Introduction: Broken Pirate Ship

This was a project from last Hallowe'en.  

If you've read my Werewolf Costume instructable, you know that I am the project manager of a charity haunted house for the Mill Woods Family Resource Centre in Edmonton, Alberta.  We have a very low budget and everyone that works the event is a volunteer.

My goal every year is to make the illusion of what we try to do as believable as possible without spending a lot of money and all the materials have to be easy to procure (eg: from Home Depot) as we need to be able to spend little time shopping and a ton of time building and decorating!

The particular year (2011) that this project was used, our theme was "Da Swamp" . One of the "scenes" in the haunt called for a haunted pirate cove.

Here, then, is the broken pirate ship decoration that I built (with some other volunteers' help) at a low cost!

Step 1: Framing the Wreck, Attaching the Styrofoam Panels

Unfortunately, there's no photo of the frame before we started to cover it, but I can tell you that we used some 1x2x8's and cut them to lengths to form a frame that our styrofoam panels would be attached to.  One of the photos attached will give you a pretty good idea of what the frame was like.

The frame was like a lopsided pyramid that had it's peak stretched to one side.  That side would obviously be the bow (front) of the ship.

The overall frame would be about 4 feet wide at the base and about 8 feet long from the back of the base to the front of the bow where the sides would join each other.

All of the 1x2x8's were simply joined together with wood screws.

Once that was done, we took 1" thick sheets of styrofoam panels (available at hardware stores) and attached them to the frame so that they would bow out, forming the look of the hull of the ship.  This was done with fender washers and wood screws.  (If you don't use washers, your screw head will simply go through the styrofoam panel and not hold it in place.)

As you'll see, we then attached a thinner piece of styrofoam to the side, used some duct tape to close off the front of the ship (holding the two panels shut) and then distressed the panels a bit to give it a wood grain look.  To hide the top of the frame that stuck out over the top of the bow of the ship, we were going to simply cut them off, but then decided to put a long cardboard tube (the kind that black plastic sheeting you can buy at hardware stores is wrapped around) would make a good front of the ship.  

Step 2: Painting, Detail and the Mast & Sail

Next, we broke out the dollar store paint and painted the ship brown.  We added some black detail with a wide brush with a touch of black paint to give it a grain finish.

Using another couple of the long cardboard tubes taped together, we were able to form a mast and sail using some old curtains (which we shredded up).  The mast was simply placed behind the wreck as from the perspective of those walking through the haunt, they wouldn't be able to tell one way or the other.  It also allowed one of our performers to be able to crouch down between the mast and the wreck (and to pop up to scare our Guests, of course).

We also bought some plastic chains at the dollar store and attached them to the ship as well just as detail.  They also acted as a barrier to let Guests know they weren't supposed to touch the display which consisted of a whole bunch of scrap styrofoam painted brown to look like random bits of wood from the ship.

The larger beams were also used in a previous year's haunt. (We recycle nearly everything!)  Those beams had chunks taken out of them, those chunks were line with tin foil and a red LED Christmas light string was used to give the impression of burning wood (much like they do at Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney Parks).  Other pieces of scrap foam were also painted brown and just piled up around the base of the wreck to hide the bottom and to provide detail.

Step 3: The Finished Product (looks Better in Low Light!)

With all the pieces in place, it sure didn't look all that convincing... That is, until we turned down the lights and had the coloured flood lights lighting the scene.

Opposite the wreck, we also made a small display of a skeleton.

We also had a boom box playing a loop of shore sounds (like waves crashing on the beach).  And, we added a hidden that would help to blow the sail around a bit providing some movement in the scene.

These kinds of small additional details are great to provide a sense of depth (and frankly distraction) for the Guests coming through and since we have such a small budget, everything we can do to add dimension to each scene is important!

Finally, we added a volunteer performer in a pirate outfit who pops up from behind the wreck at just the right time and you've got a convincing scene that delivers a lot at a low cost!


Halloween Decorations Contest

Participated in the
Halloween Decorations Contest