Bernhard Van Velze kneels on top of his sailboat, parked outside of his home on Harrison’s Echo Avenue. He ties knots in the rope holding the cover onto the boat while a neighbour chats with him from the ground.
The boat, the only one on Van Velze’s block, hearkens back to his past with the Lower Mainland Yacht Co-op, a recreational sailing group based out of White Rock. He sailed there for more than 25 years, but eventually age and the move from Abbotsford to Harrison Hot Springs caught up with him.
“At a certain age … it gets a little heavy to go out sailing,” Van Velze, 76, explained. When he moved to Harrison 10 years ago, he thought about joining a local sailing club, “but that didn’t work.”
It would have been the end of his sailing career, except for a winter holiday to Arizona. There, Van Velze was introduced to a new concept: model sailboats.
People standing next to a man-made pond were looking over their miniature sailboats, discussing how their boat reacted in the water and what they could do to improve their remote-controlled vessels.
“I thought, boy that’s interesting,” Van Velze remembered, thinking back to the holiday more than five years earlier. “Being a woodworker myself, I like to investigate.”
Investigating led Van Velze to an online retailer of model sailboat kits, where interested patrons can purchase the parts to build their own remote-controlled boat. Van Velze chose the T37 Racing Sloop, an easy-to-build model yacht with a mahogany hull, nylon sails and a remote control that can send the boat a football field away.
“I’ve never tested it, how far before it goes out of reach, ” Van Velze said.
“I’ve had troubles with it in the past,” he continued. “The thing took off and the rudder was stuck … It was just going, going, going.
“Thank goodness there was another boat (nearby) because it would have landed up on the other side of the lake.”
To avoid those potentially disastrous outings, Van Velze mostly sails his model boat back and forth through the docks of Killers Cove Marina.
But, he said, “when you are sailing back and forth, it’s just back and forth.” What Van Velze wants is a community of like-minded sailors to race against.
“As soon as you have to sailors in the water, they compete,” Van Velze said. “No matter what size of the boat they are, they try to beat each other. It’s part of the fun.”
Van Velze is hoping to create a club for T37 Racing Sloops to gather and compete on the shores of Harrison Lake, weaving their way through a miniature racing course to find out who the best sailors are.
“I thought if more people were interested, it would be more fun on the lake,” he said. “So hopefully we can … get some interest.”
He hasn’t found members for his club yet, but he’s hopeful. The cost of a model sailboat through the company Tippecanoe Boats, where Van Velze purchased his kit, is around US$400. He’s hoping that price will lure those who may have wanted to try full-sized sailing.
It’s a waiting game for Van Velze, as he attempts to assemble a crew of competitors. But in the meantime, his sailboat won’t be gathering dust.
He’ll be taking his T37 out to the marina for excursions on nice days, and may even take is full-sized sailboat for a spin as well.
“You can still run the small sailboats next to it,” he explained. “And if they get lost, you chase them.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the potential model sailboat club can contact Bernhard Van Velze at 604-845-5501.
Correction: An earlier version of this article gave the incorrect phone number for Bernhard Van Velze. The number has been corrected above.