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The Model Yacht: ‘The finest pond ever built’

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Queen Victoria lent her name to it, but generations of islanders have known it plainly and simply as the Model Yacht Pond. But as we discover, it’s lived a charmed and varied life...

IT’S been there for knocking on 150 years and the site’s versatility knows no bounds.

It once staged cycle racing; in the First World War the French air force craftily hid aircraft there as they established a seaplane base temporarily; it has been used to house fairs and it’s survived bombing by the Germans; but our dear old Model Yacht Pond – or to give it its proper christened title, The Victoria Boat Pond – survives the test of time.

These school holidays it was again used by youngsters learning the rudiments of sailing in ‘Oppies’ and when the would-be Clementine Thompsons and Ben Ainslies aren’t picking up the basics and having a whale of fun in the process, there will be times when the old boys will be testing their little motorised boats or, perhaps even still, model yachts.

The French Seaplane Base of 100 years ago. The original aerial photograph was taken by Jerseyman Lieutenant C. S. Mossop on 10 August 1918 at the request of the Royal Air Force. (25614712)

We wouldn’t want to be without it, surely?

But there has been many an occasion when the authorities and those who couldn’t give a fig about a spot of gentle model boat sailing, have had their beady eyes on it.

Just think how many cars could cosily fit in there if the pond was to be drained and walls flattened.

It was the summer of 1887 when Miss Elkington, young daughter of the then Lt-Governor, John Henry Ford Elkington, did her best to ignore the attentions of 4,000 interested islanders, to officially open the boat pond. It was intended for ‘instruction in model yacht pond sailing as well as for the amusement for all classes of society,’ reported the Guernsey Magazine at the time.

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The pond had been built under the supervision of James Duquemin, surveyor to the States of Guernsey, and the man whose expert draughtsman pen had designed the whole regenerated St Peter Port harbour. The total cost of the pond project was a mere £905 and it was raised by subscriptions and donations, as well as a £300 States grant.

When the original pond was opened it took 604,416 gallons to fill it and it was a laborious process, a steam crane hoisting a 300 gallon bucket to dump water inside the low walls.

It took 50 consecutive hours to fill but, in time, a wind-driven mill filled the pond.

The Arnold scheme: Plans for a lido, which would have spelled the end as La Valette, were grand and rejected. (25615010)

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Apart from the First World War when the French hid their biplanes in it, and then the Occupation years when the Germans made a mess of it, the pond has served its original purpose and more, impressing model boat owners from far and wide.

‘The finest pond ever built,’ noted the visiting Poole Model Yacht Club secretary many moons ago.

Yet, had some notable islanders, including a future Bailiff, had their way it might have been a lido – a mightily impressive one too.

That was in the early 1930s when the States were asked to decide which was the best site for a bathing pool that would pull in the tourists, as well as satisfying some of the recreational needs of the locals.

Before he was knighted, William Arnold pushed hard for the Castle Emplacement and Model Yacht Pond imprint for his 330 yard long by 80 feet wide pool plan, including a 15ft deep central diving area.

The big opening day in 1887. A crowd of 4,000 was estimated to have attended. (25614926)

His plan included a wide promenade for viewing, spectating for 1,800, sunbathing areas and associated restaurant. In his view it was more beneficial to the island as a tourist spot than the existing La Vallette and the also touted Careening Hard Pool.

As for the Model Yacht Pond?

Well, it would have to go.

The States debated long and hard but, strange thing, they struggled to make up their minds.

Counting against the pond site was the close proximity of the oil tanks which rather spoiled the view.

‘Move them to St Sampson’s,’ shouted one States member, to much laughter.

Milling around a pool: The windmill was used to pump water into the pond at the turn of the century. (25557838)

One of the arguments against La Vallette was the lack of sunshine and the bad characters about the place.

Quite sensibly, Deputy the Rev. John Leale suggested going to the beach rather than thinking about ploughing more money into a town pool.

He said that until such time he was satisfied St Peter Port was really a most favourable place to develop as a holiday resort, he was not in favour of spending more money.

Deputy R. H. Johns summed up the feelings of many islanders though. ‘The children deserved to have the Castle Emplacement exactly as it was. They were safe there.’

The pond had survived again.

All the fun of the Model Yacht Pond Fair in 1950. (25614928)

IT WAS from late summer 1917 through to the end of the First World War that the Model Yacht Pond was transformed from enthusiasts’ play-thing to a military base.

The transformation, which took about a month to complete, was the result of prolonged talks between the British and French governments as to how best to control and spot enemy U-boats in the English Channel.

The aircraft hangars were built with metal frames bolted together and then covered with heavy green canvas.

Special buildings for aviation fuel, oil and storage for the station’s bombs and 2,000 machine gun magazines were also provided on the Emplacement.

The work was carried out by the Guernsey company of Royal Engineers, assisted by a few French ‘bluejackets’.

The Guernsey station of seaplanes had responsibility for patrolling the area between the island and Treguier in Brittany, but also flew north around Alderney and Les Casquets.

The seaplanes worked in pairs from daybreak to dark and they were lifted in and out of the harbour by crane.

Initially, communications from the seaplanes employed pigeons trained to carry back information, but soon enough the aircraft were equipped with radios.

Rob Batiste

By Rob Batiste
Sports Editor

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