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Audiograph's Sound of the Week: Spreckels Lake

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Audiograph is a crowd-sourced collaborative radio project mapping the sonic signature of each of the Bay Area’s nine counties. By using the sounds of voices, nature, industry, and music, Audiograph tells the story of where you live, and the people who live there with you. 

Nestled deep in the foggy bottom of Golden Gate Park, somewhere between the buffalo and the roller disco skaters, is Spreckels Lake. The man made pond is frequented by seagulls and turtles, but the most steadfast visitors are the model boaters who come out every weekend with their lawn chairs at the ready. 

Jim Forbes has been the commodore of the San Francisco Model Yacht Club for the past two years. The club itself has been around since 1898. Forbes told me he’s been coming to the lake since he was a child. It wasn’t until he was in his forties that he started to take up boating as a hobby.

“We had a member that was a friend of mine that sailed until he was a hundred!” Forbes said. “It does tend to keep people young – it keeps them engaged, you have to use your brain, you have to use your skills, and you get fresh air and exercise.”

Club members gather at the edge of the little lake, eyes glued to their boats out on the water, joking around and commenting about how each other’s boats are doing. They are a short walk away from the SFMYC clubhouse, which was built as a WPA project in 1937. 

One of the boaters I spoke to was Don Ciucci. Ciucci has been a member of the club since the late sixties. His boat is a fancy yacht shrunk down to Barbie size. Ciucci told me this model was popular about 50 years ago. When he found this boat it was destined for the garbage, but he tells me he’s been having fun with it ever since. This back story explains his unusual choice of decorations. “I put that little dollhouse toilet in there for the people who said it was supposed to go in the dumpster,” Ciucci says knowingly.  “It [the boat] had a lot of life left in it.” 

Kids wander over and bend forward as close to the water as they can, craning to get a glimpse of the boats as they motor by. The boaters pretend not to notice, but they steer their boats closer to the water’s edge so that spectators can get a better look. The center of attention is a three-tiered blue and yellow boat, chugging its way towards shore. There are little action figures on board, manning the ship. Rich Rosales built this boat from scratch, borrowing the figures from his now-grown children’s toy box. His boat is modeled after a Mississippi river push boat, and it serves a specific purpose. 

“I built the boat out here strictly for rescue boats that overturned or stalled out in the middle of the lake,” Rosales says. “It works very well. I rescue three or four people every weekend.” 

Rosales’ boat is equipped with a sound system and a GoPro Camera, which he uses to monitor the rescue as he goes along. Rosales says sometimes lightening-fast, out-of-the-box boats crash into the slower, more crafted yachts, stranding them out in the water … and sometimes their batteries just run out. 

He himself is not actually a member of the SFMYC, but affiliated with ‘The Irregulars.’ They’re group of boaters who gather at the lake on a regular basis, but don’t feel the need to join the club. “Actually the club gave us the name ‘The Irregulars.’” Rosales tells me, laughing. “We didn’t make that up.”