** Updated 27/05/2019**
Last month, when I was in South Africa, I bought a small plastic tugboat at the local el-cheapo shoppe. It was a simple bathtub type boat with waterjet style propulsion, and stickers stuck on it and with the propensity to listing and sinking. It does not have enough of a draught to stay upright without batteries in and it leaks like crazy. It is not a very successful tugboat, it’s more of a typical cheap and nasty toy designed for a few days enjoyment and then a swift final voyage to the dustbin or under the bed.
Now you may ask what this has to do with the price of eggs? People who know me are aware that I am a ship enthusiast, and once upon a time I used to have a large fleet of ships, of which two were radio controlled.
My first RC boat was a “Damen Stantug” made by Veron and she had a 29″ fibreglass hull and was quite a large vessel with lots of space in the hull for a small model engine of the glowplug design. Naturally these were not available on my budget so a large electric motor was substituted instead. I also purchased a 2 channel radio and a set of motorbike batteries to run the motor off. Unfortunately a reliable speed control was very difficult to find and I ended up with a large wire wound potentiometer affair that used to run very hot and tended to be somewhat unreliable.
Once the motor, prop shaft and bulkheads were installed I was ready for a test run and a friend and I headed off to the Blue Dam in Mayfair late one evening with the hull ready to launch. I had installed simple navigation lights and a search light on it so we could see it in the dark and we launched the hull with much trepidation. If something failed I would literally be up the creek without a paddle because retrieving the boat would have been very difficult. Lo and behold everything worked and the hull tore across the water at maximum revs. It was working remarkably well and so far no leaks had shown up although the speed control was running very hot.
Wind forward many moths later and my tug was finished as per the plans. And, by some strange miracle I have pics of her. She carried the moniker “Dildo” and I am not even going to try explain it. She also flew a small red flag with “Enjoy your pizza” on it, just another quirk that I added.
Unfortunately the speed control was a major bugbear and charging arrangements for the motorbike batteries were less than ideal. The big motor drew a lot of current and the bike battery worked well enough. The hull was buoyant enough that I ended up adding extra lead ballast in it to bring down the draught. I also managed to score 10 model truck tyres that I wired as fenders along the rubbing strake, and later on I added a small crane, zodiac, electric searchlights, internal lights and navigation lights. I was proud of my tug, she was awesome.
I also bought a small centre island container ship that could be converted into a superstructure aft configuration made by Graupner under the unlikely name of Neptun. She too was radio controlled and was very fast on the water, too fast in fact and she really had to be reigned in or she would try to imitate a speedboat. Her motor was much smaller and more efficient and I had better battery life with her, although the limitation of both boats was the life of the penlights that were used in the radio receiver (4) and transmitter (8); back then rechargeable batteries were not as readily available as they are now.
Of course back then I was living close to a large body of water, albeit a very polluted body of water, so could put a boat under my arm and head out for a quick sail. When I moved from Homestead Park in 1985 I no longer had anywhere to sail my boats and of course not having a car meant that their days of sailing had come to an end, I used the tug once or twice when I was involved with the disastrous attempt at restoring the models ships at Santarama, Alas the person in charge was more of a hindrance than anything else so that all came to nought. Interestingly enough Santarama had a number of radio controlled ships that were probably in operation when the place opened, but they had been laid up and became scrap.
At some point I had managed to pick up a very nice trawler by Veron too, and sort of completed her but the wood was very dry and the superstructure cracked badly. It was a nice model though and it would have made a nice conversion into a short seas trader. She too was sold in a semi rebuilt state. I recall using her as a demonstration model on navigation lights at a meeting the Titanic Society of South Africa under the name SS Lamptest.
I sold my large ships in 1999 and I like to think that my tug is still out there somewhere and that she occasionally hits the water and has a blast. I always regretted selling her as she was an awesome boat, but at the time it was more or less a sound idea. I still collect ships though and have a large collection of 1/1250 and 1/1200 waterline vessels, although none can float. And, I have just gotten this poor imitation of a toy boat that I am tempted to refit, although fittings appear to cost more than the boat did. Much to my dismay there is not much of a selection of toy boats suitable for the bath out there, and that is quite sad because occasionally you really need to mess about with boats.
Yesterday while browsing the local overpriced antique emporium I chanced upon a model I have been after for quite some time. Produced by Triang I have seen these on ebay, usually at a horrible price and a poor condition.
The one I picked up is reasonably intact but is in need of attention (and a hair dryer to sort out the warped hull). It has a clockwork motor in it and the key comes out the funnel.
As far as I can see there were 2 in the ocean liner series: Pretoria Castle and Orcades although the only difference between the two was the paint job and Orcades may have been battery powered. I wanted the UC ship because of my interest in Union-Castle. Sizewise it is 50cm long, and surprisingly heavy. The warped superstructure seems to have been common problem with them though and many Triang products from that era suffered from the same problem. Triang also produced a tanker, police launch, tug boat and a drifter but I have not seen them on ebay as yet. I may have to fabricate masts and booms for her and unfortunately the 1 set of lifeboats is missing, however the motor works and that huge prop spins like mad. As a curiosity this ship is really great, and I believe you could get them in South Africa too and they have outlived the real ship by many years. Nowadays they are really relics of a bygone age of toys.
Does she float? yes she does although I am wary of letting her run amok in the murky floodwaters in town.
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