Model Yachting in Christchurch

Model boating began in  Hagley Park, Christchurch, New Zealand when Lake Victoria was formed in 1897. A swampy, muddy depression, the rim of which was used for penny farthing cycle racing, was graded, lined with clay and pugged by draught horses, then filled with  water from various  artesian bores -  the club was then formed and opened the next year. The spirit of the club still lingers on from the first General Meeting held in Warner's Hotel on Friday 17 June 1898:

The object of the Club shall be to provide amusement and improvement in model yachting giving all possible encouragement to the designing, construction, rigging, fitting and sailing of models of all description, also to induce members to take an interest in Naval and maritime affairs.

The Club was prolific, boats were probably based on those found in England, narrow boats, carved from the solid, basic steering with weighted rudders and gaff rigs and topsails. The English design Prospero seems to have been very influential with Sans Atout and Dolphin, built at the turn of the century, owing much to this design. Both these boats were on scratch handicaps and often won Club championships. This was the birth of the local 4 Foot 6 Inch class that was to be the mainstay model class for many years. Lake Victoria has access around the whole lake enabling craft to be re trimmed easily, the skipper often had a mate to share the chasing of the model and strict rules of racing evolved. The first club house was sited by the golf course and  the club took over what was in fact an early golf pavilion. Boats were stored in this clubroom, this included a dinghy used to untangle fouled race  boats .

A description of  the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the  Christchurch  Club can be found here, and descriptions of their current activities here.

The Four Foot Six Inch Class

This became the predominant class on the lake from the early 1900's until the late 1950's. The boats were usually built plank on frame with copper nails clenched over and the seams laid up with putty.  However there were the "dug outs" of Bert George as well. The maximum beam was 18 inches ballast and sail area was unrestricted. Early designs were beamy, full bowed ("cod fish types") and this trend was maintained until Sans Atout and Tempest appeared at 16 inches beam and less all up weight. Steering control evolved over the years to a two sheet system, one for beating with the rudder pinned into the centre of a quadrant, and the other sheet connected by lines to the unpinned tiller for running. A rubber spring guy could also put the boat about. It was essential to establish good balance to get these boats to go to where they were directed. This is still the essence of any sail boat - championship boats will sail straight, "hands off," at optimum speed.

Rigs for these boats evolved from large spreads of canvas on gaff rigs to fully battened, large roached, Bermudian rigs. Sail materials were limited to various grades of cotton from  calico, bedsheets, to closely woven Egyptian cotton. Full length battens gave the sail some form of aerodynamic shape but in general the lack of science in this department held back many potential designs. Bert George was the most prolific builder of this class and most of his boats survive to this day.

Races were on handicap, six lengths of the lake (1 mile) between set flags or buoys with limitations on the number of touches. A dinghy was in attendance to clear fouled boats as required. All racing was dutifully reported to the two Christchurch papers by the racing secretary and appeared each Monday.

The Four Foot Six became the icon of model yachting in Christchurch  the older citizens will immediately recognise these boats as "the ones they saw on the lake".

The Yacht

The yacht which is being offered was built of native woods by an unknown builder some time in  the 1930's. It was lovingly restored by members of the Christchurch Club and sent to the United States to be on display at the "World of  Model Yachts" exhibit at the Museum of Yachting, Newport, RI. The yacht is authentic in every detail except that the lead ballast  has been  replaced with wood for  economy of shipping. The ballast could be replaced if desired, but one really would not want to risk such a  treasure by sailing it. It should be displayed and enjoyed for what it  is, a survivor of days gone by. The boat is five feet nine and one-half inches from bowsprit to boom overhang and nine feet five inches to the top of the mast. It would  make an impressive display for any home or business.

Besides being an example of one of the rarest classes of model racing yachts in the world, the value of this boat is enhanced by its having been displayed in a  curated exhibit.  Included with the boat are:

  • A copy of the catalog for the exhibit, documenting the yacht's presence there.
  • A copy of the hardbound history of the Christchurch Model Yacht Club, prepared by Euan Sarginson and Hugh Hobden.
  • A 8 by 10 inch print of  Euan's classic "Shark Attack" photograph, also on display at the exhibit.
  • A letter documenting the provenance of all these items.

For Further Information

Contact Earl Boebert by email at, by telephone at 505 823 1046, or by mail at:

9219 Flushing Meadows NE
Albuquerque NM 87111

Photograph of A Class yacht crossing the Cook Strait, with escort.