by Mark Steele, Auckland, New Zealand

Of a harbour safe and gentle, an 1895 brig,
the young Fijian sailors of the island of Dromuna.


This lovely quaint and simple place does not exist, instead it is a harbour (`harbor’ in the artist’s lingo) `created’ in its entirety by a friend of mine of days gone by. James Pridham, an artist inspired by the architecture and maritime history of the greater San Francisco Bay area perhaps in the years prior to either his or my existence produced this 43 in length diorama over 3,936 hours of actual work. A magnificent effort of great patience by this United States modelmaker. It is a diorama of 3,936 hours of work (excluding research, planning of supplies procurement) that is 43 and a quarter inches in length. Quite enchanting really!

James refers to his work as `sculpted fictional environments’ derived entirely from his own engineering, research, imagination and artistic skills – I would put him in the category of an `imagineer’ without even pondering over it. It took him from September 1984 to 6th June 1990 and it is built in N scale, 3 quarters of an inch equalling 10 feet. It is an incredible and stunning work of art.

As I have said the place does not exist and if it did it would certainly not look anything like that today. Developers would have long moved in, Hilton International would have built a 5 storey high hotel with the lighthouse housing a ten thousand dollar per night room rate `Lighthouse suite’ and the remainder of their hotel accommodated where the church and two other buildings were placed by the artist. On the opposite side would be a Trump hotel and Casino, and carparks, tar-sealed roads and neon lights would have well and truly totally crucified this once simple, altogether lovely gentle place.

It was used by the writer with James Pridham’s consent on the cover of the August 1997 issue of my now defunct model sailing magazine, Windling World which made it in my view, the nicest cover of them all for it was about models and made for a `sea related’ story of a fictional place we would all wish still existed. Simplicity and charm are so important and many of us can live without Casino’s, Hilton Hotels and McDonalds!

They are a puzzlement this crowd! Sure they make beautiful model boats, a whole range of them, and sure they have both a good website and state that they have email, but from my experience (and after three attempts) not a dicky bird peep has been heard. I wasn’t asking for a free model, just trying to get a few facts to give them a bit of a story, alas no success. Maybe they don’t understand English, anyway here are a few photos off their website. The schooner Nathaniel appears quite stunning. The models are probably mainly display models but because some are of reasonable size, they may be hollow inside sufficient to fit RC. I guess I will never know! (Hey fella, you buy a burger you don’t expect them to detail how they fashion the innards, or whether you can fit a pickle inside, now do ya?). Some scribblers are most demanding!

A tot of rum, one of gin, another of brandy

and some dark beer and you’ve got

`Hangmans Blood’. (Three of those and

you’ll probably feel like hanging yourself!)


Dromuna island is off Suva, Fiji islands where I spent an enjoyable hour or more some years back, photographing these seven happy youngsters, sailors of the Bula Sailing Club practicing with their coconut husk boats with leaf sails for a race for the Coconut Yachts Cup.

Marika, third from left told me the story: “ Uncle Levai built our boats for us using niu (Coconuts). He said sailing must be fun, that’s rule number Dua (one). We smile and laugh a lot, sail and race seriously but we are always happy because these are the friendly, happy islands. There is Tomasi and Pita, Jiogi, Tevita, Rusiate, my brother Jone and I. We are practicing for next Saturday’s sailing of the Coconut Yachts Cup. In Fiji we practice everything with a smile “


"Is there something to be
learned from that
by each and every one of us?"


“She starts, she moves, she seems to feel,
the thrill of life along her keel,
and spurning with her foot to the ground,
with one exalting joyous bound,
she leaps into the ocean’s arms”

so penned Longfellow.

Some years ago, Tom Simpson of Auckland’s north shore, one of our Ancient Mariners, built a William Garden designed schooner and called her Mary Jane. Tom built the model from plans of a relatively small 29’ schooner Garden designed called Toadstool with the look of the 1880’s above the waterline.

