Mystery of Making a ‘Ship in a Bottle’ Uncorked

Jim Goodwin’s ships in a bottle were featured on CBS Sunday Morning

Have you ever wondered how a ship fits in a bottle? Building a ship in a bottle only looks mysterious.

The illusion is that the ship is too big to fit through the mouth of the bottle so what people do is build it outside the bottle with the sails and masts collapsed and then once the ship is placed inside the bottle you raise them all. You can find out how by seeing Jim Goodwin at a demonstration at the 44th Annual Wooden Boat Show in Beaufort.

This building a ship inside a bottle is a very old and very traditional art that was started by sailors in the late 18th and early 19th century. They would build these on long voyages as gifts for loved ones back home. And one of the amazing things about this kind of project is that you can actually learn a lot about sailing ships by building one. You learn what all the various types of masts are, the rigging and the parts of a sailing ship. Goodwin started honing his craft in December 1999. He strives to make sure the ship he builds is historically correct. While people will see this unique nautical skill, it was clear Goodwin will give them something more – the inspiration on how people have preserved this unique craft for generations.

The actual inserting of the ship in a bottle is easy. According to Goodwin, “you can spend hours and hours building the ship.” “The actual inserting of the ship in a bottle takes less than a minute”, he said. Goodwin is quick to point out that the engineering of the ship is the key in making sure the final miniature ship fits through the neck of the bottle.

Goodwin puts lots of thought into the type of bottle he uses. He wants to make sure he knows how much of a viewing area there will be and if there is any distortion in the bottle. The biggest challenge for Goodwin is the bottles in which he uses. The size has changed over the years.

Goodwin devotes his time to preserving the art of building ships in a bottle by giving demonstrations at museums and festivals. He returns to Beaufort on May 4-5, 2018 to show his maritime art at the annual Wooden Boat Show. Attendees will have the opportunity to see one of the best known craftsmen in the art of building ships in a bottle. Over the weekend, he will demonstrate thirty-seven difference ships that he will insert into a bottle. His demonstrations will take place Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Friday night, he will be conducting demonstrations during the evening reception.

Nationally recognized for his work, Goodwin will conduct several demonstrations on how to build a ship in a bottle starting Friday night at the Wooden Boat Show reception. Goodwin plans to insert his miniature replicas in a bottle during the reception that night.

Goodwin’s “Ships in Bottles” were featured in the Dreamworks’ Production of “The Lovely Bones”. He provided ships in bottles and set dressings for their adaptation of Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel. Mark Wahlberg plays an accountant in the movie ‘The Lovely Bones’ who builds models, though his are an attempt to capture dreams by building models of ships-in-a-bottle. In the movie, he often barricades himself in a world of miniature ships in bottles in his study at home.

Goodwin’s ships in a bottle were used for a sketch on NBC’s Emmy Award-winning late-night comedy Saturday Night Live.

Most recently, Goodwin was featured on a segment of CBS Sunday Morning with Mo Rocca. His craft of shipbuilding has also been featured on WRAL’s Tar Heel Traveler.

Goodwin is no stranger to boating enthusiasts in Beaufort. He taught a class on building a ship in a bottle at the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center. Opened in 1992, the Watercraft Center offers a number of boatbuilding courses offered throughout the year for all skill levels.

You can see more of Goodwin’s work on his website for Carolina Ships in a Bottle at

The 43rd Annual Wooden Boat Show has received top honors from the Southeast Tourism Society as a “Top 20 Event for the Southeast” for May 2017.  This is the third year in a row the museum has received the prestigious honor.

The North Carolina Maritime Museum is located at 315 Front Street, Beaufort. 252-728-7317. For more information, visit their website at