Chapter 2

The Depression Years

Sailing at the Berkeley, California Aquatic Park in the middle 1930's.

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Spreckles Lake at roughly the same time. This shot is taken from the Southwest corner, where the powerboats now operate. At this time it was evidently still possible to sail side to side at Spreckles.

Model Yachting reached a peak of activity in the 1930's. It was a relaxing and relatively inexpensive hobby. Many shop and manual arts classes built boats as class projects, because a model yacht involves woodwork, metal forming and casting, and working with fabrics. In addition, the Works Project Administration of Roosevelt's New Deal built many ponds in urban areas throughout the United States. One of the finest was at Berkeley, California, where the WPA constructed both a yacht harbor and an Aquatic Park with areas for paddleboats, model speedboats, and model yachts. The model yacht pond was active well into the 1950's, but has now been abandoned.

The 1940's

A Marblehead boat running under spinnaker at Berkeley.

Model yachting enjoyed a resurgence after World War II, but never regained its pre-war popularity. The principal classes were the M or Marbleheads, the traditional A boats, and the X class. This latter class was established just before the War, and had the simplest rules of all: 1000 square inches of sail and virtually no restriction on hull design. X boats tend to be long, lean and handsome, and the class was very popular on the West Coast. During the late 1940's the Model Yacht Racing Association of America fell prey to internal strife and the last publication devoted exclusively to the hobby went under. Ironically, one of the last issues announced the most significant event of the era: the winning of the International A Class Championship by Bill Bithell's Ranger.

The 1950's and 60's

Here is the deck layout of a typical X Class boat of the late 1940's and 1950's. The sliding rig enables the relationship between the center of effort of the sails and the center of resistance of the hull to be adjusted to wind conditions.

X boat rigging in the 1950s (3K)

One of the most interesting developments of the 1950's were the "finless fin keel" boats of A.R. Lassel. These were the results of his long study of dynamic balance of free-sailing boats, which also lead him to be one of the leading proponents of the sliding rig. The idea was to move the center of lateral area aft and reduce the wetted surface as much as possible. The photograph below shows a hard-chine test hull, probably built to M Class dimensions.

Throughout the 1960's the sport went through a gradual decline in popularity that was not reversed until practical radio control, and the American Model Yachting Association, came on the scene in the early 1970's. The emphasis then moved to advanced materials and designs, and the Vintage Era slowly ended.