Built to a scale of 1.375” to 1 foot, the hull planked in double diagonal strips, the frames were removed after construction, the decks laid using southland beech, gaps laid between each plank and later filled with black epoxy glue.

With a long and gracefully rising bowsprit, the design has a horseshoe stern and the main mast is 50” off the cabin top, the red sails cut from an old New Zealand P Class boat. Altogether a really lovely looking schooner with her carbon-fibre masts and spars made from fishing rod extrusions for lightness. Havent seen the boat for awhile but then Tom sails these days on Tuesdays (and he has several models to choose from) so that’s understandable.


Lovely photograph (top left) by Dan Gresham of a vintage RM built and owned by Tom Younger of Solomons Island, Maryland in the U.S.A. Note the canoe stern. A favourite among those who love vintage racing yachts. Lower left photo shows a model of an approx 1918 Australian Pearling lugger built by UK modeller, Ray Davis. The boat is called Bintang and when on a visit to Fremantle, Australia, Ray was so impressed by a pearling lugger restoration taking place there he obtained some plans and the model was the end result. Bottom right shows the Friendship sloop Seareach just ahead of the schooner Dolphin both owned and built by Aucklander Malcolm Wilkinson.

I should have telephoned Aucklander, Geoff Davies and asked him what the origin of the name given to his remarkably fast Spencer design 1/2 Cut was? Knowing Geoff I don’t think it was in any way related to his ever being `half under the weather’, anyway this one metre was without a doubt, in its time one of the five fastest boats in New Zealand, and three owners later I am told still performs well. I have a belief that Trevor Bamforth may have built the boat (or he and the owner built it jointly) none the less, this Spencer was indeed a 'good un' that won many events. Another Spencer owned by Davies (round about the same time or a little later) was this one in the second photograph with the dished deck called Metric Mess.

Yes, I was an Admiral once, in June 2004 if my `approximometer’ is still accurate, when for an hour or so I strutted around the pond wearing the appropriate headgear made for me by Ron Rule. Deary me (Horatio must be rolling with laughter!). I have been subjected to some weird experiences in my time, like finishing last in the Fiji Islands sponsored Fiji Icebreaker regatta held in England one freezing sort of day during that visit. I sailed Trad 2, a Bantock `Jazz’ loaned to me for the occasion. Great people, great day but I would rather forget both my finishing position and how cold I was. (If the camera had been a movie one the picture would have been out of focus from my shivering !!!) I blame the weather from my dismal showing – anyway I was `protecting’ that honoured position, someone has to do it! (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it !)

Neville Wade of Bristol (regular readers will have seen photographs of his stunning square-riggers) has come up with another one, a river Pilot Brig of the Hooghly river in India’s West Bengal State, based on one used in the area called Fame circa 1895. Nev has named this one Elizabeth Anne after a niece of his took some 400 hours of dedicated work over six months to make this one a reality. All his square-riggers are built to approc 1300 mm long in order to be accommodated in the family car. Have a look at the photos of this latest gem of a boat, (the large one above) and a couple more that can be enlarged by a simple click of the mouse (below). Nev is certainly (in my opinion anyway) rocketing pretty smartly into the area of the classy model shipwrights of the world.

If any of my readers into model sailing boats in a serious sort of way would like to read about such via a hard copy, you should check out the US Vintage Model Yacht Group’s thrice yearly publication called The Model Yacht. A small publication it is full of interesting stuff, is published in the US by Earl Boebert a friend of mine, and a very pictorial column of mine called Windling World is in every issue. E-mail and he may send you a sample copy and then you might like to subscribe – sure it costs money, (these days only the air we breathe is free and don’t bank on that being so forever! Darth Vader style `Air Gasp’ recording machines for mandatory use are being secretly developed!)

We who sail our models have all experienced occasional days where the weather has been so atrocious, the wind so strong that we knew in our hearts that it would be better not to have placed our boats in the water. It is on this note I will close this months column and perhaps the following recalls one encounter, in other words `I feel a poem coming on!


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