Photography by Patrick Merrell
What do Hobart Park in Vero Beach and the Valley of the Kings in Egypt have in common? Model sailboats. The ancient Egyptians were among the first to fashion such things — over 5,000 years ago. Some of their creations were intended as toys for children, others as vessels to help mummified pharaohs navigate the afterlife. When King Tut’s tomb was opened in 1922, dozens of hand-carved model boats were found inside, several decorated with paint and gold leaf and with the rigging still intact.
The model sailboats that race the waters of Hobart Park look a lot different than those, and none belong to embalmed royals, but they’re basically the same thing: scale versions that reflect actual boats of the period.
The small lake, nestled in a wooded setting that looks across to the 8th hole of the Sandridge Golf Club, is the home sailing course of the Indian River Model Sailing Club. Formed in 1995, it currently has about 55 members, plus spouses. “We race pretty much every day,” says Bob Beer, the club’s commodore. “We’re here on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, even during the summer.” Dues are cheap, just $25 a year, and that includes a season-ending picnic to hobnob and give out awards. “We run three scored racing series for each class in the fall, winter and spring,” Beer says. There’s also a travelers’ group that visits different locations on weekends, across the state or sometimes farther.
The attraction of model sailing is simple but deep and satisfying. “You get all the thrill of sailing without all the work,” Beer explains. “You actually feel like you are in the boat.” Alan Donaldson, a member who winters in John’s Island, adds, “This is great because it’s the same rules as big boat sailing. And you can do it until the day you die, because you only have to be able to wiggle your thumbs.”