Whangaparāoa warships on course for Mahurangi East

Brian Henman with his model of HMS Rotoiti – a ship on which he served.

A conversation between model enthusiast Brian Henman and Mahurangi East librarian Fleur Coleman has inspired the Mahurangi Squadron Model Naval Boat Exhibition.

Brian, a Royal New Zealand Navy veteran now living in Algies Bay, wondered if the library had any plans for Trafalgar Day. Fleur said “no”, but when she learned that Brian had a collection of enormous model warships – one of them more than nine feet long, she suggested an exhibition at the library.

Brian was eager to oblige and contacted fellow enthusiasts Mark Dimmock and Graeme Beeson to loan their big ships for the event, which will be held early next month.

Graeme Beeson is an internationally renowned model maker from Whangaparāoa. Several of his models are on display at the Navy’s museum in Devonport, including the Graf Spee and Achilles.

Brian says there will be 15 radio controlled warships for the Mahurangi event, ranging in size from 5 feet to 9½ feet. He describes it as “the ultimate big boys’ toys exhibition”.

The big ships will be supplemented by numerous miniature vessels created by Tokoroa modeller Bob Talbot.

The big ships have been constructed using plans of the original vessels and are made from wood and fibreglass. To buy one would cost anywhere between $2000 to $6000.

“They are one-offs that you will not see anywhere else,” Brian says.

Most of the ships are models of New Zealand vessels that sailed during the 60s and 70s but there are also ships from the World War I and II era.

Among the notable ships will be HMS Renown, a World War I era battlecruiser, and the largest model, HMS Vanguard, the last battleship ever built.

Every week Brian joins other enthusiasts to sail the ships at Highbrook Business Park in south Auckland, which features a huge pond.

Brian says the enthusiasts execute military manoeuvres with their ships, either together or in succession.

He says steering the models is as challenging as piloting the real ships. Some have four propellers that need to be successfully controlled.

An added complication is that skippers are often tempted to monitor a ship other than the one they are piloting, leading to serious collisions.

“I can tell you a few strong words have been exchanged when that happens,” Brian says.
Brian left the navy on 1984 after serving for 20 years. He served on HMNZS Rotoiti, Taranaki and Otago.

During his stint on HMNZS Otago, he sailed to Mururoa atoll as part of New Zealand’s protest action against French nuclear testing in the Pacific.    

The Mahurangi Squadron Naval Boat Exhibition runs at the Mahurangi East Library from Friday, November 6, to Saturday, November 7, from 10am to 4pm. Entry is by gold coin for the Mahurangi East Friends of the Library Group, which will serve tea, coffee and snacks.

The event is expected to draw enthusiasts from all over the Hibiscus Coast, judging by the popularity of local displays and demonstrations of model naval craft.


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