Model boating started in Hagley Park, Christchurch when Lake Victoria was formed in 1897. A swampy depression – the rim of which was used for penny-farthing cycle racing – was graded, lined with clay and pugged by draught horses, then filled with water from artesian bores. The club was then formed and opened the next year.

Such was the enthusiasm of the gentlemen who formed the CMYC at their special meeting held in Warners Hotel, Christchurch, on 17 June 1898, that they went on to have fifteen more meetings in the remainder of that year. Not only did racing get started on Victoria Water but priority was given to building ‘…a Pavilion for club rooms and the storing of model yachts.’

The First Officers of the club were:
Mr. George Humphries (President)
Messrs. W. Reece, Professor Scott (Vice Presidents)
Commodore: Mr. S.B. Seymour
Vice Commodore: Mr. P.B. Blakesley
Secretary: Mr. C.A. Oakes
Treasurer: Mn Humphries
Stewards: Messrs. Seymour and Blakesley.


At their 1898 July Meeting the committee formulated the set of sailing rules reproduced here and in August of that year a Measurement Rule:

‘That the Load line measurement be the rule for sailing all yachts and three seconds per inch be the time allowance, a fraction of an inch to be counted as one inch for every course, once up and down.’This system lasted for some time with the rules being amended in December 1898 to include:-

All races started on the wind when possible.
All boats running before the wind touching either bank, must tighten sheet or alter rudder and trim so as to sail off shore.
There are to be two classes only, over 2′ 6″ waterline and less.
No boat shall exceed 4′ 6 ”
The shifting of ballast is not allowed (Weighted rudders accepted).
The next year saw another addition to the rules – that there be no advertising on boats under any circumstances. This is not a modern problem of yachting after all !


Having a club house was a very early priority but proved to be quite a hurdle because of lack of funds. The eminent Christchurch architect of the time, Hurst Seager, was commissioned by George Humphries to …’design’ a shed, 24 x 1 2 x 8 feet with a 4 foot rise in the roof, weather boards, iron roof (lining under iron) and floored, a single sash in each gable and a double door 7 x 5 feet’.To these specifications Seager added fancy barge boards, a veranda, an increase in the roof rise and diagonal boards. The plans were presented to the committee in September 1898. In the meantime temporary use was made of the Christchurch Football Club’s shed for storage of boats, presumably only for the summer period

The club then set about raising the £47/10/0 price tendered by the builder, Mr. Calder. Entertainments were organised by George Humphries who engaged a pianist, C.H. Fox, for a fund raising venture. Four local brass bands were also invited to play by the lake on four Sundays and subscriptions or donations were obtained while they played. But it seems this scheme was very slow in creating funds and the architect and builder were ‘waited on by the committee’ on several occasions to negotiate a lower price for the building. However by April 1899 the modified building (minus veranda) was under way and there were observations by the members – refuted by the architect and the builder – that the piles were not to specification!


The Minutes have much discussion on how the lockers and boat space were to be allocated with preference to debenture holders and a charge of one shilling per month for others. ‘The lockers were to be of oiled rimu; a boat space of 5’ was also allocated.

Another essential of a model yacht club is to have a small craft of some kind to be used for clearing fouled yachts. At first the club had the use of a large canoe for this purpose while trying to raise money for a dinghy but this too was unsuccessful. Eventually the canoe was replaced in 1902 by a punt and later a dinghy was constructed by one of the members, Mr.W. Schenkel, in 1921 .



Races were usually sweepstakes with prizes for the first three place getters. A very early special event was the President’s Prize, a sweepstake series over the season with heats drawn each time. For this event,in January 1899, the first heat was between:, Kiaora, Olga, Mona, Anemone, Nada and Hinemoa; the second heat: Lively, Gem, Valkyrie, Skipper and Ripple. In all there were twenty-four entries, twenty 1 st class and four 2nd class.The minutes record – ‘Considering this was the club’s first race and while it was a means of discerning many weak points in the working details,on the whole it was satisfactory.’

The results were:- I st: Skipper. 2nd: Allis. 3rd: Albatross

Also recorded are free racing days for boys, with prizes of 3/-, 2/- and 1/-, there was:- ‘…great interest, altogether…great satisfaction.’ Boys’ Races were held on other occasions and were obviously important in encouraging younger members. Model yachtsmen from Otago approached the club in the first year of operation to arrange a sailing meeting between the provinces of Canterbury and Otago. On 20 February 1899, the CMYC extended an invitation to stage an ‘Inter provincial Handicap’ to The Otago and Ashburton Model Yacht Clubs.

