Witchcraft with the CMYC


The Witchcraft was a real life-saver when the CMYC was down to 8 members. Gavin Britt, a teacher at Riccarton High School in the 1970’s came up with the idea to encourage students to build the Witchcraft model yacht as long as their dads helped too. In this way the club would benefit by the boys joining the club and help lift the membership. At present there are two to three regular sailors of the Witchcraft model and a number of closet ones. The regular sailors are still giving the Canterbury J and the EC12 classes a run for their money.

The genesis of Witchcraft class of model yacht goes back to the 1930’s. There were four yacht classes being sailed at that time by British model sailors- the International A Class, the International 6 metre Class, the 10-Rater Class and the 36 inch Restricted Class. The rating rules for these classes were rather complicated and the boats themselves were very large and often beyond the equipment and ability of the amateur draughtsman. They realised that a new International class should be developed.

It was considered that its size should be between the A Class and the 36 inch Restricted Class. The proposed new class requirements were that they should give the beginner an easier solution to the basic problems of design and that the boat should be easy to transport. Not many sailors of the time owned cars and they often needed to transport their 7-foot yachts by train or public transport – quite a challenge indeed!

The outcome was that in 1937 the International Model Yacht Union adopted the American Marblehead 50/800 Class for this new International Class. This 50/800 rule was simple – the boats were to be 50 inches in length, with a sail area not greater than 800 square inches. This introductory period for the class coincided with the outbreak of World War 2 so the early Marblehead sailors built their boats without Terylene sails and vane gear. But during the ensuing 25 years they refined the design and experimented widely – from sail plans to keel forms.

This 50/800 Marblehead Rule, however, imposed many deficiencies upon the designer; particularly those associated with the deep keel and the sail plan. Two gentlemen, Priest and Lewis, attacked the Rule with a similar approach and both produced new Marblehead designs. However it was Priest, who in the latter part of 1951, designed the Witchcraft and her lines, following the general thought at that time on changes to the Marblehead Rule. The first Witchcraft was finally launched and raced in 1954.

In response to demands for a more powerful boat, the Witch design was later produced, and this too, was followed by Bewitched, designed with extra displacement with a wider beam and also carried a taller rig.

Across the other side of the world in the early 1970s, three enthusiastic members Christchurch Model Yacht Club – Gavin Britt, Clarrie Gorrie and Eric Elderton – were impressed with this Witchcraft design. They recognised that its ‘seal flipper’ form of keel would make it ideally suited for sailing on Lake Victoria, the home of the Club for the last seventy years, as the weedy conditions often occurring there fouled deeper keeled boats. Also, the more moderate length of Witchcraft enabled it to easily fit into the family car making it easier for members to join in club race events.

To encourage the Witchcraft design, they decided to make fully rigged boats available to members. They set about building moulds to produce the fibreglass hulls and lead keels. They modified the original hull design slightly by reducing the ‘chunk of tumblehome,’ making it easier to remove the hull from the mould and also enabled easier installation of the beams.

The sails were made from sailcloth and equipped with vane steering and these fully rigged boats were produced at a cost to members of only $20.

This initiative heightened interest in the club and sailing events. Many school-boys took up the hobby. Over one hundred boats were built, with many finding homes around the country. A number of regattas and a National Witchcraft Championship were held with boats often sailing in pairs so that each sailor raced against all participants. Gavin Britt described the Witchcraft as being a “delightful boat to sail”.

In the 1980s vane sailing gave way to the new affordable Radio Control system and although many sailors converted their boats, interest in Witchcraft waned until 2002 when Euan Sargison, who was a long time enthusiast of larger yachts, encouraged sailors of the fashionable J class to sail a ‘real’ model yacht. Several took up the challenge and built boats using the old 1970 moulds. They then formed the informal “Royal Witchcraft Society”, which ,of course, has no links with Royalty, but took its name from the group’s first meeting held in the Royal Hotel in Lyttelton. These dinners continued for some years. Euan Sarginson’s untimely death and the 2011 Christchurch Earthquakes meant the society lost both its driving force and its venue as the Royal was demolished.

The Witchcraft looks forward to the next 50 years and continues to have a faithful following in Christchurch especially.

