A sailor’s attraction to boats leads many of us to play with models and toy boats when we can not spend time on our real ones. I have a remote controlled Fairwind model sailboat, currently in a state of disrepair but shown sailing in the Bahamas in better days at right. As a youngster, I received a similar model but with no remote controls. It was well balanced and would more or less go straight in any direction it was pointed, if the sails were properly trimmed.
I remember spending happy hours trimming the sails in tight and making it sail upwind in a swimming pool, running from side to side to make it tack before it banged into the side. I would then let the sails out and send it off on a screaming reach or run down the length of the pool. It may seem senseless to non-sailors, but some of us do more or less the same thing in full-sized boats at regattas.
I had another small model sailboat at the time, a small sloop with a movable rudder. The boat was too small for remote controls, which would have been too expensive for a kid’s toy at the time anyway. I tried all kinds of combinations of sail trim and rudder settings, but never could get that little boat to hold a course under sail. It just wandered around. It was better looking than the one that sailed well and spent a lot more time on the shelf than in the water.
Doing some research for our Vintage Model Kits website, I found that vintage pond boats of all kinds are still very popular items. There are highly detailed sailing ships, some clearly designed more for decoration than actual use in a pond, vintage America’s Cup replica models and even some old motorboats among the recent eBay sales.
The boat at left is the one that most captured my attention as I was scanning the recent sales of pond boats. That’s an exceptionally large centerboard and moving it up or down will dramatically change the balance of the boat. For non-sailors, imagine trying to push this boat sideways through the water with that centerboard up vs with it down. The wind pushes it sideways quite a bit when going upwind or across the wind. The resistance of the centerboard forces the boat to go forward instead of sideways. Obviously, this one is going to have dramatically different effects, depending on how far it is let down.
The boat also has a movable rudder. If the sails and centerboard are properly balanced against each other, it should generally be set straight to minimize drag. A slightly angled setting would probably help avoid any tendency to sail up into the wind and stall the boat, but too much would make it just go in circles.
Even with a proper paint job, this old model was never much to look at. It reminds me vaguely of some of the old Pearsons, which are wonderful sailboats but their style seems to me to go beyond understated and wander into boring territory. Part of what drew me to this model was that, while not as pretty as some other models, it looked like a lot more fun to sail in a pond. Yes, the decal windows are a bit cheesy, the styling a bit frumpy, and the vintage paint job is in a disastrous state. I know that disastrous, old paint jobs have collectible value in some cases and any restoration tends to destroy value. I would not care in this case. I’d give her a new paint job, some new sails and strings, and put her right in the pond!
Unless, of course, it was an ordinary summer day with absolutely no breeze at all across the surface of the pond. The frustration of waiting for wind is familiar to all sailors. Waiting for a strong wind to subside is bad enough, but at least involves a decision about when you will go sailing. There is always the possibility of action. Waiting for wind can seem endless when there is none.
I came across one answer to the question of what pond boat enthusiasts in the early 20th century did when there was no wind: they played with model motor boats with live steam engines! The one at right is a 6 inch tall model live steam engine for motorboats, made in about 1910-1920. The assembly to the right in the picture is the throttle.
A friend who knows a bit about steam engines filled in some of the missing details for me on this one. I was wondering just where it got the steam and he speculated that it must have had a small boiler with a finite supply of water. Once that was exhausted, it would need to be retrieved and refilled.
To provide continuous steam power, he said that old steam engines had a feed pump that would ram water into the boiler to replace the water discharged as steam. Apparently this was the thing Humphrey Bogart kept banging on in The African Queen.