Model behaviour at lake T
For more than a century, model yacht enthusiasts have sailed a Christchurch lake. ROY SINCLAIR catchessome of the action.
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.’’
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.