The 2001 UK/USA M Class Regattas

Background

For a past couple of years, Jeff Stobbe of the San Francisco Club, Russell Potts of the UK Vintage Group, and Graham Reeves of the UK Vintage Group have been planning an informal series of regattas to be held between the San Francisco Restricted M Class boats and their equivalents in the UK -- roughly, vintage boats up to the early 1970s. We were lucky enough to tag along with our replica of a 1949 "Rip TIde," and here's how it went.

The Round Pond, Kensington

The first scheduled event was at the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens, adjacent to Hyde Park in London. The host club was the Model Yacht Sailing Association and London Model Yacht Club (MYSA Kensington).  Both the host club and the site are rich in history.  We are indebted to Graham Frazer, the Hon. Secretary of the MYSA Kensington, for the information given below.

Round Pond was completed in its present form around 1730 as part of Kensington Palace Gardens for Queen Caroline, the wife of George II. The gardens were  opened to the general public around 1830 and the Round Pond became well known for the sailing of model yachts.

There were earlier clubs in the area but they disbanded at various times; the Model Yacht Sailing Association was founded in 1876 and is the oldest existing club in the British Isles. It has always been based at the Round Pond, and celebrated its 125th Anniversary in June 2001.

Originally there was no boathouse and meetings of the club were held in a room over some nearby Turkish Baths. The London Model Yacht Club was formed in 1884 and two large clubhouses were built on the grounds of Kensington Palace. The two clubs merged in 1972 and they are now generally known as MYSA Kensington.  During the early 1900's many of the leading designs and innovations came from members of this club -- Daniels, Braine, Tatchell, Admiral Turner, and Littlejohn amongst others.  When the pond was drained in 1923 the found the remains of 150 yachts embedded in the silt.

Sadly, in 1987 the two old clubhouses were demolished and the MYSA moved to a much smaller boathouse (shown below).   Membership declined significantly, but in the last 10 years the advent of radio sailing has caused the membership to grow back to about 40 individuals.

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Part of the American invasion fleet being rigged in the MYSA club house. The members kindly took many of their boats home to make space for our boats and boat boxes. This was typical of the exemplary hospitality shown us by our UK hosts throughout our visit.

The clubhouse clock, with the London Model Yacht Club name on it.

Unpacked in the hotel room, rig assembled, and mounted on the cart, ready to go to the pond.

The scene at pondside.  The Round Pond is in the background. It is a difficult venue for free sailing boats. It is concrete lined, which eliminates a weed problem, but it is  in the shape of a very shallow dish. This means that your boat can run aground well away from the shore, and certainly out of range of the legal 5 1/2 foot turning poles. Also, there are drainage pipes at one end which form an obstacle much less than the draft of our boats well out into the pond. One of them, which my boat unerringly found in almost every run, I dubbed The Pipe.  The underwater surface is also far too slick to permit wading. The upshot is that it is easy to damage the keels and skegs of your boats. Despite this, the UK skippers brought beautiful vintage boats to sail from as far away as Scotland.

The US team led at this point, a situation that was to change radically when we got to Fleetwood.

Bournville

We were scheduled for a midweek sail at another historic pond, Bournville, just outside Birmingham. Unfortunately, the city didn't get the weeds out of the pond in time, prompting a bit of a flap in the local press.  We went and did the tourist thing at Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick Castle, and Graham Reeves threw a memorable dinner party for us, to which he brought part of his collection of vintage boats.

A  British vane, to the general pattern of the American Fisher vane but with its principal disadvantage (an inability to adjust each tack angle individually) overcome. As a rule, British vane gears were made as, and treated as, precision instruments. American vanes tended to be simpler and easier to build arrangements of wire and sheet metal Which approach is superior is a matter for endless debate.  One thing is clear: the British vanes are much nicer to look at.
 

This is the last boat that George Braine, the inventor of the Braine steering gear, ever built. The split hatch was his trademark.

The adjustable stops and tensioner of a Braine gear, by George Braine himself.

Click here for the rest of the trip, at the historic Fleetwood Lake.