You could have gotten a doctoral degree and finished a year of post-graduate work in the time it took Mike Almond to build a wooden model of the HMS Victory.

In an age when hurrying is a national pastime - when people have begun faxing their orders to fast-food restaurants - Almond's patience is hard to fathom. He recently spent four months just putting down tiny pieces of planking on the Victory - planking you won't even be able to see once the ship is completed."We're re-creating history," explains Almond's buddy, Jim Raines. "We aren't just doing something that looks good."

Almond and Raines are members of the Utah Shipmodelers Association, a group dedicated to the romance of the high seas, scaled down so it will fit on the living room mantel.

Actually, shipmodeler Jim Bertrand doesn't have a mantel. The last model he built sits on his piano, so there's no more room there for the model he's working on now, the French frigate Venus. But Bertrand isn't concerned that he can't find anywhere to display the Venus. It's nowhere near finished, and the last model took 15 years to complete.

The shipmodelers consider themselves artists rather than hobbyists, but Almond admits that the art world still prefers to classify shipmodeling as a craft.

Although some shipmodelers work from kits, says Almond, many add elaborate details of their own to make the ships more authentic. Other shipmodelers work entirely from scratch, using accurate plans of the original ships.

Almond's current project, a bigger version of the HMS Victory, has been taking shape for 18 months on a table wedged into the corner of the Almond's tiny kitchen. But his wife doesn't mind the inconvenience, he says.

"It keeps me out of trouble," he explains.

He spends an average of 15 to 20 hours a week tapping tiny tree nails into miniature planks, or attaching little strops into minuscule dead eyes. The shipbuilders insist the work is relaxing.

Like other shipmodelers, the three men say they have enjoyed making models since they were kids. When Raines was young he used to build airplanes, including one that he so successfully launched that it took off on a breeze, flew into the sunset and was never seen again.

These days Raines sticks to models that stay put. As part of his job at the LDS Museum of Church History and Art, he recently completed a model of a Liverpool packet ship, built in 1854 to carry immigrants - the packet trade - from England to America.

Other ships built by members of the shipbuilders group will be on display April 29 at an exhibit sponsored by the International Plastic Modelers Society, at the Central City Community Center, 600 S. Fourth East.

The Utah Shipmodelers Association meets the third Wednesday of every month at the South Salt Lake Library, 2490 S. State. For more information, contact Jim Raines at 964-2077 or Mike Almond at 266-3566.