2013 Model Boat Fair

DAVE WOOLEY reports from the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port

A sunny March day and perfect conditions for the Model Boat Fair.


Held on 2nd and 3rd March, the format for this event was established four years ago and reflects many of the best parts of the original annual March show at this venue. For those readers just taking up the hobby and perhaps unfamiliar with the event, the museum location is adjacent to the Manchester Ship Canal and is in South Pier Road, Ellesmere Port, CH65 4FW. This is not far from Chester and the Cheshire Oaks Retail Outlet Park, so is close to other family attractions.

The museum port and lock complex was once a major facility for the onward transit of goods distributed by barges and the canal network throughout the UK. The museum was established in 1984 following an extensive restoration of the old buildings, locks and dock system. It is in one of the two locks and the upper pound that the on the water activities for the weekend events take place. The Island Warehouse and Tom Rolt Centre provide the principal locations for the indoor activities which include model traders and clubs, some of the latter coming from as far as Colwyn Bay and Southport.


The Island Warehouse hosted the trade stands, together with some of the model displays and Ellesmere Port MBC and their supporters work very hard preparing the site for the event in addition to manhandling their 15ft long models and model dock complex over, around, and into, the locks. Transforming the museum for the event is a major undertaking, but all the tasks are completed by these hard working enthusiasts and it always opens on time, so 'well done' to the organisers.

The event

This is divided into four parts: The on the water sailing; club displays; traders and a competition. The sailing includes day and evening operations with an extensive dock system set out so that skippers can test their skills, or just have a free sail. Making exclusive use of one of the locks, which was closed to normal barge activity for the weekend, was very useful. One of the attractions of the museum is its proximity to the Manchester Ship Canal and the regular passage of ships. The visual excitement of seeing a ship accompanied by tugs sailing almost through the museum is what makes this venue so special, together with the opportunity in 2013 of being able to visit and board some tugs moored nearby.

On the water

The model docks cover the entire length of one of the upper locks and their use is not confined to tugs and their tows, but are there for any model, large or small. Sailing activity was maintained throughout the entire weekend with no break and conveniently this year, the weather was good with bright sunshine and calm waters. As mentioned earlier, the model tows are 15ft long and were skillfully handled by skippers not just from the Ellesmere and Wirral clubs but also by visitors from Yorkshire, Teesside and the North East. This event is also becoming notable for encouraging large models and in 2013 there were also a number of J Class and America's Cup sailing yachts. One of the highlights of the weekend was the genuine docking of the museum's own excursion canal boat by no less than seven model tugs!

Illuminated evening sailing

A regular feature is the illuminated evening sailing on the Saturday, but before it got under way, the organisers had prepared a truly superb Hot Pot for all those attending, which certainly got things off to a good start. The illumination included all of the models and the working model dock system. As the large 15ft tankers and their attendant tugs were moving out, into and back from, the upper pound (a large expanse of enclosed water), all you could make out was the navigation, masthead and dock lighting, so a test for even the best model tug skippers.


This year there were eleven boat clubs on site which had all made considerable effort to present themselves well and be interesting and informative to the general public. The attention to detail and the care in the presentation of each and every model on display is a far cry from a few year's ago when the maximum number of models in a space was often the order of the day. Now, it’s how best to promote the full range of activities of a given club and the hobby.

Special displays

Entering the Island Warehouse you arrived at an area which was occupied by traders and a number of clubs. In 2012 it was Bob Abell’s S.S. Great Eastern, star of 'Coast' on television that took centre stage. In 2013 you got the eye catching attraction of a 1:100 scale model of RMS Olympic, built by Dave Melville and Bill Lucy. She was sister ship to RMS Titanic, but to make life more interesting, she was also here together with RMS Lusitania.

I believe the plans for RMS Olympic were sourced from Dr. Haan and the hull was built using the plank on frame method, fibreglassed within and epoxy resin applied to the exterior. The ballast required for such a large model is approximately 70kgs and it uses three Model Motors Direct motors for propulsion. This really impressive model is illuminated by no less than 1000 LED's! Eventually the whole model will be illuminated including the cabins, boat deck and walkways.

Trade support

There were eleven traders present, covering just about all the needs of the model boat builder including hulls, figures, accessories and hardware. What I particularly like is the current abundance of accessories and specialist fittings for fishing boats and tugs. All those present during the weekend seemed to be doing a brisk trade and in fact it was really busy.


As in previous years, the David E. Owen Competition for statically judged models was held on the first floor of the Rolt Centre. The competition is divided into Scratch, Semi-Scratch, Modified Kit and Kit classes and the awards of Gold, Silver Bronze and Highly Commended are based on a standard and not numbers of entrants. The judges mark to a standard and if for example there were 10 models of Gold standard in a class, then 10 gold medals would be awarded.

In 2013, three models gained a gold award and two were in Scratch Class. They were for Les' Jones with his new model of the first Holyhead lifeboat and Colin Vass with his 1:72 scale HMS Warspite. The third gold award went to Chris Behan in Kit Class with his super-detailed Kriegsmarine Schnellboot.


Silver awards went to Phil Scales in Semi-Scratch Class with his authentically detailed model of the tug Tai Koo and Gordon Brooks in Modified Kit Class with his Bomb Vessel Granado. This particular model was displayed in a really imaginative way making use of a chart as part of the stand. There were three Bronze awards and these were for an attractive model of the M.V. Balmoral in Scratch Class by Roy Whitton and in Semi-Scratch Class, HMS Zulu a Type 81 general purpose frigate built by SWA member Alan Denham. Also with a Bronze award was newcomer John Williams with his tug Napier, a model that included a number of well made features including a well detailed toilet (head)!


A Highly Commended in Semi-Scratch went to Alan Luckett for his steam launch Happy Jack. Finally, the Best in Show award went to Colin Vass and his magnificent HMS Warspite.


Every event hopes to do better than the previous year and this event at the museum is no exception. Attendance plus trade and club support was excellent, but (and it was not the organiser's fault) someone had forgotten to turn on the heating in the Rolt Centre! On the other hand, this was not a disaster and feedback from visitors was that this was an excellent event. The personal facilities and catering arrangements are very good and car parking is not a problem either. Trade support was more than in 2012 and the clubs all made a sterling effort.


Thanks to all those involved from the Ellesmere Port MBC and the museum staff for their hard work to make this event possible. I now look forward to the 2014 event.