Maritime in miniature in Portsmouth

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ON a sunny day down at Canoe Lake in Southsea, everything from torpedo boats to hovercraft take to the water.

Many people think that small is beautiful and we certainly seem to have an enduring love for tiny versions of things.

Model boat enthusiasts in Portsmouth

Model boat enthusiasts in Portsmouth

From our love for smaller and smaller technology and cars to tiny versions of our favourite pets such as the teacup pig, we take pleasure in miniature iterations that look and feel like the real thing – it seems the delight is in the detail.

Few people understand this fascination better than Mike Rudd, honorary secretary of the Portsmouth and District Model Power Boat Club, one of the UK’s oldest model boat clubs, founded in 1909.

Mike’s lifelong passion for model boats has seen him creating detailed, working models that closely mimic their real life counterparts. ‘I enjoy model boats and have done all my life. It’s a great hobby,’ says Mike.

‘The first boat I built was when I was about 14, it was just a little open launch. At the time it was diesel engines.

‘I couldn’t afford a radio then, you just set the rudder and if you had a friend you could send it across the lake. Hopefully they’d catch it the other side and send it back, or it would just go into an arc and you’d have to dash round after it – it kept you fit!’

The club members regularly meet on Sunday mornings at Canoe Lake in Southsea and Mike can still remember the first time he saw a boat on the water.

‘It was a fire launch,’ he says. ‘It was impressive to see it going round quite fast. They were all diesel engines then and that’s what started the hobby off for me. The boats looked nice, they were quite smart then, all wooden. There was no fibreglass at that time so you built your own boat out of wood.’

Modern model boat enthusiasts have access to a variety of prefabricated kits made from a range of materials, but many still choose to build their own models from scratch.

‘There are a lot of kits about now. Wood is the best but the fibreglass is a lot easier. You can also buy just a hull and fit it out if you wish.

‘It takes at least nine months to build a nice boat from scratch working in your spare time.

‘I have two steam-powered boats. One is a picket boat and they were carried by battleships around the First World War.

‘History is an important part of the hobby and research is quite interesting. I use books and go online. You can also find out quite a lot from libraries, they’ve got some nice books on rigging and things like that.

‘You want to know a bit about your boat because everybody asks you about it when you’re at shows; what it does, where it came from. It’s important to have the details historically accurate because you get people who know more than you do and aren’t afraid to tell you it’s not right!’

The club’s membership is varied, but Mike is still keen to share his childhood hobby with younger enthusiasts.

‘We’ve got around 60 members at the moment. Membership is pretty wide-ranging, but we don’t have many junior members which is a shame really.

‘It’s a rewarding hobby, it gets you out in the fresh air and you meet other people. The trouble is computers and things have taken over. It’s instant the computer, isn’t it? Whereas modelling you have to build the boat and then you’ve got to go to the lake and set it up.

‘We do have a portable pool though that we take around for some shows. I think it takes about five fire engine-fulls to fill it.

‘ We’ve got 12 small boats about a foot long that we let kids run and they have a whale of time.’

The club attends events throughout the year, which hasgiven Mike a chance to use his miniature hobby to make a big difference.

‘Collecting gives you a purpose and it helps other people. We collect for the lifeboats in conjunction with the Southern Model Lifeboat Society and last year we got about £400. We are also raising money for the new Selsey lifeboat. They’re having a new Shannon Class lifeboat and they need a new station to house it.’

But it’s the reaction from the public that seems to make the hobby so enjoyable for Mike.

‘It’s quite nice to interact with the public - they do show a lot of interest and seeing children smiling at the boats makes it all a bit more worthwhile, it’s always nice.’