70th Annual Metropolitan Detroit Model Yacht Regatta

Text and Photos by Al Suydam
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The pond at Belle Isle, Michigan. We tentatively plan to hold the 1999 Vintage Model Yacht Group Regatta here.

The Detroit Public Schools sponsored their 70th annual model yacht regatta on Saturday, May 23, 1998 at the Belle Isle model yacht basin. Attending this event was like stepping back in time to the beginnings of model yachting. 185 model makers launched their model yachts from the shore of the Belle Isle Model Yacht basin, competing for individual and school honors. This regatta was started 70 years ago by Detroit school teachers Earl Phillips and Charles Pozzini, as a way to interest the young students of the day in making and sailing model yachts. [Click here for a history of model yachting in the U.S. school system in general and the Detroit Schools in particular.] Their motive was to interest the students in a project that not only took a certain amount of skill and craftsmanship to complete, but that also could be used in competition against other boys and girls to encourage sportsmanship.

I had the pleasure of meeting the modern-day equivalent of the founding fathers in the form of Douglas Cass, Jeannette Middle School and Bill Ferris, Burbank Middle School who introduced me to the rules and classes. These gentlemen, along with Ed Fisher, Schools Center Building, Ron Gordon, McNair Technical Middle School, and Arnette Ross, Davis Aero-Space High School, continue the tradition of student model yachting in the Detroit area schools.

Skipper's meeting, Ed Fisher presiding.

Models and Their Construction

Deck layout of a C class boat.

The entries were divided into three classes for the novice to experienced builder:

Class A has a 24" hard chine, hollow wood hull, built from glued-up lifts. This model is the introductory boat for the novice builder. The students are able to form the outside of the hull using a stationary disc sander. Braine gear is used as the steering mechanism.

Class B has a 30" "wine glass" cross-section hull, made using "bread and butter" construction and sporting a fin keel. This model design dates back to the 1930's and requires more skill to hollow out the lifts inside the hull and smooth the outside to the proper contour. Braine gear is used for steering.

Class C is a 36" "wine glass" hull, bread and butter construction, built to the A.J. Fisher "Chico II" plans. This model requires the most skill to complete. Braine gear is also used for the steering.

Each of the models uses a set of the same A.J. Fisher fittings for rigging (turnbuckles) and steering (Braine quadrants) that were supplied to the first student builders back in the 1930's.

Class B Start

A brisk Spring breeze was blowing right down the length of the model yacht basin. Each student was required to sail their model across the pond on a beam reach. The object was to reach the other side before your competitor, rewarding the model sailor who figured out how to keep his or her model going on a straight course.

Class A start.

The regatta scoring was set up using the heat system, where the top finishers in each heat advanced to the semi-finals, then to the final heat. The top five places int he final heat were given special mention. Two perpetual trophies were awarded. The Benson Trophy for the most total school points was awarded to Jeannette Middle School, and the Earl Phillips Trophy for the winner of Class A was awarded to Dwight Dyes of Davis Aero-Space High School.

Class C boats on the water.

Not to be outdone by the students, the teachers had their own set of races, cheered on by the students. Ed Fisher won the special teacher's race. I even had a chance to talk with some of the "older" graduates from the program who remembered their own experience with model yachting. Some even wondered:

"Whatever happened to that model I made?"