This was eventually sailed at Easter 1899 at two venues, Lyttelton Harbour and Victoria Water.The Otago yachts were dominant with Moonbeam, Meteor, Surprise, Toy and Petrel being the victors. Perhaps the refreshments purchased and recorded in the club minutes had something to do with it :-
5 gallons of beer
2 bottles of whisky
2 dozen soft drinks
Bread, cheese and ham for sandwiches.

The Otago visitors expressed delight at the results and the hospitality provided and invited a re-match in Otago the following year which the Christchurch members took up. Eventually an Inter provincial Shield was donated by Jones and Sons in 1903. There is no record of the Ashburton enthusiasts attending.

Aerial view of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens 1935
Aerial view of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens 1935

At the July 1899 AGM of the club, held in the Clarendon Hotel, ‘The meeting closed…half an hour’s recreation in conversation and music was indulged in, when the meeting finally broke up with cheers for the President.’The Lyttelton New Year’s Day Regatta was another occasion for the Otago and Canterbury model yachtsmen to compete. Handsome prize money was a feature not only of the full size but also the model racing and the club’s minutes record considerable discussion about the purse.

The Opening Day for the 1899 season was another social occasion for the people of Christchurch with many novelty events on the Lake as well as model sailing. For the October 21 Opening the programme included:Sports

A Procession of Boats
Canoe Race
Greasy Boom event
A Tub Race

… and Master Berry would give an exhibition of tightrope walking…’ ( For which the club paid him 5/-).

Victoria Water being part of Hagley Park it was administered by The Domain Board with whom the club battled to retain sailing rights, weed clearance, bank improvement and the payment of a ground rent. A letter to the club years later in 1917 set out the club’s position firmly in the eyes of the Domain

Board as follows:-

Your Club has no monopoly of the lake but only an annual licence…’

This correspondence related to an application to allow canoes on the lake during the summer. The club vigorously opposed this move and the Domain Board rescinded a previous decision to allow this to happen.

Weed control then, as now, was a constant problem. Experiments with chemicals such as lime and oxide of iron were tried without success. Payments were made to many individuals over the years to cut the weed.Water in the lake was another battle with the Domain Board, there was either too little in the summer or too much in the winter In 1903 the club financed a three foot deep well (sunk by a Mr Horne) by subscriptions from members. The Domain Board constructed the flood gates at the river end of the lake for overflows and draining the lake.



The International Exhibition of 1906 saw the construction of a large pavilion and fairground in the park at the edge of the lake.The lake was dug out and a large water chute was built at the eastern end. Sailing was put on hold but resumed when the Exhibition was over. At this time new names that were to endure for many years first appeared on the club committee; they included the Beanland family, and Messrs. l. Eckenstein, W. Sarelius, Schenkel, Ruxton and Matthews. Many members served for long periods and were often rewarded by the club – on two occasions committee members were given tobacco pipes – and another member a new pair of reading glasses!


The minutes do not record any effects of the Great War but presumably there were many. Post-war can best be described as the age of the 4′ 6″ class with boats such as Dolphin and Sans Atout dominating the racing. There are surviving members of the next period, before and after World War II, such as Brian Wall, Malcolm Scott, Dave Henley and Keith Stamler who have recorded their stories elsewhere.

For twenty-three years the President had been George Humphries, a generous benefactor and responsible for forming the first committee. He became the first life member of the club in 1921 , followed later by Mr. C.A. Oakes, the founding secretary, (who appears to have had his ups and downs as a club member being asked to leave the club in the early period only to reappear in the 1920s).

SINCE THE 1920s.
The period of the Great Depression leading up to World War II is not recorded in the surviving club minute books. The second book begins in 1950, a time when many of the older members were finding the physical activity of keeping up with a free-sailing yacht too difficult.There was a decline in the sailing of the 4’6″ class. Gradually many of these very old members passed away leaving quite a void but there was still a core of members who kept the club going, such as Bert George, James Matthews, Bill Schenkel, Jack Spencer and Brian Wall.


Much wrangling over rules and handicaps with protests and counter protests were recorded.The Kiwi ‘do it yourself attitude was prevalent and members did much of the bank, weed control and lake maintenance themselves. The reward was that the Christchurch City Council deferred payment of ground rents.
Opening Days were still a combination of public involvement and sailing, with the Mayor invited to open the season, a band playing, and afternoon teas provided by the ladies. At the 54th AGM special floral tributes were made to the ladies for the effort they made with this important part of the club day.

