by Mark Steele, Auckland, New Zealand

Swirly World, some place sometime long ago, a schooner called Martha and the model boats of Andreas Gondesen

After a span of five or six years when we lost contact, I made a determined effort last year and found former New Zealand Mockers rock star Andrew Fagan alive and well, and with his partner, novelist and broadcaster Karyn Hay jointly hosting a daily programme on an Auckland radio station.

I had done an article on him when he lived on a houseboat on the Thames in England, and I have since thrice read his very entertaining book Swirly World. The 18’ boat, full name Swirly World in Perpetuity in appearance was a miniature ocean-going keeler with a flush deck and a one man cockpit someone told him about and he found floating bow down in Auckland’s Little Shoal Bay. When he was twelve he had owned and raced a P Class boat called Tin Ribs, and if my memory serves me right, I read somewhere that in it he once beat Russell Coutts, and I mean `the one and only one of America’s Cup acclaim!’  A real voyager at heart, aboard the once pea green in colour Swirly World, Andrew made a quick 1,400 mile sail to Sunday Island and back and also sailed her from New Plymouth in New Zealand to Queensland, Australia where as the smallest boat he lined up for an ocean race back to his homeland. All of this is documented in his book written about in a previous column on Duckworks (and I believe still available)

Anyway I digress to share with you this rather brilliant photo above taken by Rob Suisted  of Swirly World hard on the wind off the Auckland Islands some 200 miles south of Bluff during Andrew’s trip around the nation of New Zealand after he had returned back from England to live in New Zealand. There is a model sailing boat side to Andrew as well and when in England he had a host of non RC models he had made with hulls of polystyrene and an assortment of London material scraps, and fun names such as Gillydimdim and Cuckoomateeny.


I feel a poem coming on, the following called Revolt beautifully constructed by Dr Cleon C Mason of Wyzata, Minnesota, USA.

Why should I follow the tracks of man
when the trackless sea is free,
why bind myself to a ribbon of dust
when the waters are calling me ?

Out where the blinking lights of heaven,
are the only guides we know,
where the way is wide as the ocean itself
and clean as the driven snow.

 For man-made ways are ways of woe,
and with dust do we dry our tears,
dust that is stirred by the feet of man,
through the dull man-burdened years.


The fabulous boats of Andreas Gondesen



One of the absolutely finest boat modelers in the world has to be Andreas Gondesen of Ausackerwesterholz in Germany who for more than 25 years has specialized in sailing ships. I have written about him before in the now defunct magazine, Windling World and his RC sailing models of both the Pamir and `Old Ironsides’ the Constitution shown above are tributes to the skill and the patience of this modeller. His 2 metre long Constitution with its hull made of walnut took him 3 years and 3,000 hours and is a highly acclaimed working model of the famous frigate, one of six warships authorized by the US Congress in 1794.  Gondesenís Pamir built to a scale of 1:75 and with a length of 1,52m has RC functions controlling rudder, foremast yard braces, main and mizzen braces and spanker boom pulling over the jibs. It shows her as she was in 1957 when she capsized and sank in the Atlantic.

He is now working on an RC model of  the 5 mast full-rigged ship Preussen and his online website is well worth visiting. 


Sailing girl `hanging out the washing’ – a very `different’ model and a nice and unusual image by Hans Staal of the Netherlands (above left).  An impressive cutaway Cutty Sark (above right) from one of those talented Swiss model shipwrights in Swiss Mini Sail.


 What kickstarts peoples interest in items, sports, whatever in their lives? Ever wondered about that? I have had many interests in my life to date and in the case of schooners, that particular attraction really got its hold on me when we lived on the island of Barbados in the West Indies. (Before that and long prior to my leaving Guyana  I would ride my water-cooled LE Velocette motorcycle down to watch trading schooners sail past Fort Groyne  in the shadow of the lighthouse heading out into the Atlantic towards the Caribbean islands).

Three  very `Bluenose-ish’ looking trading schooners brought rice and sugar in bags from my original homeland of British Guiana regularly to Barbados, in fact the schooner Francis Smith I was told or I read somewhere (and my memory is still with me!) was a Bluenose originally out of the port town of Lunenburg in Nova Scotia. She was always beautifully maintained by her Captain, Laurie Hassell I was particularly keen on the grey-hulled Mary M Lewis and got to know her Owner/Captain Ivan Marshall in whose personal care a pet Guyana parrot arrived for me on one of the schooner’s voyages.

