The model includes details like carved seats in the whale boats, a carved taffrail (or handrail), and a helm that spins. [Courtesy photo]

Grand County High School junior Tyler Herrera went beyond expectations in completing an extra credit project for his English class by building an intricate model of an eighteenth-century whaling ship.

The Essex, an American whal­ing ship built in 1799, was sunk by a sperm whale in the southern Pacific Ocean in 1820. The crew used the ship’s whaleboats to make a desperate journey to islands off the coast of South America, thousands of miles away. Their supplies depleted and some of them starved to death; others resorted to cannibalism. The gruesome true story was the inspiration for Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick.

Grand County High School English students read the novel with teacher Josh Cameron, and also learned about the true events behind the story. Cameron offered an optional art project to the class for extra credit.

“When I would look around the classroom I noticed that everyone in the classes had been doing drawing projects and paper art-related projects,” Herrera said. To stand out, he decided to use wood instead, and first thought of carving a wooden whale. Though he only knew a little about wood carving, his dad is passionate about the pursuit and has been making wood sculptures for years. Tyler Herrera pitched the idea to his dad, who suggested making the ship instead, as an undertaking with more “character and depth.”

Tyler Herrera referenced the movie “The Heart of the Sea” and images online to guide the design of the ship. They used a variety of tools to construct and shape the model, including a Dremel tool, hammer, drill, screwdriver and carvers. He’s not sure exactly how many hours it took—he said he and his dad worked on it a few days a week, whenever they had time.

“Working for two months with his father, little by little, Tyler turned his idea into a physical example of the beauty and glory of this American story,” Cameron wrote in a Feb. 7 Facebook post on the Grand County High School page. “Incorporating fine details such as canvas sails, carved seats in the whale boats, a carved taffrail, a helm that spins, and rigging tied by hand, Tyler’s model of The Essex is truly a thing to behold.”

Herrera said the canvas sails and rigging really give the ship character. “Building it made me realize it was not easy to build something like that, especially if it was to scale,” he said.

Herrera said his English class has been great and he appreciates Cameron’s teaching style—he helped his class through Melville’s difficult novel with ongoing summaries of the plot.

“J. Cam makes it super enjoyable with the way that he teaches,” Herrera said. “He just makes life so much easier.”