When he was only a child in the late 1930’s, Bob McKinley began building balsa-wood model airplanes. While he went on to become a refinery engineer and US Army first sergeant, he never gave up his childhood hobby. However, over time, the hobby did shift from model airplanes to building ship replicas.
The craftsman’s first ship was the Sea Witch which launched from Manhattan in 1846. He completed fifteen total replicas ranging from a 1,000 AD Viking ship to a 1963 fishing schooner. He even completed a 30-foot-long, 3,000 pound battleship replica that can be viewed aboard the Lexington Museum on the Bay in Corpus Christi where he also served as a volunteer for many years. McKinley could be found standing near the replica on most Mondays sharing information with museum visitors and answering questions about the vessel. The museum is a popular tourist attraction and source of pride for locals with McKinley’s ship serving as a centerpiece. He also had a chance to restore a replica of the Lexington that is displayed at the Corpus Christi International Airport.
Bob and his wife, Betty, moved into Mirador in 2011, prompting him to share his creations with the community. Today, six of his ships can be found under glass in prominent places across the campus. One of the most popular amongst residents is the HMS Bounty, a replica of 1787 British Navy tall ship (pictured above).
Arguably the most tedious project can be found at the community as well. This ship is a replica of a ship featured in the movie, “Mutiny on the Bounty,” a 1960 film made by MGM. McKinley had to acquire dental and surgical tools to recreate the ship which was scaled at one inch to every 30 feet. This is the only one of his ships that has deck openings to view the furnished hull, cabins, cargo hold, as well as fully rigged, and functioning sails. Every rat line and knot is handtied with the body of the ship made from beechwood, mahogany, and boxwood boards that were each soaked in water to bend perfectly into place.
Deborah Nugent, Executive Director said, “Bob has been so generous to share this special gift with Mirador. We are always proud to explain to guests when they comment on the ships that these were made by our very own Bob McKinley. The ships are more than décor around here, they serve as evidence that we have incredibly talented residents.”