References: Model Racing Yachts by B.H.Priest & J.A.Lewis. Gavin

Yes, I‘m one of the luckier ones that own a Witch. These remarkable Marblehead boats were designed by Dick Priest in the early 1950s in England. Even today, the boat has a certain something about it. Sure, the design is not new but there is something about it. Where the newer designs have spoilt the looks of their class over the years, this boat just keeps going and somehow looks right to me.

The model first came to prominence at the Model-Makers Trophy in 1954. This was a premier event on the English model yacht calendar. At this particular event, the weather proved very unco-operative to say the least. There was heavy rain and strong winds ,as well as drifters. The Witchcraft went on to win this event. In actual fact Dick Priest didn’t sail his newly designed Witchcraft at this regatta, as he was the OOD. It was actually sailed by Jack Lace. The boat was called ‘Eros’. (MM July 1954)

When I was sailing vane-steered boats back in the 1960s, there was a saying about how good certain designs were. It could be equated to any design being able to beat you or not, that had to ascertained before the start of the race! The thing with Witchcrafts was that you could

never be certain if this be the case, for they were that type of boat that could always bring a surprise to the result.

This Marblehead is a departure from the normal Marblehead designs of its day (circa 1951) with its flipper keel, tumblehome and its not using all the overall length as the waterline. This was the era of the Tucker Ducks, the Marbleheads that had those very bluff bows.

This Witchcraft was not drawn for novices in mind. It was designed for a top class racing skippers who wanted to drive the boat very hard. I saw the boat get driven very hard in a few early championships till it nosed dived with a Gi-normous Ten rater spinnaker on it. You see there was no measured sail for spinnakers in the Marblehead class. The only measurement was that it had to conform to was have a spinnaker pole of 15″ length. Now as you can imagine with a huge spinnaker, of about twice the area of a normal SA, it could get a move on down wind, so much so that it could drive under. It would go down to about 2 “ under water at the nose and keep driving along, fully under control.

Now I can tell you this is very disconcerting to watch. Water, waves and foam going in all directions. This phenomenon was cured (somewhat) in the later Witches however. The next one being ‘Witch’, which was slightly heavier and with the same beam and a later design called ‘Bewitched’. It looked almost identical to aWitchcraft except it had extra freeboard at the front and a slight increase in weight to 23.5lb and a increase in beam to 11.5. I 12 Photo Author at left showing “Bewitched”. Nat Maritime museum, Sydney 2006.

I have a nice Australian Cedar planked version of ‘Bewitched’ by Doug Billing. The rudder on all the ‘Witch series’ of boats is angled forward. This causes the rudder to float somewhat and makes the boat easier to steer. This fact should not be lost for R/C benefit. Stephen Crewes, Ancient Mariner 2006.

Editor’s note: Stephen had told me of his interest in the Witchcraft design some time ago in an email. I sent him a pic of six of them sailing at Kaiapoi and he was very impressed, in fact he said he’d never seen so many of them in one place.

The “Big Boat Boys” after their resounding success in holding the biggest 50 year design of the Witchcraft celebratory regatta, followed up with an inter-club meeting with the EC 12 boys at Kaiapoi. This too was a great days competition, the EC 12 boys narrowly (and perhaps surprisingly) taking the days honors.

A request from participants to repeat the day has resulted in some thinking about the “Starboard Tack” trophy. This will be another fun days racing for a Railway bolt mounted in a block of wood in the shape of a big tack!! The first inter-club did get a bit confusing for our Newsletter Editor – who at first couldn’t work out if he was sailing for CMYC or the EC12 fraternity. The witch-craft boys soon put him straight (as they do!)

After the Witch-craft regatta the “ Royal Witch-craft Society” As it was informally called, met, and agreed to call it a day as an Association. It was felt we had honored the request of

Euan Sargison and It was decided to move on and just encourage those wanting to sail bigger boats. Hence negotiations with the “Racing Master” to include some “Bigger Boys Boat”

(BBB) events in the annual calendar has met with an understanding their is more than one class flourishing within our midst. We look forward to everyone strengthening our Association within a 1 club structure with different fleets.

Good sailing everyone

Ian Kington