The old ladies of Kensington

John Windsor returns to the days of pond-yacht racing

A beaten-up Thirties model racing yacht sold for a whopping pounds 690 at one of Phillips' down-market furniture sales in Bayswater in June. The sails and tangled rigging had come adrift and the mast refused to stand upright. The 47in-long plank-built vessel had been estimated at pounds 200-pounds 400.

With an eye on the rising decorative value of "pond yachts", as auctioneers call them, one vendor (probably not a model yacht connoisseur) is offering in Christie's South Kensington's November sale one half of a model yacht hull that he has meticulously sawn from stem to stern and mounted on a block, in imitation of shipbuilders' half block shipyard models.

Although he got it wrong - the 54in-long hull, dated 1960, will probably fetch pounds 200-pounds 300, less than half the pounds 700-pounds 900 it might be worth intact - his instinct was right. I predict that pre-Sixties model racing yachts, whose prices scarcely dipped during the recession and are now nudging pre-recession levels, are about to bump the Santa Marias and Cutty Sarks out of their berths in the bay windows of fashionable Nineties folk who find nostalgia in the sea and ships.

The antique market does not yet appreciate model racing yachts. Instead, this increasingly buoyant market is being swelled by fogeyish private buyers approaching middle age who want to sport their raffish Panama hats and navy-blue blazers at the yachting lake, as well as showing off their pretty boats at home.

At the turn of the century, model yacht racing was a serious business. The aristocracy, together with the neo-gentry - architects, designers - would race their yachts in pairs across the round pond in Kensington Gardens. Crusty old peers, too portly to run round the pond to turn their yachts, would appoint a coachman as mate, encouraging him with salty invective as he sprinted to the far side, wooden turning pole in hand. "Run, you bugger!"

Their language was more subdued when 500-600 crowded round the pond for big competitions organised by the Model Yacht Sailing Association (founded 1876) - there would be men in toppers and ladies in flowing dresses. Today, a mere 35 members (they never did elect a coachman) compete for the association's 18 trophies, one of them a silver cup worth up to pounds 20,000.

Not the sexiest of pursuits, you might think. Until you talk to the enthusiasts and it dawns upon you why boats are referred to as "she". There is a connoisseurship in assessing the "beat" (shape) of a hull that borders on prurience.

Charles Miller of Christie's South Kensington, enthusing over a gaff rigged pond yacht of 1935 with mahogany planked hull and self-steering gear that had fetched pounds 1,495 (estimate pounds 1,000-pounds 1,200) in his spring sale, says: "Worth every penny: it had the most beautifully curvaceous feminine- looking hull - a fine pointed bow and well gathered up towards the stern. Smooth clear lines such as those just cut through the water."

I encountered the same practical aesthetic at Phillips, where Bill Rose told me: "What looks right is right." The true connoisseur, it seems, sees through the eye of nature. "Look for soft curves," he advised, resorting to the nautical voluptuosity, "not hard angles, because nature doesn't have hard angles". He sold for a bargain pounds 440 at Phillips' rivercraft sale at Henley in July a splendid 47in-long late 19th century pond yacht with solid hull and a powerful spoon bow, though without sails. "A lovely hull: it would cut through the water without any bubbles."

At auction you can pay anything from pounds 143, the price at Phillips, Henley in July, for an ugly modern 81in-long giant made from GRP (a glass, resin and plastic compound) with hefty lead-weighted keel, to around pounds 4,000 for a shapely old lady with planked hull and a distinguished racing record.

The model yacht restorer Richard Howlett warns that modern racing yachts, the sort of lightweight, anorexic-looking models that cost up to pounds 3,500, can decline in value by a quarter each year as the class develops increasingly sophisticated gear. Strictly for trophy-hunters.

Suppose you choose not to compete at auction and chance your eye instead on that sleek but dusty model yacht languishing in your local junk shop. It could be, say, a pretty-looking early Marblehead, biggest of the four main racing classes. You might pay pounds 40 for it, even pounds 400. Mr Howlett's research and restoration might cost pounds 200-pounds 500. Then, like so many of Mr Howlett's customers, you will ask him: "What's it worth now?" He might say: "pounds 1,000-pounds 1,500 at auction." You will then appear thoughtful and say: "Of course, I'd never dream of selling it."

Richard Howlett, Vintage Yacht Group and Model Yacht Sailing Association, 0171-480 5288. Auctioneers that sell model racing yachts: Phillips, 0171- 629 6602; Christie's South Kensington, 0171-581 7611; Sotheby's, 0171- 493 8080; Bonhams, 0171-393 3900.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Put the phone down on the coldcallers who see pension liberation as an opportunity to liberate your pension from you

Pension freedoms: How to deal with cold calls from scammers

Sean O'Grady offers advice on keeping your money safe
Switching to a better bank account is much easier than it used to be

More people are switching current accounts – but what do the figures mean?

Experts disagree about the 7% increase over the past year

The chance of getting what appears to be free money can be hugely attractive, especially to first-time buyers who can be fooled into thinking it’s extra cash to buy the essential new items they need for their dream home.

Beware the boom in cashback mortgage deals

Too many mortgages are being sold with misleading gimmicks

The firm’s revenues slumped by a third to £217 million in a disastrous 2014

Wonga results could get even worse this year, chief admits

The firm’s revenues slumped by a third to £217 million in 2014

The cost of a buildings policy has dropped by 10.1 per cent over the year, with the cost of a contents policy falling by 8.2 per cent

Simon Read: Mild winter cuts the cost of home insurance

The average quote for a buildings and contents policy has fallen by 3.6 per cent

Don't count your retirement money yet: employers will stop receiving a pension rebate next year and their staff may lose out

Defined-benefit pension schemes: Rebate change in 2016 may leave you out of pocket

Employees in defined-benefit schemes are held up as the lucky ones, but the state pension scheme will be overhauled in April 2016
Labour will raise the national minimum wage to more than £8 an hour by October 2019 (EPA)

Barclays new Blue Rewards hands cash to customers. What’s the catch?

Joining Barclays Blue Rewards costs £3 a month but then lets customers in for handouts of up to £15 a month

New research reveals that despite the recovering economy, four out of five low-income households have seen no sign of their financial situation improving

Hard-up families could be eligible for financial help

A charity is urging anyone struggling financially to see if they could get help from the state

When is the best time to buy foreign currency?

Video: With an election looming, a hung parliament could hit sterling

General Election 2015: Vote for the party that will boost your finances

Experts warn that the general election is unlikely to lead to stable markets. Simon Read talks to two investment managers who are advising caution

Make the most of your money in 2015-16: The end of the tax year is the beginning of the next...

The new tax year brings with it a raft of new rules and regulations

General Election 2015: Will pension reform be a major factor?

Video: Tom McPhail, head of pensions at Hargreaves Lansdown, says May's outcome could alter your pension

General election 2015: David Cameron's promise brings uncertainty to investors

Video: Simon Read talks to Fidelity's Tom Stevenson

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

    £50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence