Models with lovingly created bodies

FOR my 13th birthday, my spinster great-aunt indulged me with a model yacht – not the mass-produced kind on sale in seafront toy shops but one with pedigree, allegedly having raced for Britain in international competitions. Sadly, it was an expensive failure for Aunt Harriet, for she had been conned by the London seller!

FOR my 13th birthday, my spinster great-aunt indulged me with a model yacht – not the mass-produced kind on sale in seafront toy shops but one with pedigree, allegedly having raced for Britain in international competitions. Sadly, it was an expensive failure for Aunt Harriet, for she had been conned by the London seller!

I lugged the 3ft craft with its 5ft mast down to Gorleston yacht pond, where it wzs the centre of attention. Gently, I settled it on the water, expecting the breeze to billow the sails so she would head across the pond. Instead, it keeled over immediately, mast and sodden sails horizontal on the water. My efforts to get it to stay upright were in vain, and my bitter disappointment turned to anger later when a model yacht builder said it was irreparable: the keel was too small and light-weight, probably added after the original one broke so it looked fit for sale.

Gorleston’s famed water’s-edge yacht pond had not long been reopened after the war when I suffered that setback. I could never bring myself to buy a modest and humble toy that actually sailed.

On a mild sunny Sunday in autumn, Mrs Peggotty and I abandoned our usual routine to enjoy a brisk walk along Gorleston’s lower promenade, but we were out longer than expected because we were lured by the activity in the yacht pond where a variety of craft was in evidence. Surprisingly, there was not a conventional wind-powered yacht big or small in sight, only exquisitely made powered scale replicas of vessels of all kinds.

The big attraction was an end-of-season gala held by the Gorleston Model Boat Club whose members spend long hours in their garden sheds and workshops, painstakingly building their latest creation, then laboriously assembling it and finally adding the authentic paintwork.

In most cases, every bit is done made by the enthusiast, with nothing bought in, although some modellers buy kits and embellish them. Indeed, Gorleston has the Anglia Model Centre on Riverside Road where club treasurer Brian Hall and his staff produce aircraft and boat kits exported all over the world.

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The admirable results of the members’ expertise and lengthy labours were there for all to see, some models standing on cradles awaiting launch, and others already sailing on the pond, a popular Gorleston amenity for for 85 years.

At the outset, the surface was divided by a string of floating buoys so the models could be manoeuvred around them by radio control. It took a few minutes to come to terms with the size and speed differences: for example,as the craft were constructed to varying size scales, a small herring drifter was zipping along compared with a sizeable Titanic, apparently cruising sedately.

Was anybody on the ill-fated luxury liner on watch, keeping a sharp look-out for icebergs? Well, no, but she was on collision course...for a pristine white swan! That requires explanation.

A couple of times down the years I have spotted a swan on the yacht pond off season, and this time Mrs Peggotty and I remarked on how serenely it swam, apparently oblivious of the modellers and the busy miniature shipping giving it some close encounters. It made no attempt to fly off for some peace and quiet.

Suddenly it dawned on both of us: this was no swan, but another radio-controlled model, life-size this time and convincingly realistic. A few minutes later, it was high and dry, inactive and balanced on the raised surround of the yacht pond...and had neither legs nor feet, being a waterline model.

A model of the Norwich Belle built by Mr Hall never got wet during our stay at the yacht pond but was on display up on the promenade, complete with an open book of cuttings – with a photocopy of my Through the Porthole feature published in the 1990s reporting that Peter Allard, of Mallard Way, Bradwell, an old friend of this column, had found the former Yarmouth pleasure boat working at a port in Israel.

One vessel being put through its paces was a replica of the dear old Lydia Eva, the last survivor of the hundreds of steam herring drifters which sought the shoals before the fishery petered out in the late Sixties. Strangely, her funnel was all black, not the familiar white bottom and black top. The all-black funnel was relieved by the Eastick house flag of red and white squares. Perhaps she is due to return to the owner’s shed for a repaint...

Two more fishing vessels were in action, a speedy Peterhead drifter and a diesel-powered Yarmouth-registered drifter-trawler based on the design introduced to the fishery postwar by the giant Bloomfields company; she was in Bloomfield livery and bore a name in the its style (Ocean Pearl) but although she was representative of the new look, the name was fictitious.

If I have recalled correctly, her number was YH757. If so, it was the number of the Yarmouth steam drifter Violet and Rose, mentioned in this column in August when I wrote about an impending repeat of a 1960 BBC radio documentary called Singing the Herring to which the contributors included her late skipper-owner, Ronnie Balls.

The host of vessels participating in the gala included one of the Everard fleet of coasters and tankers that were such familiar visitors to Yarmouth, the Clanity; lifeboats and air-sea rescue launches; tugs; a nifty Clyde puffer, several warships including a converted trawler pressed into Admiralty service during the war, painted battleship grey and armed with a forward gun, and a modern vessel complete with helicopter perched on a stern pad; leisure craft like speedboats and luxury cruisers... I wish I could recall to mind some of the others, months later.

The club, which has passed its silver jubilee, enjoyed a busy 2010 for, apart from its regular regattas and routine meetings at the pond on Tuesday evenings in summer, it was involved in the Happing Festival covering in the Stalham area, the Gorleston clifftop gala, Yarmouth Maritime Festival, Strumpshaw steam rally, and other events. At its February annual meeting, it was expected that a full 2011 programme would be drawn up, covering pond events plus static displays for charity at village fetes, fairs and rallies.