Rotorua sailors join Papamoa dragons

A day out sailing Dragon Force 65 model yachts

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Across a small Papamoa lake came the shout: “Go Alinghi!” Next to me on the bank, the return call bellows back: “Traitor!”

I’m amongst a group of dragons, now out in force on a Papamoa lake. They are chasing the wind and dodging a few geese, ducks and pukekos.

The dragons are Dragon Force 65 (DF65) radio-controlled model yachts. Only 650mm in length, hence the ‘65’, they are quickly growing in  number amongst a close-knit community of mostly retired people.

Captain and organiser of this informal group is Dusty Waddell, who moved from Rotorua to Tauranga in August 2018 after purchasing a house in Sovereign Drive.  

“I came down here with the dog and looked at the pond,” says Dusty. “I’d been sailing at the other pond for about a year with the Townsends and I  like this - it’s more open and there’s good access roads to it.”

He is referring to the larger 950mm Townsend yachts being sailed further along the reserve. We have found our way here through Monterey Key, but there are also access ways in from Santa Monica Drive and Santorini Key. The group sailing the Townsends are aptly named the ‘Royal Palms  Yacht Club’.

I asked Dusty what he plans to call this group of Dragons, and even though he’s concentrating on sailing two boats at the same time, he still manages to reply easily.

“We’ll probably call ourselves the DF65 group. We’ll have races around the buoys and we’ll probably join up with the Katikati guys and have a race at some stage. But at this stage it’s just for fun. We’re not classy people - we don’t need a classy name.”

Dusty Waddell

Out from the bank, he’s laid out two triangular courses, with three buoys marking a course on one side of the small island and three marking a course on the other side. Each course can take up to 25 boats simultaneously. So far, the group numbers about 15 people. They’ve dubbed the island ‘Pukeko Island’. He gestures at the headland at one end.

“That point is called Charles’ Point, because he grounded his boat on it yesterday,” grins Dusty.

Charles Porter is an enthusiastic participant. Settling in to Papamoa from Auckland, he met Dusty on an early morning walk along the waterways.

“There’s lots of people living around here who need or want something to do,” says Charles, expertly operating his controls. “We’ve got these fantastic facilities, yet here it is, under-utilised.

The club started just after Christmas, and Dusty imported 12 boats for new members to purchase at cost. Each boat has a fully molded ABS hull, 50 micron Mylar racing sails, an extruded carbon fibre mast and booms, extruded alloy keels with zinc alloy ballast, a metal geared digital rudder servo and powerful winch servo, a 2.4 GHZ transmitter and receiver and a display stand.

“They cost me roughly $300,” says Dusty.  “To build it up takes about four hours.”

The low cost and easy assembly of the smaller, nimble DF65 is why they’re so popular.

Dave Lee goes sailing about five times a week after meeting Dusty at the Townsend pond. He and his partner bought two DF65s, converting their golf trundlers into trailers attached to their bicycles, with one to transport the yachts.

“We’ve made up the other golf trundler to carry our chairs to sit on while we’re sailing the boats,” he says. “My shoulder has packed up, so I had to stop playing golf. We live on the waterways, so it’s a no-brainer really.”

David Lee with his home-made trailer adapted from a golf cart

Pam McCormick and neighbour Maureen Tatler both overlook the pond and couldn’t resist joining the group.

“I noticed them as soon as they started here,” says Pam.  “I thought it looked exciting and looked like fun.”

“I saw them sailing the big boats up there”, says Maureen, pointing towards the Townsend end. “Then I saw them out here. I talked with Dusty and he said he could get me one. He’s so helpful - he got me a boat, set it up for me and he didn’t charge.”

On sailing days, the group arrives at the pond around 11am, bringing a packed lunch. They sail until around 3pm.

“I met Dusty at Lake Okere,” says Mervyn Armstrong, who along with good mate Peter Meslemaker travels across from Rotorua. “I couldn’t play golf anymore, so I thought ‘what’s  the next thing I can do?’ I saw an advertisement in the paper from Dusty, so I bought an IOM, went sailing and started to enjoy that.

“Then Dusty - the traitor - left us and came over here,” he laughs. “Dusty said ‘come over and join in with these little boats’, so that’s what we did and we both enjoy it.

“This is a beautiful setting. Look at all those houses, everything is lovely. You couldn’t get anything better could you? It’s very relaxing. What would we be doing if we weren’t over here?”

The friendly banter amongst them includes a mild debate about adding some comforts, like more trees that provide shade but don’t take the wind. There’s already a large Phoenix palm providing plenty of shade.

Peter Messemaker, Dusty Waddell, Pam McCormick, Jim Braxton, Maureen Tatler, Charles Baker and Mervyn Armstrong enjoying saling at one of the Papamoa waterway 'lakes'.
Dusty still sails with the Townsends, but he’s keen to get the DF65s ‘off the ground’.

“Our aim is to gather a group of like-minded people to enjoy a couple of hours relaxing, sailing and having some friendly racing in our great waterways and ponds,” says Dusty. “No experience is needed, and anyone can learn to sail.”

“You need something to do, something to look forward to and something to love,” says Charles. “Then you’re happy.”

Sailing days are 1pm Tuesdays and Fridays. For other days contact Dusty 021 076 1252 email

Peter Messemaker and Mervyn Armstrong enjoying sailing their radio controlled yachts at the Papamoa waterways.

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