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The History of the Durban Model Yacht Pond
The beginning and the early years
By Reg Leveridge one of the founder members of the club

At some time towards the end of the 2nd world war {possibly 1944 or early in 1945 } Fred Leveridge noticed a nice model yacht being sailed on the Umgeni River estuary. This looked interesting so he went to see if he could find the owner.

 He found Mr Hugh Tracy and his young son, having great fun learning how to sail this Yacht. Mr. Tracy had found the plans for a 36inch restricted class yacht in a yachting magazine and built it from scratch.

This was just what Fred needed to take the place of the Red Diamond Toys that he had been making to raise funds for the troops during the war. He got the plans and built the Goblin RSA sail no 1. The hull of this yacht was planked, using Teak, cut from the staves of an old vat that had been used to make Stevens Writing Ink.

Very soon other people got interested including Mr. Harry Gerson, Mr Charley Cole, Mr J. B. Colam. Mr Eric Yardley and several others and soon a small fleet of 36inch boats were sailing. It did not take long for some to hanker for a larger boat to test their skills and soon some 10 rater's were being constructed.

The early sailing was done down by the Blue lagoon break water,
 When the mouth of the river migrated northwards it left a small lagoon or inlet just north of the groin. With one crew member being on the sand bar on the seaward side, and the skipper stationed on the river bank, about where the Elis Brown Bridge is now, we managed fairly well, if we got the settings correct , if not the boat would sail off into the distance across the river. A chase boat was needed. Fred Leveridge built a Punt [ A flat bottomed boat like those used or some English Rivers.] This served the purpose and us kids had many hours of fun playing with this boat on the river.

Fred and his family lived at 55 Northway [just beyond the 2nd S bend ] we had no car in those days so we adapted my sisters push chair to carry the Punt and the yacht . Going to the pond was O K, all downhill, but coming home after the days outing was all up hill. Not for the faint hearted.

Mr Hugh Tracy was the head of the SABC. Durban office and Studios, a position that gave him some considerable influence in the affairs of what went on in Durban, and when we started dreaming of a special purpose pond, he used this influence to put pressure on the City Council.

The strip of land along the side the River from the Blue Lagoon area to the Athlone Bridge was all swamp land and the City Council had been using it as a solid waste tip in order to fill this area in. This was just the perfect spot to create a yacht pond, the bank was smoothed over to create a parking area and viewing site, the swampy area was excavated and Hey Presto we had a Pond.

 The first pond was about 2 thirds the length of the exiting pond which proved a little bit short so it was enlarged by 50% to its present day size. At first we had mud banks but when the air raid shelters at the schools were being dismantled, the concrete blocks were used to harden and neaten up the banks.

I am sure that it was the influence of Mr Rupert Ellis Brown [of the Elis Brown Coffee family] who was on the council at that time and he was interested in Yachting , both on the Durban Harbour [ he donated a fleet of clinker built dinghies to the Point Yacht Club for the use of 2 of
the junior members, these were known as  the R E B Class] and ultimately the Model Yachts, that enabled all this to happen so quickly.

The Durban Model Yacht Club was formed during these days and soon after we got the pond sorted out a group of people wanted to use the internal combustion engines,[ that had been created for model aircraft], to power speed boats. A suitable pivot point was arraigned for them to use to anchor their boats to so they could go around in circles. From here on the club became the Durban Model Yacht and Power Boat Club.

Once the pond was in use a lot of new boats were built, eventually we had fleets of 36inch restricted , 10raters , the large A class and ultimately the Marblehead's.

There were no factory built yachts available in S.A so all these boats were built by their owner skippers. All were built of timber and the builder had to convert the marine architect's drawings into the working drawings to create the beautiful yachts that were raced. Some of the early hulls were planked, but as soon as the timber merchants were able to get stocks of clear pine in from overseas, then most were built using the bread and butter method.

Charley Cole was the foremost expert when working in wood, he was pedantic when it came to the detail and his boats would have stood up to anything that had been produced for the Americas Cup millionair owners as far as quality and finish.  Masts were usually wood but some found that the steel shafts from older golf clubs were able to be used. All the fittings had to be made, tooth brush handles became bowsie's,  turnbuckles were made according to the expertise of the owners, from copper piping with left and right hand threads to elaborate turned articles, anything you needed had to be made.

 It was only after 1947 that some people were able to get parts from Basset and Loakes in England.
  At first all the boats were fitted with the Brain Steering gear for working down wind,[I think that this is the correct name for this steering mechanism]  for the beat you had to get the settings correct, both the mast position and the sails.
 It was only in the later part of the 1950's or early 60's, when the Marbleheads were being constructed that the vane steering became available.  

Some Photos of the early days at the Model Yacht Pond
The muddy banks!
The salt content of the water apparently saved us from getting bilharzia
In those early days we had an enthusiastic group of spectators

              Fred & Reg with their first boat's  2x36inch & his first  10 rater [about 1947] Note all the pre war cars
                                                                         Ready & waiting.  An early Regatta after the banks had been stabilised              

Fred's last visit to the pond in 1994 [Before a certain Council member, and the weather, spoilt things for everyone]

The active club members in the early days
Back row.  Ted Marton,  ???,  Eric Yardley,  Fred leveridge,  ?  Hilditch,  ???,
Front row   Mac Thomas, Hugh Tracy, Rupert Ellis Brown, Harry Gerson, J. D. Colam

Some more of the old gang

Back row   ???? ,  M. C. Colam,   Keith Gerson {with the hat],
Next row  ???,  Mac Thomas,  ?? , ?? , ??,  Charley Cole, ???,  ? Hilditch,   ???,  J. B. Colam,
Next row   Reg Leveridge,  ? Simpson , Ted Marton,  Hugh Tracy, R. Ellis Brown,  Harry Gerson,  Eric Yardley, Fred Leveridge
Front row Juniors   2nd from right,  junior Thomas,  4th right  junior Tracy, the rest unknown.

It is thanks to Keith Gerson (Life Member DRBC), having a good memory for names, that I have been able to put some names to faces.
 If anyone can add or correct,  then please let me know. This also goes for the spelling of names.
Does anyone have contact with any of those early yachtsmen?  If so can they get any photos. ? One showing the original score board would be nice to have.  

Some more photos of days gone by, courtesy of Des Fairbank

Had we realy progresed to this extent by 1946?

The interest from the public was quite phenominal in the early days

More recent times

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