Sailboat races on remote-control at Ludlow marina

Luciano Marano
lmarano@ptleader.com
Posted 10/24/20

The pond at Port Ludlow Marina isn’t exactly the high sea, but for the competitive sailors who gather there every Wednesday, the stakes are downright lofty.

Controllers in hand, markers …

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Sailboat races on remote-control at Ludlow marina

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The pond at Port Ludlow Marina isn’t exactly the high sea, but for the competitive sailors who gather there every Wednesday, the stakes are downright lofty.

Controllers in hand, markers placed, they anxiously await the proper wind conditions from the relative safety of shore, preparing to go for broke, each hoping to outmaneuver the others and claim the ultimate prize: bragging rights.

Actually, everybody’s pretty chill about things.

“We’re just mainly out having fun,” said founding club member and veteran racer Dan Newland, of Pegasus Aeromarine Inc.

“Now, we’re doing just the casual [events],” he explained. “I mean, yeah, it’s kind of racing, but we’re not keeping track of anyone’s positions.”

The group, founded in 2012, sail T37 RC Racing Sloops, primarily from Tippecanoe Boats, of Everson, Washington. They meet at the pond at 1 p.m. almost every Wednesday, weather permitting.

Previously, in the time before COVID-19, they participated in larger events in Seattle and elsewhere, too, with several members having claimed prestigious titles.

These days, though they stick closer to home, the JeffCo racers are more determined than ever to bring new members into the fold.

“There are all kinds of ways for people to learn how to build these,” Newland said. “There are some people, this is absolutely intimidating. I don’t know if you’ve ever painted on a canvass, but it’s like canvas fright.

“You stare at a blank canvas like, ‘Oh crap, how do I start?’ And in the end it’s like you just get started.

“So that was kind of the impetus to have these build sessions,” he said. “And then, ultimately, I did some videos and that seemed to help. Some people don’t get into the instructions very well. They do better seeing it on a video. “

Newland has also hosted instructional sessions in his shop, a practice he hopes to renew someday soon.

Meanwhile, potential participants are encouraged to call him directly (360-437-9350) or just swing by the pond.

“The best bet is to come down here on a Wednesday when we’re doing our casual sailing,” agreed veteran racer Dan Darrow

Darrow, who said he first learned about RC boats in an article in The Leader many years ago, enjoys the socialization of the competition almost as much as the racing.

“[It’s] the playing and the conversation with everyone else,” Darrow explained. “And when we do have actual races, we’re competitively friendly.”

“There were some people that were more on the competitive end than friendly,” Newland countered, earning a chuckle from both men.

A basic boat kit costs about $500, Newland said.

Racing requires strict adherence to certain size and configuration requirements, but stylistically, one can get as detailed and elaborate as they like and customize their vessel.

“It just depends on how far you want to take it,” Newland said. “Anything worth doing is worth doing to extreme, is my motto.”

The typical Wednesday group consists of six to eight sailors, and the group’s semi-regular races see about a dozen participants, if not more.

In total, Newland said the club boasts about 50 members — including several Olympic sailors and the University of Washington sailing team coach.

“What we’ve found is that while there’s a big difference in the building ability of the various members, if it’s built reasonably well, they all go pretty much the same speed if you’re a good sailor,” he said. “It really comes down to your sailing skills, which is what the racing is about.”

As to the appeal, other than being a considerably more affordable option than a true sailboat for those of a maritime mindset, Newland said there is a pure and basic joy to be had in remote-controlled boats.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s sort of like you get to be a kid for a while and yet we have some extremely competitive sailors, and so the racing quality is very good. It has all of the same techniques that have been used in the most sophisticated racing boats.”

Visit www.tippecanoeboats.com to explore prices and models of RC boats. (Newland said would-be racers on a budget should call him to inquire about potential secondhand models currently for sale, as he tends to know who is trying to sell their boat).

And Tippecanoe Boats has a series of instructional videos about assembly and construction, many featuring Newland himself, which can be found on YouTube (search “Tippecanoe Boats”).

The hobby is perfect for the era of COVID-19, Newland said, as it both allows for safe, distanced gathering and provides an at-home component as well.

“We can stay separated easily, we do several casual races for a couple of hours, and then can chat afterwards, sometimes at the BBQ picnic area, again while staying apart,” Newland said. “Plus, the builders have something to do at home.”

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