I worked in Bridgetown and the Careenage activity drew me back to my painting, and my sketching, and watercolours which tourists seemed to find of interest and some bought.  The pen and ink drawing of mine (above) actually became a popular print sought by tourists in the years that I was with BOAC/British Airways.  It shows the Francis Smith outside of the Mary M Lewis, the writer in his MGB sports car in the lower left corner of the drawing included just for posterity.  That indeed is a very long  time ago.


American Pastor Dave Shull’s line control schooner Elegant Betrayal

Englishman John Butterwith’s  Bawley Janie M

Christchurch, New Zealand’s Warwick Stephens most impressive 1/48th scale square rigger The Tweed



The 68’ on deck schooner Martha,designed by Bowden B Crowninshield was built in 1907 for a Mr JR Hanify who was the Commodore of the San Francisco  Yacht Club. He named her after his wife and the boat was owned from 1934 for 9 years by actor James Cagney. 

Involved in a yard accident in 1976 when she was dropped on her port side and declared a total loss, she was saved by Del Edgbert and extensively repaired, her new owner and his wife then living aboard her for nearly twenty years.

This drop dead gorgeous schooner, (photograph above by Michael Berman) considered one of the fastest around is now owned by The Schooner Martha Foundation whose sole purpose is to maintain and restore her, and use her to operate sail training programmes in and around the San Juan islands, the Puget Sound and Canadian waters. She is the oldest working sailboat in the State of Washington and the oldest living flagship of the San Francisco Yacht Club What an absolutely beautiful RC sailing model built to scale she would be!


It started with a dog’s sniff…

We sail in peace us Ancient Mariners. I tell you this when remembering an incident on a pondside launching deck in Auckland some years back I recall it as the `Great Pugilist Square Off’ which was all over a two dog `yap and scrap’ encounter. “Don’t you call my dog a bloody mongrel!” (one RC sailor, Manager of a bank as I remember) said, then hands went up and two elderly kiwis squared off impressively. It started with a simple sniff, that’s all it took.


This is nothing but fiction and Hannibal does not exist, certainly not in New Zealand where my photograph was taken of the gator announcing ownership and sole water usage rights of the pond. The once RC reptile head was made by the late Bob Walters, a member of our Auckland Ancient Mariners and these days lurks menacingly in the garden bushes of a West Harbour model yachtsman's home.


The English call it a Cutter, the Germans spell it Kutter, and the Portuguese say Cuter. , What is all this leading to anyway?  I’m damned if I know, other than to show you an unusual little RC French-looking Kotre I photographed at Shoal Bay on Auckland’s North Shore a few months ago. My multi-lingual mastery amazes me sometimes!!!


Strandings, capsizes and a total gazunda


The fleet (above)   Underway (right)


A very wet canary!

Top Dog - lost at sea

Bill Herald with trophy and last year's winner, Ron Rule

It was one of the most beautiful pre-Winter New Zealand days imaginable, one with an abundance of breeze and the largest ever fleet of fifteen Ancient Mariner skippers with their Footy yachts for the running of the eighth  annual Beyond to the Pond Classic last November.

Once out of the tree-sheltered canal, several boats faced severe problems due to crosswinds in the Duck Island area, and there were two strandings, three sinkings. two boats of which were recovered while Murray White’s Top Dog III foundered, and became a victim of gazunda  in the middle of Onepoto.  Richard Gross’s photo shows Brian Bassett’s Hot Canary after being laid flat, the boat being salvaged by the schooner Black Pearl.

The event was won by Bill Herald sailing his 2005 winner Water Bug now renamed Zac, last years winner, Ron Rule finishing second with Black Beauty and Ian Crooks third. Altogether an eventful but enjoyable day.



My humble efforts with my writing are intended to convey to others who have never thought of model yachts as an enjoyable relaxing hobby, that they perhaps should consider trying it.  It does not really appeal to the young who are more enamored with computers and highly competitive games and sports and for those even the more serious side of model yachts are usually beyond their financial reach and tend not to hold their interest for long anyway.

For those who are now `employment retired’, perhaps even bored to tears and sans friends, the `windling’ side of model sailboating (particularly within a group of like-minded others such as our Auckland Ancient Mariners) offers in addition to sailing,  both friendship and camaraderie values aplenty. Sure I am enthusiastic about what we do I am sure it is obvious - you could say that I am merely enthusiasm- ing!


Click Here for a List of Articles and Columns by Mark Steele

To comment on Duckworks articles, please visit our forum