers (especially the Americans) that are all a little better than the axis ones, but this is my opinion and is arguable. You can also consider building a French cruiser (if you donít might constantly flying the surrender flag) that can technically fight for either side.
The best class 3, 23 second cruisers:
For the reasons discussed above, the best cruisers in my opinion are:
Deutschland (Germany), Zara (Italy), maybe Mogami (Japan) [dual rudders but fairly long]
New Orleans (USA), Northampton (USA), Indianapolis (USA), Any British step deck cruiser that is heavy enough [they are all short], Duquesne (France), Suffern (France)
To add a little bit of validity to my point, despite the numerous cruisers possible, 6 of 11 of the captains who took a class 3 primary ship to Nats in 2008 fought one of the ships listed above.
Class 3 Cruisers at Nats 2008 as primary ships:
Northampton*, New Orleans*, Pensacola, Baltimore, Baltimore
Deutschland*, Deutschland*, Mogami*, Mogami*, Admiral Hipper, Admiral Hipper