My R/C sailing history
I would guess that it was around 1983 that the family chipped in together and bought Dad a radio controlled sailboat. We all went down to the dock and took turns sailing it. All told, we probably spent about an hour there. I never saw the boat in the water again. After Mom’s death in 2012, I took possession of this boat and brought it down to North Carolina. The boat and radio transmitter both still had batteries in them. The transmitter and the boat’s battery holder both needed to be replaced due to battery leakage, so I bought a new radio kit, which included these two things plus servos for the rudder and sail trimming. Initially it looked like the old servos would work with the new transmitter, because I got a little motion out of one of them, but strangely that only happened once. Then I spent several days methodically testing different parts of the system. Ultimately I concluded that I would have to replace the servos. The sail trim system was jerry-rigged with bolts and screws and a bent nail that served as a pulley. It was going to be a nightmare to redo that improvisation with the new servo. While tinkering with this boat I also did some research into the local radio controlled sailing scene. I discovered that all of the local racing is one-design in two classes: Nirvanas and Sea Winds, neither of which was in production. But I found a brand-new in-the-box Nirvana on eBay, so I bought it. This was in the middle of May, 2013.
Sailing a radio controlled boat involves the same technical considerations as a full-size boat, such as trimming the sails appropriately for the angle of the wind, and when beating to windward maintaining the optimum angle to the wind. But a radio sailor is not on the boat, so it’s much more difficult to judge these things. Typically the starting line is near where the sailors are standing on shore, so boats, sails, and angles are reasonably visible — unless, of course, is another boat between you and your boat. However, there may be turning marks 50 yards distant. As I write this I’ve been practicing the sport for a little over a year, and I still can’t even come close to judging where my boat is relative to a distant mark. I might turn before the mark or a yard or two after it. The same problem exists with the relationship between two boats, particularly if mine is on the far side of the other one. I just can’t see it.
Another challenge is steering. If the boat is moving away from you then moving the steering control to the right will make the boat turn right, but with the boat is coming toward you moving the control to the right makes the boat turn left. In the beginning this was a major problem for me, but it confounds my brain a lot less now.
The 2013 Nirvana class national championship regatta was held right here in Black Mountain in June. Although I only had a month of experience, I couldn’t pass this up. There were 20 participants and we raced in two heats of 10 boats each. The heats changed in each race according to the finishing positions of the previous race.
Imagine my surprise when I finished first in my heat in the first race. However, any fleeting visions of grandeur were dispelled when I finished eighth in the second. In another race, I had an excellent start, with clear air and good speed; then I caught a puff that seemed to ignore everyone else, shooting me out into the lead. The regatta was at Lake Tomahawk, which is infamous for fluky, unpredictable winds, and this race was a classic example. The wind followed me around the course and ignored everyone else. At the finish I was a full leg ahead of the next boat. Note that this had nothing to do with any skill of mine; it had everything to do with the fluky Tomahawk winds. I loved it.
In the end, five people had three first-place finishes, including me. (Remember that there were two heats, so there were two first places in each race.) But in addition to my three firsts, I had two eighths, two sevenths, and three fifths. If they gave a prize for the most inconsistent sailor, I surely would have won it.
Now, over a year later, I am still extremely inconsistent. Last weekend I won one race by a wide margin and lost another by a wider margin. Sometimes, although the ripples on the water suggest that there is wind, I can’t get my boat to move. It may be that my sails are not trimmed correctly, or it may be that a sea monster is holding on to my keel. It’s probably one or the other, and sometimes adjusting my sail trim changes nothing — pretty strong evidence for the sea monster theory.
Inconsistent that I am, I have had more than my share of good fortune. I love that they give the same kinds of ribbons we got in swim team as 10 year olds.
My boat on Lake Tomahawk, in Black Mountain, North Carolina. I thought about naming the boat Feather II, as Dad's boat was called Feather, but the Nirvana just doesn't feel like a feather. As yet it goes unnamed. The colors on the sails are so I can find my boat at a crowded mark rounding. It's an odd perspective to be 50 yards away from the boat you're sailing!
Participants in the 1013 Nirvana Class National Championship Regatta, in Black Mountain, NC
(I am 3rd from the right, standing.)
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