After the death in 1960 of James Matthews, the long serving Secretary, club minutes were not kept and there was some difficulty recovering and sorting out club records from his estate.A decline in activity continued through the 1960s until Gavin Britt appeared and led the club through the Marblehead revival in 1967.
This was a remarkable period in the club’s history with not only a new, radical smaller type of model yacht being introduced but a surge in membership, new clubrooms and the formation of the New Zealand Model Yacht Association as well as holding the New Zealand Vane Marblehead Championships on the lake.

Without a doubt the introduction of the International Marblehead Class was the basis of this renaissance of model yachting, not only in New Zealand but world wide as the portability and well structured rules allowed international competition. American and English model yachtsmen developed this class and made plans available for others to build with the result that models such as the Witchcraft was adopted by the CMYC after a plug was made and the hulls produced commercially to be sold for $14.00.

The vane-controlled Marbleheads raced in pairs on a round robin basis each competing against the other both beating and running. Some boats retained the earlier developed Braine control which is basically two systems, the boat balanced to sail up wind with a close hauled sheet and using tiller lines connected to a self centring quadrant for down wind sailing.The vane system became more widely used because it is more sensitive to changes in wind direction, is easily adjustable and has self-tacking potential.

However this free-sailing system was about to be ousted by a technological revolution – radio control. The advent of the transistor, printed circuits and miniaturisation saw the development of a practical remote control system for models in the 1960s. Initially very expensive and difficult to obtain in import controlled New Zealand, these units have now become very reliable and commonplace.

A typical basic two-function radio unit consists of a low output transmitter and receiver.The boat has two servos, one to control steering and the other to sheet in the sails. Rechargeable batteries provide the power and separate crystal control of the frequency for each boat. It is possible to have fleets of thirty racing at one time. Large fleets are not really practicable so systems of fleet racing have been devised and after initial seeding races to decide the level of racing between competitors, competition takes place with promotion or relegation between fleets according to placings.

Model yachts are now almost exclusively radio controlled allowing the models to duplicate all the sailing qualities, racing tactics and science of full sized yachts; in fact it is easier to use a model than a full sized craft to develop a new idea and test it. Typically many modern designs owe much to hull, sail and appendage development from a miniature counterpart.The International America’s Cup Class is an example of this. Some model yachtsmen push new technology boundaries developing new hull shapes, multi-hulls, surface piercing foils and off-wind sails such as gennaker and spinnaker.

Victoria Water has hosted many radio controlled series in the last two decades, first Marbleheads and now One Metre, East Coast One design and the local J Class.

A new international movement for preserving and promoting older free sailing craft has had its expression in the CMYC, too. Victoria Water is one of the few venues in the world where free-sailing models can be accessed at any point around the lake.



In this period the club’s history is dominated by radio controlled classes, in particular the Marblehead and later the One Metre then J Class. The formation of other model yacht clubs at other venues in Canterbury has seen inter-club racing but sadly these clubs have fallen by the way leaving the oldest club, the CMYC to continue. The CMYC kept the Marblehead tradition alive and members competed at national level, often travelling to the North Island. It is not easy to forget the Easter gales in Wellington for the 1983 National Marblehead Champs!

The Christchurch clubs took over the stewardship of the New Zealand Model Yachting Association over this period, an important time, as New Zealanders were now competing on the world scene at International Marblehead championships. These competitions have been important in keeping up contacts with other model yachtsmen and new trends and information.

Another decline in membership at the CMYC took place in the late 1980s and the Waimairi Club prospered. Many National and International competitions with One Metre and EC12 classes were hosted by the Waimairi Club during this time. Today model yachting in Christchurch has come full circle with the Waimairi club in turn facing a dwindling membership and amalgamating with the CMYC.The club shares the assets and Groynes sailing waters ofthe former Waimairi club with a now strong, combined membership.


Design and Photography – Euan Sarginson
Graphics – Renzie Hanham
Text – Hugh Hobden
Editor – Don Donovan
Scanning & PrePress – Colortronics, Christchurch New Zealand
Printed by the Tablet Colour Print Press, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Additional Photographs – P24 Pat Dolan, P47 Min Sarginson
Canterbury Museum:VV A Taylor Collection PI I
Bishop Collection – PI 6, 1 7, 1 8, 1 9
C Beken P72
Project funded by Community Trust and Christchurch
Model Yacht Club
Project Underwritten by
David Close
Robin Alborn
Min Sarginson Real Estate Ltd
Victoria Water Painting – Painting owned by Brendon Luxon
Photographs kindly loaned by friends of the CMYC
Malcolm Scott – A Day at Victoria Water
First Published 2002

© 2002 Euan Sarginson, Hugh Hobden