Model yacht club sails into the present day

SCALE Robert Hobbs, president of the Gosport model yacht and boat club with his International 1m radio controlled yacht. Picture: Paul Jacobs  (131805-1)
SCALE Robert Hobbs, president of the Gosport model yacht and boat club with his International 1m radio controlled yacht. Picture: Paul Jacobs (131805-1)
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For a century members of a model yacht club have raced their crafts against each other on lakes in Gosport.

Since launching in 1913 the Gosport Model Yacht and Boat Club has earned international renown and now stands at 120 members.

It has witnessed the development of an array of classes of sailing boats and technologies.

Now the club hosts a wide range of competitions, including national, international and tri-service events.

Back in the early days of the yachting at Walpole Lakes, off South Street, Gosport, there was great prestige involved with each event.

Robert Hobbs, the former commodore of the club, now president, explains how the sport came about.

He said: ‘In the first place it was sailed by gentlemen – they didn’t sail the boats, they owned them.

‘People like Admiral Turner owned the boats and they had a boy sail for them. And you had people like Hornby – the big man who did the trains – Sir Richard Fairey had an A Class.

‘It was part of the social calendar; they went here before they went to Cowes. People built these boats for these people – and because of [boat-builder] Camper & Nicholsons there were skilled people here, and obviously a lake to test them in.’

As the sport developed, so too did the technology.

After the First World War, vane technology came in.

Vanes were set on the back of the yacht according to the wind, before being launched in races, keeping the rudder straight so the craft could sail down the lake.

Then in 1922 A Class boats came in, paving the way for radio-controlled yachts.

‘Because the A class was so big, it could take the very early radio control,’ Robert explains.

‘Some of the early radio controls weighed 15 to 16 pounds, so you couldn’t put it on the small boats. So radio control really started sailing here with the A class – that came in the 50s.

‘Then in the 60s and 70s much cheaper electronics came from Japan and the radio sailing that you saw here took off.

‘Now there are umpteen classes. We sail the main ones here, One Metre, A Class; we sail multi-hulls, the whole package.’

However there is one thing that has not changed over the years.

The draw for many of the club’s members is simply the thrill of competition – and the sheer number of races that can be done in a day compared to yacht racing.

Robert, watching a group of model skippers on the side of the lake, said: ‘The big thing is that it’s highly competitive.

‘In that fleet out there, there’s not one of them who will give an inch, unless they’ve got to by the rules.

‘If you went dinghy sailing, you’d have one start and that’s your day’s sailing.

‘Here we can get 20 starts a day, so if you mess up one race – you’ve got a chance in the next.

‘I can assure you – sailing in the fleet out there – the adrenaline is really running.’

But amongst all the competition, Robert says the club is ‘strongly bound’.

He also claims the health benefits are huge, saying: ‘When we race here on a Sunday, if the wind is blowing fortunately for us and we can go the length of the lake, I can walk six miles in a day’s sailing.

‘That’s very good as a cardiovascular exercise, it’s absolutely beautiful fresh air off the sea.

‘It’s doing no harm to the environment, and it’s doing me the world of good. If it’s blowy it’s a bit quick to get down there but if it’s not so windy the older people can walk the length of the lake quite comfortably.

And that is something Anie Peace agrees with.

The 70-year-old, of Dore Avenue, Portchester, has been coming to the club for 13 years.

He formerly sailed full-size yachts but now enjoys their diminutive cousins.

He said: ‘I’ve never looked back – it’s a fabulous sport, it really is.

‘They’re friendly – when you used to sail big boats people were cliquey – you don’t get any of that in model boats.

‘Everybody helps each other.

‘I really love it – I suffer very badly with depression and my nerves and everything. This club has helped me tremendously.

‘Last year I got cancer but the sailing here has helped me tremendously.

‘When you get very bad depression you might feel like you’re useless and nobody wants you.

‘But you can come down here and prove yourself.

‘I can’t do a lot in racing because I can’t concentrate in racing.

‘But I can do enough to enjoy it and get a lot of satisfaction from it.’

The club is open each day apart from Monday – giving people such as Anie a chance to sail almost whenever they want.

And the facilities are second to none – built at the end of the 90s.

Funding came from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Gosport Borough Council as part of the Millennium celebrations and development of the waterfront.

Compass Point at the park, pictured above, gives the members a chance to relax, with a restaurant on top.

It means the club attracts a wide spectrum of the community.

‘We have all the facilities here, we have boat makers, sail makers, we have lead casters and we have people make moulds – and people who are good at electronics,’ Robert said.

‘And we’ve got youngsters here, we’ve got people who sail vane, three generations, grandchildren, parents and grandparents sail vane. That’s how the sport used to develop in the old days.

‘More so with radio you get individuals come here sailing – it’s super and from five to 85 it’s a superb sport.

‘This is also the home of the tri-services when they set up a radio sailing facility, we offered them this to be their home.’


THE club and its grounds have changed as much as the technology in the boats.

Model yachting started in Gosport around the 1890s and the modern club formed in 1913.

It originated from the Gosport Sailing Club of 1892 to 1937 and has always been affiliated with the Model Yachting Society.

The club started off by meeting at the Nicholsons Hall before moving into a club house in the 1920s.

A 12ft extension was added around 1950.

It was only in the late 90s its current home, Compass Point, was built.

Moving with the times, the club changed its name, adding Power Boat, in 1970.

It was to include the steam, internal combustion and electric racing boats section.

But in 1997 the ‘power’ was dropped, as they were not as popular and were banned from the lakes by the council.

‘Boat’ was retained to encourage a scale model boat section.


THE success of the club is not only the work of the people involved.

The lakes used by the club, Walpole Lakes, make Gosport the home of model yachting .

The lakes are sites of special scientific interest, and the Cockle Pond was renovated under the Unemployment Work Programme after the First World War and completed in 1921.

They have a concrete path on all sides – allowing skippers to walk round the lakes.

And as the saltwater comes from Haslar Creek, there is almost no freezing in winter – increasing the amount of time the club can sail.

And just this year Gosport Borough Council replaced the 90-year-old valve, which controls the water levels, after it failed.