Halifax-area model boat racers seek solution to problematic plants

According to seasoned sailor Brian Wilmshurst, model boat racing is a deceivingly technical sport. But at Sullivan’s Pond in Dartmouth, summer weeds can turn victory into a matter of chance.

“You find the boats heading downwind or wherever out there, and all of a sudden, they shudder and come to a halt,” he told Global News. “And if you’re the unlucky one to have picked the bad spot for weeds, all the other boats sail by you and that’s not really fair.”

The Halifax Area Model Yacht Club kicked off the 2019 season on Sunday with its traditional April Day Fools Regatta. For now, the weeds aren’t tall enough to cause problems for the boats, but that will change in June and July.

It’s a problem that’s popped up over the last few years, exacerbated by a run of dry summers.

The Halifax Regional Municipality has hemmed and hawed over requests to fund de-weeding in the pond in partnership with the club. Earlier this month, it overturned its original motion not to get involved and agreed to pitch in $1,500 for harvesting.

That’s about half the cost of the work, with the model yacht club expected to pick up the rest.

But mechanical harvesting doesn’t satisfy many members of the model yacht club, who are hesitant to pitch in $1,500 for a short-term solution. The weeds will grow back next year, explained Jim Goddard, the club’s communications point person.

“Some people think, and I’m included in that group, that we should dose this with a herbicide like they use on lakes in Florida to get rid of the weeds. The city doesn’t seem to even want to discuss that possibility because they’re worried about the wildlife,” he said.

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Sam Austin, councillor for Dartmouth Centre, said the city’s consultants did indeed express concern about pesticide use.

But to help make harvesting a more attractive option, he said it’s likely the municipality’s $1,500-package will be renewed from year to year.

“We’ll see what the CAO [chief administrative officer] comes back with, but I expect there will be a multi-year agreement and council will put money aside each year for this,” he said.

“Because you’re right, you do it one year, it’s going to come back the next year. This is the equivalent of mowing the lawn, except it’s in the pond.”

Wilmshurst said he’s concerned that the club’s members can’t afford to pitch in the money every year. In addition to de-weeding, he’s hoping the municipality will agree to fund a small platform that racers can use to launch their boats when the water level is too low to reach from the grass.

“It’s not a big dollar value to do some of this stuff,” he said.

“It would be really nice to have them contribute to some extent to make this happen. We don’t have a lot of money. We’re old-timers who just like to sail here.”

Austin said a platform isn’t out of the question and is something the municipality could consider when it takes a look at updating the aging crib work around Sullivan’s Pond.

“I expect that we’ll be in there as a municipality in the next couple years to do some work,” he said. “To me, that would be the opportunity to incorporate something like that in there, when you’re in there doing those repairs anyway, because then the extra cost to HRM is pretty nominal.”

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