Model boat king sails for the last time

THE man who has been president of East London’s unique Victoria Park Model Boat Club for decades has died.

Norman Phelps, who had been sailing his models every Sunday—weather permitting—for the past 75 years since he was a boy, died on Christmas Eve, aged 80.

He was a quiet enthusiast who kept to himself—until he landed in the global limelight last summer when his story appeared on the Spitalfields Life website.

The man who runs the website, who stays anonymous under the guise of ‘the Gentle Author,’ said: “It was my privilege in July to interview Norman Phelps in what proved to be his last summer on the lake at Victoria Park. “I am republishing my pen portrait as a tribute to a wonderful man who became a legend in the world of model engineering.”

He discovered Norman sailing his model boats while walking through Vicky Park and was struck by his enthusiasm.

“His skill at ‘making do and mending’ comes from another age,” he added. “That was before we all caught the internet computer bug.”

Norman’s enthusiasm began in 1935, at the age of five, when he fell into the lake. It was the beginning of a lifetime with model engineering.

Most Read

He stayed in London through the Blitz and later narrowly escaped death when his house was destroyed by a German V2 rocket in 1945.

“I saw neighbours dead on the pavement,” he recalled. “I heard people crying out from the wreckage of buildings where we couldn’t dig them out. It was crazy!”

Norman married a girl from Sewardstone Road in Bethnal Green, next to the park, after meeting her at a dance at Hackney Town Hall.

The young couple decided to race boats together—it became legendary in the world of model engineering.

Norman hinted prophetically last year that it could be his last summer, while recalling stories of former members of his Victoria Steam Boat Club.

“So many of my club mates have pegged out,” he said, crossing his arms protectively. “I can’t get my head round it. I suppose I’m next for the chop.”

Norman survived tough times during the Second World War, but his model boats have sailed on. It’s the way Norman Phelps would want to be remembered.

The Gentle Author can be found online at: