By Sue Graci
SILVER Lake is home to more than just birds, a beaver, turtles, and fish. If you go down by the Port Dover Lions Club’s dock you might spot Robin Hitchon there with his model sailboat.
This is no bathtub toy; it is a seven foot long (1:15 scale) model of a J Class sailboat. The classic J Class sailboats built a century ago were over 100 feet long.
The model was built of white pine in the 1980s and Robin has completely refurbished it, right down to paint, varnish, sails, and electronics. When Robin got the boat, one of its sails was missing. A full-sized sail from a 20-foot sailboat was given to Robin by Johnny Miller of the Sandalmaker, and Robin cut it down to size, doing the sewing himself.
He didn’t have detailed original plans of the sails but instead “eyeballed it” using the sewing skills his mother taught him. He does have many of the original drawings, obtained with the boat.
“A friend of mine had the boat in his basement. His Dad (Ron Sayers) built it for him in the 1980s on the balcony of a high-rise apartment building. He didn’t use any power tools. And he built two of them, one for each of his sons. He used to sail them at Confederation Park in Hamilton.”
The boat had fallen into disrepair and Robin asked if he could bring it back to its former glory. When the friend said, “I would only give it to somebody I would trust to bring her back to sail again and that’s you,” Robin knew he had a big job ahead. But he was up to the challenge and appreciates how strongly his friend felt about allowing him to restore the boat.
It has been a labour of love, forcing two other model boats he is building onto the back burner while he concentrates on the fine tuning of the electronics.
“The last sail went very well but it’s got some control issues,” Robin told the Maple Leaf. “The handheld remote controls both the sails and the rudder. One day, I hope to sail it between the piers,” said this lifetime resident of Port Dover. “It’s been in the lake at the foot of Regent Street before.”
The sailboat even has 72 pounds of ballast. They fit into the boat and can be adjusted as needed. Numbered and shaped to fit perfectly into the keel, Robin thinks the molds were custom made and then taken to a foundry to be cast.
Using his bike and a trailer he found online, the boat sits in the cradle it came with as he takes it from home to Silver Lake for sailing.
Retired from Stelco, Robin is “living the life” while working on the model boats and enjoying kayaking on Silver Lake, as well as sailing the J Class.
“I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I love it. This is paradise,” he said, sitting back and surveying Silver Lake. “And seeing the lake coming back has been great.”
Originally published June 23, 2021