Just a few miles across town from the showcase of flesh and unbridled sexuality on Folsom Street, another group of fetishists were celebrating their own source of pleasure in Golden Gate Park: The San Francisco Model Yacht Club, whose festival of wooden boats — the largest such regatta in the Western United States, if not the country altogether — was held yesterday, as it is every other year, on Spreckels Lake.
There, tinkerers and hobbyists wearing what seemed to be a retiree uniform of Hawaiian print shirts, straw hats, and suspenders, proudly piloted small model ships, mostly intricate replicas of historic vessels. Each was a clear source of joy — and object of fixation — for its captain. Most attendees — there were around 50 — pledge allegiance to the Model Yacht Club, a group that's maintained Spreckels Lake since its founding in 1898. Some enthusiasts, however, had travelled from farther afield, such as one man from Sacramento who had brought his miniature Thames river taxi.
While Model Yacht Club members stash their sailboats inside their 1937-built clubhouse, which sits beside the lake, they must take their motorized model boats home with them. The Thames river taxi, however fell into a more curious subcategory of tiny steamships. "The majority of the boats are electric," its builder explained. "You buy a kit and you build a boat. But with steam, it's a lot more engineering, because you have a boiler fueled by a gas tank."
As an announcer reverently introduced ships like prize specimens at a dog show, Blain Russel of Santa Rosa showed me his model fishing boats. He too loves the engineering aspect to boat-building, but for him, it's more than that. "I wanted to incorporate some history that I've seen in my life," says Russel, who fishes out of Bodega Bay and has been building models like his green and white 1930s and 40s fishing boats for the past 30 years. "No one is going to replace these boats when they're gone. I just wanted to kinda keep the history going in my own way."