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Southwater Dabblers

To a passer-by, the Southwater Dabblers doesn't appear to be the most riveting of clubs. Even the ducks appear a little nonplussed by the model boats invading their territory.

As the boats meander gently across the water, you wonder if there isn't something the dabblers could do that might provide them with more of an adrenaline rush. Stamp collecting or trainspotting, perhaps?

But for many of the Dabblers, putting the boats on to the water is not where the fun lies. Instead, the enjoyment comes from the many hours spent building and restoring their own boats, often in their own workshop, and sharing skills and expertise with other members over lunch in the café. Putting the boat on the water is often merely the moment of truth: will it sink or swim?

The Southwater Dabblers is a club in good health, and even on a cold, drizzly Thursday in late November, there are still over 20 members gathered at Sumners Ponds in Barns Green with their boats. They sail (and occasionally race) model yachts and boats at Southwater Country Park on most Sundays and Friday afternoons, and every other week in Barns Green.

Whilst many members like to build their own boats, for some, simply buying a kit from a shop and taking in out is enough. As all are welcome, the Dabblers have been able to maintain good membership numbers.

Secretary Lynn Woodroffe said: "The Dabblers started a long time ago with only five members, but now we have 148. It goes up and down and we've been as high as 160 in the past, but still we are one of the biggest model boat clubs in the country. It is true that our membership is mainly comprised of retired men. It would be nice to have younger people, but they usually have families and are too busy running children around at weekends.

"Having said that, it is good that so many members here have time on their hands as it means they can help each other out. You'll see a boat on the table in the cafe and they're all stood around, fiddling with it. It's like bees to a honeypot!"

Keith Wright: "I was into model making when I was little. I had trains, boats, cars, planes, and I was always mechanically-minded. I was a service engineer, but I retired seven years ago. I've been a Dabbler since then, but I have been secretary of the Horsham and District Remote Controlled Model Club since 1969. In terms of boats, I have three yachts, two steamboats and a live steam boat, which has a steam engine and boiler. I build the boats myself as I enjoy the engineering side of it. I have a workshop at home and I get the mill and lathe out and work. It all takes up a lot of my time but I have nothing else to do! I like the buzz of making something and testing it to see if it works. I also like to help people out with their boats. I'm forever playing around with the models as I like boats to do something, like adding lights or a water pump. Those small details count for me."

Peter Brown: "I used to own my own narrow boat but I sold the boat and needed something else to do. When I joined I didn't even have a model boat, but I was having a replica model of my old narrow boat, built to 1/12th scale. It's my pride and joy as it has a sound system, horn, tunnel light and smoke even comes out the chimney. When I first came here, the other Dabblers said 'you won't end up with just one boat!' They were right as I now have 11. The biggest is a fishing boat, which is about 55 inches long with lights, smoke and radar. I tend to enjoy restoring rather than building boats, but still I've collected so many that I need to sell some! The boat I have today is a model of an Arun Class lifeboat, which is now actively working in Iceland. As well as the boats, I love the social side of the club as it's really just the lads all together."

Alan Welby: "This was a scrapheap challenge effort of mine, made out of nothing but junk. It's called Canamaran, as it's made out of cans out of the bin and the frame is made out of coat hangers and bamboo from the garden, with plastic bags for the sails. It only just goes when I put it on the water. I've not got the radio on it anymore as sadly that's gone in the water. I took the radio out of it and put it in a speedboat that I was experimenting with and I hadn't sealed it down properly. The boat caught its own wake and the whole thing went straight down! We sent the rescue boat out but couldn't find it. It was one I hadn't spent a lot of time on and it only cost about £60 to put together, so it could have been worse. If it was an expensive boat with a lot of detail I would have been more miffed. There's a submarine out there somewhere too, and I think another submarine was lost in Southwater Country Park. One guy specialises in submarines and they are huge. It's 40ft deep in the middle of Southwater, and they've tried finding it with divers but it can be very tricky to locate a boat if it falls into the reeds!"

John Brinkler: "I am an airplane modeller really, but have moved into yachts in the last couple of years. This is a diversion but it's becoming a big one, especially in the winter as the airplanes tend to pack up, but the Dabblers go on all year round. When we're not out on the water, we're in the café having a drink. It's a rabbiting club
really. Most people here sail for the pleasure of it, and it's not competitive at all, as we're called the Dabblers, not Southwater Racers. My favourite aspect of models is building the boats myself as you never get quite what you want when somebody else does it. I have a third bedroom that I use as a workshop at home. Quite a few boats exchange hands between members, and they tend to hold their value well so there must be a market for them."

Alan Woodroffe: "I bought a couple of boats and joined a club in 1998. I had previously been in to radio controlled cars, so when I bought my first lifeboat I used the motor and controls from my car. Some of the Dabblers have sail boats and some have motor boats. These days, I like sail boats as you can sit there for hours with the boat on the water, and you won't be bored. I find that with a motorboat, it's great for ten minutes but then you get bored. Sailing is more of a challenge. I have about 24 boats now, a lot of which I have built in my workshop. My best effort is probably a six foot yacht, but they can be even bigger. My wife, Lyn, is the club secretary. I suppose I dragged her along initially but she now has her own boats and it's something we can enjoy together."

Derek Palmer: "I joined the Dabblers five years ago but I have been involved with models boats since the 1970s. I started a club in Crawley but then moved away from the area and gave up for 10 years or so. When I moved back to the area I went to an event in Brighton and the Dabblers were there. That made me think it was time to find my old boats in the loft. The Dabblers has rekindled my interest. I have six boats now and I'm building a model of Donald Campbell's Bluebird, and that'll have a fast motor on it. I've only got a small workshop which doesn't allow me to have big yachts so I mainly have motorboats. At this club we are very lucky as we have skilled engineers, woodworkers and model makers amongst the members. They will build a boat, and after a while they will sell it on and make something new. Just as many members do not have model making skills, but get a great buzz out of just coming along, putting a boat on the water and relaxing. The Dabblers caters for everyone as different people enjoy different aspects of model boating. For me personally, I love the research that goes into building an authentic model boat."

You can find out more about the club on the website at https://dabblers.wikispaces.com

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