A brisk morning doesn’t stop the regular group of model ship enthusiasts from gathering on the edge of Langford Lake to shoot the breeze and set sail their homemade handiwork.
They’re all men, most retired, and the weekly Wednesday meeting is as much a social activity as it is a chance to test new boats or enjoy operating old favourites.
Dave Denton is running a 24-inch Union Jack tugboat he finished building last year after about a year’s work, off and on. Like all the other boats there it runs off an electric, battery-powered motor and Denton controls it from the dock with a large remote.
There is another tug of a different style puttering around, along with a model old-fashioned paddle wheeler and a couple of larger sailboats.
Another man, who Denton refers to as the “mad scientist” is trying out a rough paddle wheel-type contraption that turns by way of an internal weight that shifts the boat from side to side, dipping one paddlewheel deeper while bringing the other out of the water.
The group calls themselves the Langford Navy, but they are a part of the larger Victoria Model Shipbuilding Society, which has members from all over Greater Victoria, along with some from up Island.
Ships of all kinds from the society will be on display from Feb. 1 to 3 at the Westshore Town Centre Hobby Show. The builders will be there to answer questions and talk shop with anyone interested in the hobby. Larger model sail boats and power models will be on display, while smaller vessels will be run in the club’s pool, opposite Coast Capital Credit Union.
While it’s easy to call model shipbuilding a hobby, for most it is a passion. Denton is a retired shipwright who has been obsessed with boats ever since he was a little boy playing in creeks and his mother insisted he be bought a boat for fear of him drowning.
He built his first model, a sailboat, when he was 15, with the help of his father. He has been at it ever since and has served many roles with VMSS, including president.
While he enjoys the social aspect of the outings, for Denton the true pleasure lies in the building of the ships.
“(You) sit down, quiet, let your brain channel in onto something irrelevant,” Denton said. “You just get downstairs and you build stuff.”
Denton is now retired and working on a lifelong dream: a steam-powered 36 inch model tug.
“That’s the epitome of model boating, steam power.”
Just before Christmas Denton was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressively debilitating motor neurone disease. Denton figures the next boat he builds will be his last, so he decided to spend the money and order a propane-fueled steam engine from England. There are only a couple of steam-powered model boats on the island
“You save your money for old age and then here it is,” said Denton.
He’ll have the engine and the beginnings of his project at the hobby show, giving visitors the chance to see a work in progress.
VMSS is always looking for new members, especially younger people, of which there is a shortage getting involved.
“We’re trying to rescue some,” laughed Denton. “It’s just a nice diversion for the little ones to know they can build with their hands.”
For more information visit vmss.ca.