Rollercoaster Mum: The Rollercoaster's (Model) Sailing Boat Adventure - Center Parcs FamilyBreaks August Challenge


Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Rollercoaster's (Model) Sailing Boat Adventure - Center Parcs FamilyBreaks August Challenge

It's amazing the ideas you come across on the t'internet. Now I know it saps enormous amounts of my time (and probably yours - well you're reading this for a start) but it does on occasion come up with a good idea that you'd never have thought of doing otherwise. Hence last week I found myself and the girls attempting to make model boats. Not necessarily up there with Einstein in the realm of new ideas but not an activity I would have necessarily been doing otherwise. We had been inspired by the Center Parcs August Challenge to make and sail a model boat.

Swallow and Amazon  - model boats
Very proud of our model boats 
The suggestion was to make a traditional paper boat but pah! I thought I could do better than that - not sure why I was so confident considering my usual abysmal attempts at craft. Anyways after (more) surfing of the wonderful worldwide web I decided that it either had to be an old juice carton or a plastic bottle. Based on the fact that the empty bottle looked vaguely more boat shaped than a rectangular juice carton we went with the bottle.

I set to with a stiff pair of scissors to cut it in half - not as easy as you might think - some parts are made of plastic thicker than my secondary glazed windows. In the meantime Bigger Miss was bouncing up and down eager to get on with the making. (Little Miss was fortunately out at the time) Finally after several plastic related injuries and an almost fatal stabbing with the scissors the two halves of the bottle were prised apart. Now what to do with it next? My initial thoughts had been to paint it, make pretty sails and even a little pennant flag at the top of the mast. These ideas were however swiftly thrown overboard as far too difficult for our limited crafting skills and we concentrated on making it look approximately like a sailing boat and hoping it would actually float.

Little Miss returned and battle ensued over the two bottle halves as Bigger Miss had chosen her half earlier. Eventually a truce was called with my arrival with the chopsticks, a couple of bendy straws, some old fabric scraps and some plasticine pilfered from the toy cupboard. Wooden chopsticks were stuck in lumps of plasticine. Plastic straws bent around the mast and fastened with staples made the boom and after some very rough cutting of triangles from the fabric we attached the sails to the masts with staples.

Model boat from plastic bottle
Details of the construction clearly seen on Amazon!
Naming our ships was easy - they had to be Swallow and Amazon. Names that anyone familiar with Arthur Ransome and his adventure stories set in the English Lake District and later on the Norfolk Broads will know well and the main reason that we had started this whole palaver in the first place. I was introduced to Swallows and Amazons by my uncle and I loved the books and I am now reading them to Bigger Miss and she has fallen for them hook ,line and sinker despite being written over 80 years ago - so there was no question what the names were and the reason that they had to have sails. We had already decided not to paint the boats - mainly due to the lack or waterproof paint but the Misses did write their names on them.

Now to the real test - would they actually sail? After a quick trial in the kitchen sink where at least they floated we set off to try and find a pond.

running in the woods
The almost fruitless search for a pond began
Time was not on our side - the holidays have been busy and I had other things that needed doing but a true Swallows and Amazon adventure ensued. Bigger Miss said she knew where there was a pond near where she had walked a friend's dog. Following her very bad directions we eventually found the spot to find said pond had dried up. Next up was the lake on the Ranges, the question hanging over this one was whether the red danger flags were up or not - after another wild goose chase we found that yes the red flags were up and they had even padlocked the gate. It had to be third time lucky. We set off on the short walk to the local fishing lake and hoped against hope that nobody would be fishing - it was now getting late and tea needed making. Hurrah no fisherman in site - I could taste success on the wind.

sailing model boats
We could taste success - practising sailing our model boats
Ah yes the wind - being later afternoon the wind had got up somewhat - something a good sailor should possibly have noticed (we didn't). Now, most of the points of access to the lake are small platforms raised above the water which I thought might pose some danger of drowning (or at least dunking) to two children bending down attempting to sail model boats so we set off to the other side where the bank sloped gently down to the water. This looked perfect. I envisaged a couple of possibly unsuccessful attempts of the boats swirling around gently, just about sailing near the bank. I would take a couple of photos - job done and home for tea.
Swallow launched
The launching of Swallow - little did we know of the adventures ahead!
How wrong I was. Bigger Miss launched her boat, Swallow, first and then momentarily distracted by Little Miss coming down to the water to launch Amazon we took our eyes off the tiller and yikes she was gone. No, not sunk to the bottom but sailing half way over to the other side of the bloody lake. The wind had filled her sails and off she had gone. Unfortunately not banking on the damn thing actually working we hadn't come prepared for this eventuality and of course with no actual crew on board to steer the sailing was more than a little erratic. Amazon was quickly retrieved from the water before the same fate could befall her and we watched helplessly from the bank as poor little Swallow was blown around in the middle of the lake.

Swallows maiden voyage
Swallow sailed farther and farther away from safety....
We could of course have abandoned ship but I imagined that the fisherman would have taken a very dim view of someone leaving an old plastic bottle in their precious fishing lake not to mention the other wildlife it might have harmed (although had any of the said fishermen turned up we were ready to scarper fast.) So we sat and watched (rather agitatedly) and eventually the prevailing wind blew her towards one side of the lake. She was getting closer to one of the fishing platforms - closer and closer and.... noooo - her sail got caught on a bush between two of the platforms. We tried to find a stick long enough to reach her and pull her away but to no avail. Bigger Miss had a rather good idea of throwing stones to free her which I adapted to small sticks (throwing stones in a fishing lake would have had it's own dangers) but I am a rubbish shot and the girls worse still. Eventually either due to sticks or just time she freed herself but disaster struck a second time. The wind had changed and she was blown away from shore yet again. After more time and more agitation and watching of the wind a gust blew her into the bank - closer to the fishing platform this time. I grabbed one of the long sticks and joy - just managed to reach her, pulling her in. Unfortunately the pulling altered her balance and she took on too much water and very nearly sunk but was saved from a watery grave by my own fair hand. Slightly wet, a bit shaken and very late for tea we returned home, still victorious - our boat had actually sailed. Hurrah for Swallow!!

We would love to try our hand at proper boating at Center Parcs- especially as they have one in the very Lake District where the Swallows and Amazons became so famous. Hopefully it would be a little less dramatic than our little boating adventure. Well you never know.

Linking up with Country Kids at Coombe Mill as a proper Country Kids adventure!
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 


  1. It's wonderful for kids making their own boats and see them sail off. Glad you finally managed to retrieve the one - maybe next time just leave a message in the (half) bottle in case it does sail for ever away!


  2. What a fun activity for the girls (although I suspect you enjoyed it too). It looks like it was successful and the spot you chose to launch them looks very picturesque. Thanks for linking up and sharing your sailing adventures with Country Kids.

  3. What a great adventure! Might have to try it...


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