About us

(Historic photograph collection at the bottom)

The Clapham Model Yacht Club is the only London club south of the Thames and we benefit from our urban surrounding by good public transport and car access. Set in the surrounding of Clapham Common it’s easy to forget we’re just a few miles from central London. We are affiliated to the Model Yacht Association (MYA) which enables our members to race in national and international races. While it isn’t the biggest, best or oldest club, it’s friendly and a great place to start off. We’re not the most competitive club, but because we race by the spirit of the rules, races can still be close.

History of the Club

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For historic photographs of your area try The Francis Frith Collection

It is likely that model boats have sailed on the Long Pond on Clapham Common since the time that the pond first became available for public use. Evidence suggests that model yachts have been sailed there since the mid 1800s and firm evidence exists that there was a Club formed to sail on the pond in 1870 and that regular races were held on most Saturday afternoons.

There is little evidence of the type of boat that was sailed, or their size, but they probably ranged from small pieces of wood with matchstick masts sailed by small boys, to much larger hand-built models of Cutters, Luggers, Yawls and Bermudan rigged yachts capable of fine performances.
There is reference in the Boys Own Paper to the “Clapham Club” holding its annual regatta in September 1887 and that the boats sailed were based on “ the 3, 5 and 7 Tonner” full sized craft, probably rigged as cutters. It is evident then that model yacht racing was firmly established on the Long Pond by the late 1880s. At this time the sport of model yachting was growing in popularity, This is evident by the proposal to form a governing body, the Model Yachting Association (MYA).The first moves to constitute such a body were made in 1888 but things dragged on and it wasn’t until 1911 that the MYA came into existence bringing with it generally accepted racing rules, although it was not until some time later that different classes of racing yachts were formulated.

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A letter dated 1918 from the then secrectary Arthur Owen, to a prospective member

There have been several Clubs based at the Long Pond but, like most Clubs, membership tended to rise and fall over the years. When it falls too low a Club cannot support itself and goes out of existence and so the name “Clapham Club” is used as a generic term to cover the various Clubs sailing on the pond up to the mid 1930s. These include “The Corinthians”, “The South London Model Yacht Club” and “The Long Pond Model Yacht Club”. The current
“Clapham Model Yacht Club” (CMYC) was formed in 1934 and has continued to the present day. It’s likely that model boat sailing has been roughly continuous on the Long Pond since the mid 1880s apart from the periods of the two world wars.

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© The Francis Frith Collection

The sailing of model boats on the pond has always been an attraction to both sailors and passers by. There were times between the wars that the pond was so popular on Sundays that sailors had to get there early in order to find space to launch a boat! Up to the late 1930s there were no facilities for the club members to store boats, although it’s understood there was a wooden hut after the second world war period which did allow some storage, this was removed later and replaced by the purpose built Clubhouse which provides boat storage and shelter and somewhere for a cup of tea. The Clubhouse has its own address, No 1 Rookery Road, but regrettably its been vulnerable to attack by vandals and thieves, so much so that little equipment is now left in the building.

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Up to the 1970s racing yachts were “free sailing”. That means once the boat was launched the skipper had no control over it. As “racing” implies that a boat must be able to get from point A to point B more quickly than its competitor, some control had to be devised that would automatically steer the boat, so that if the direction of the wind changed, the boat would respond and resume its correct course. Two systems of self steering gear were used. The “Braine Gear” where by the position of the sails was linked to the rudder, so as the sails moved from side to side under the influence of the wind, so the rudder was moved to bring the boat back on course. This gear was used from the early 1900s and was very effective in the hands of an experienced sailor. A more modern and sophisticated system is the “Vane Gear” where a vane, or feather acts like a miniature sail and is linked directly to the rudder. The boat is launched with the vane set parallel to the direction of the wind. If the boat turns off the wind the vane reacts to it, so turning the rudder and bringing the boat back on course. Those who visited Gipsy Moth IV when she was at Greenwich would have seen she was fitted with vane self-steering gear.

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Gipsy Moth IV sailing on the Solent in 2005 © Yachting Monthly

The course for these “free sailing” boats had to be straight up the length of the pond and back, the boat being re-trimmed for the return leg. In the hands of an experienced skipper the boat would keep a very good course but on occasion would deviate and head for the bank, so explaining why an essential piece of equipment for the skipper was a pole with which to fend the boat off the bank. It helped to have a “mate” to do the same on the other side of the pond, being in two places at once was no easier then than it is now!

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The 1970s brought the introduction of affordable radio control for model yachts. The possibilities then became endless. A yacht could be steered around a preset course and, with the many radio frequencies available, fleets of yachts could be sailed. As many as twelve yachts, or even more as technology advanced, could sail on the course at the same time. Courses were preset and usually followed the full sized “Olympic” course of a basic triangle. The radio controls gave both rudder movement and sail adjustment so allowing boats to tack and round the marker buoys.

As would be expected, this new freedom of movement allowed a new dimension in model yacht sailing. The CMYC grew in membership and sailing on the Long Pond increased in frequency. A racing calendar was produced and competiton with other Clubs, both home and away, was on the increase. As a spectator sport there was increased attraction as the public could now follow a proper race and be aware who was in the lead, there were also a variety of boat classes to be seen of varying sizes. All in all the years of 1970 to the early 1980s were perhaps the most exiting
for the club.

The modern model racing yacht is designed as a pure racing machine. In some respects they are not as attractive as the pre-war designs but they are undoubtedly faster and, with the new materials of plastic and carbon fibre, very much lighter. As designers of model yachts pursued their objective of even greater speeds hull shapes became more extreme and keels became longer. This greater keel length brought its own problems on ponds which were previously adequate as regards depth of water. The long pond now became less able to cope with the modern designs.

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There is still interest among the general public in the sight of a fleet of model yachts racing hard around the buoys and if we can keep the Long Pond in good condition, long may it continue.

Historic photographs of the Clalpham Model Yacht Club
David Bell, a past member of CMYC was recently loaned several photo albums from a past member of the YM6mOA Norman Hatfield by his son David Hatfield. Apparently Norman was also a member of the Clapham club as it reformed in 1934 until the outbreak of war in 1939. His photographs are reproduced here for the enjoyment of all.

Photographs below © Norman Hatfield photo collection

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Norman Hatfield sailing 655 ‘Molly’ v 814 ‘Onaway’ in 1938

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‘Molly’ in 1938

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R36 racing 1938

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‘Molly’ v ‘Onaway’ in 1938

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‘Molly’ v ‘Raven’ in 1938

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Mrs Robertson retrims ‘Cordon-Bleu’ in 1938

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Enthusiastic CMYC members 23/1/38

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R36 racing

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Clapham Members 1938

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CMYC Commodore 1938

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CMYC after snowstorm 13/2/38

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‘Molly’ SW Gale 15/1/38

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‘Cordon-Bleu’, leeward of ‘Molly’

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‘Molly’ SW Gale 15/1/38

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Clapham Boathouse

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The Clapham fleet at Hove & Brighton 1938

© Clapham Model Yacht Club

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