Model be­hav­iour at lake T

For more than a cen­tury, model yacht en­thu­si­asts have sailed a Christchurch lake. ROY SIN­CLAIR catches­some of the ac­tion.

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he count­down be­gins. Twenty-five yachts jos­tle for po­si­tion. A recorded can­non blast is fol­lowed by the hand­i­cap count­down. The yacht own­ers are also jostling for po­si­tion. A protest oc­curs when one, ac­cused of a col­li­sion, has to per­form a 360-de­gree penalty turn.

My glance eas­ily takes in the en­tire field. Easy, ow­ing to these be­ing model yachts on Vic­to­ria Lake in Ha­gley Park, Christchurch.

Each yachtie, with his ra­dio­con­trol gear, is tak­ing it very se­ri­ously. They are to­tally ab­sorbed and, as the race di­rec­tor com­ments, ‘‘they rarely smile’’.

Long-time Christchurch Model Yacht Club mem­ber and for­mer com­modore Hugh Hob­den tells me the fas­ci­na­tion is in the minia­turis- ation of yachting. ‘‘Ra­dio-con­trol tech­nol­ogy has taken it into the realms of the real thing.

‘‘We sail to the same rules and hear all the argy-bargy that goes with full-sized yachting.’’

As the race gets into full swing spec­ta­tors ap­pear at the lakeside. Gra­ham Man­der’s No 57, hav­ing started on scratch, is weav­ing through the jumble of sails.

The ubiq­ui­tous J-class is mod­elled on the Ranger – a one-time Amer­ica’s Cup com­peti­tor.

‘‘It’s been scaled down for model yacht rac­ing,’’ Hugh ex­plains. ‘‘It copes with a va­ri­ety of con­di­tions, and is smaller , lighter, and eas­ier to trans­port than tra­di­tional 4ft 6in mod­els that pi­o­neered the club in the 1890s.’’

Two func­tions con­trol the yacht. A winch winds the syn­thetic sails and a servo con­trols the rud­der. The skill is in judg­ing dis­tances and po­si­tion­ing to catch the breeze.

Hugh says the J-Class has at­tracted new mem­bers, in­clud­ing some ex­pe­ri­enced in full-size yachts. The lat­ter in­clude Man­der from the well-known yachting fam­ily. Ob­tain­ing ra­dio-con­trol gear is now sim­ple and in­ex­pen­sive. Many build their own yachts. A sum of $1000 will put a J-class on the wa­ter.

Other types in­clude the fast OneMe­tre and EC-12. The lat­ter is mod­elled on a 12-me­tre class from the United States’ east coast.

The model yacht club is one of Christchurch’s old­est clubs, founded in Warn­ers Ho­tel on June 17, 1898. Be­cause Warn­ers is now earth­quake rub­ble, Hugh says that drink­ing has de­gen­er­ated to tea and cof­fee in the lakeside club­house.

In 1897 the lake had been gouged from a swamp and plugged with clay. The rim was a venue for pen­ny­far­thing cy­cle rac­ing.

Hugh re­calls his grand­fa­ther mak­ing him a model yacht he car­ried on his bi­cy­cle to Vic­to­ria Lake. He later be­came in­volved in sail­ing dinghies and joined the Christchurch Model Yacht Club when a son be­came in­volved.

In the club­house he chats about the ex­hibits, in­clud­ing a re­stored 4ft 6in Dol­phin dat­ing from 1910, when free sail­ing re­quired a lot of luck. Those days the club at­tracted many bach­e­lors who seemed to have been there for ever. ‘‘Most fa­mous was Bert Ge­orge, a Cor­nish­man, who lived at Church Cor­ner. He made a boat ev­ery year, carv­ing it from a wil­low log. He would fas­ten his boat on his bi­cy­cle and bring it to the lake, ’’ Hugh chuck­les.

The club re­turned to the lake re­cently af­ter earth­quake re­pairs. The bot­tom has been re­sealed with ben­tonite clay, which re­tards weed growth, pre­vi­ously a prob­lem. For some months the club sailed at the Groynes.

‘‘Wed­nes­days are more so­cia­ble when the guys fol­low their yachts around a course of buoys. They yap con­tin­u­ously, telling lies and hav­ing a great time. Some­times the sail­ing be­comes a race.’’

Pho­tos: ROY SIN­CLAIR

Ab­sorb­ing: ‘‘Paddy’’ (Dave) Pater­son, left, and Vern Guy take a keen in­ter­est soon af­ter the start of a Satur­day model yacht race on Vic­to­ria Lake, Ha­gley Park.

Rar­ing to go: Hugh Hob­den, long-time mem­berof the Christchurch Model Yacht Club, launches his J-class No 2 be­fore a race.

Keen con­test: Yacht own­ers jos­tle for po­si­tion on the lakeside for a Christchurch Model Yacht Club event.

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