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Regatta ­Racing in Miniature

The drama of big-boat sailing scaled affordably

Some Bay-area sailors own their own yachts and race in spirited regattas, all without spending thousands of dollars — or even getting wet.
    Model yacht clubs offer the drama of big-boat sailing on a much smaller, more affordable scale. Enthusiasts take small-scale sailing quite seriously and hold competitive regattas.
    “This is not just pond-boat sailing; it’s pond-boat racing,” says Frank Steffens, commodore of the Heritage Harbour Model Yacht Club in Annapolis. “That’s all we do: race. We’re not just out here to have fun.”
    The club’s 23 members hold weekly regattas in two classes of model yachts, with strict one-design specifications, so the only difference in the boats is the skipper’s skill. The boats are steered by toggle switches on handheld remote-control radios.
    Heritage Harbour’s two-acre lake is the setting for Tuesday-afternoon races for Victoria-class boats, about 30 inches long, while the slightly larger one-meter Seawind boats race on Thursdays. It’s an affordable hobby: Kits for Victoria models are only $169. Seawind models kits list for $499 retail but can be found online for $369.
    Most club members compete in both classes, and many have vast experience sailing and racing full-size sailboats.
    “This takes more judgment than big-boat racing,” Steffens says.
    “You have to be able to read the wind changes and react much faster,” says Dave Littlejohn, whose Seawind finished second in the club’s spring regatta series.
    The small circular lake’s swirling winds pose a stiff challenge for the model yacht skippers. They follow the same rules as big-boat racers, tacking around buoys but also dodging duck decoys on the course.
    Jamie Brickell is a former national champion in Jet 14 class sailboats, but he could only manage fourth in a recent Seawind class model-yacht regatta.
    “It can be challenging,” Brickell says.

Small Boats, Big Fun
    Heritage Harbour’s club is one of 11 registered model-yacht clubs in Maryland, with several in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties.
    Chesapeake Bay Model Racing Association holds summer regattas the first and third Tuesday evenings from Ferry Point Marina, off the Magothy River. The club races 36-inch-long CR-914 sloops, which are 1:25 scale models of the Americas Cup class yachts.
    Other models range from the tiny radio-controlled toy boats that compete on Spa Creek across from Annapolis Yacht Club to the elegant 48-inch model skipjacks sailed by the Solomons Island Model Boat Club at the Calvert Marine Museum.
    Bruce Gay of St. Leonard built a scale-model skipjack using the museum’s plans. He was relieved both his skipjack and another survived a collision — one that was his fault — during one spirited race.
    “The other skipper just laughed and said, “That’s what they make paint and putty for,” Gay says. “They have a great club down there, and everyone’s nice.”
    At the museum, model boat builders can also construct replicas of working watermen’s fishing boats for competition or display.

Learn more at the website of the American Model Yacht Association: