Small Boats, Big Racing

Their yachts might be diminutive, but the energy on the racecourse is anything but.

Remote Controlled sailing

The EC 12 is a serious ­class, with 22 regattas up and down the East Coast.Paul Todd/Outside Images

It’s early on a Saturday morning in October, and the parking lot is already jam-packed at Lake Somerset within the gated community of Sun City, in Beaufort, South Carolina. From trucks and SUVs, men and women unload boats and lay sails neatly on the grass. It has the bustle of any other regatta, but in this case, the boats are small. Really small.

It’s the Sun City Model Yacht Club Regatta, and the sailors are here to practice for the upcoming East Coast 12 Meter National Championship, hosted by Turtle Pond Model YC in Peachtree City, Georgia, on the outskirts of Atlanta. Fran ­DiTommaso, the regatta coordinator and a competitor himself, says competitors have traveled from the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia for the two-day gathering.

The EC 12 Meter class is an active group with a national ranking system and a keen following up and down the U.S. East Coast, as well as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. A new boat costs $3,500, but good secondhand boats can be found for half.

Despite their competitive spirit on the water, these radio-control helmsmen and -women are a welcoming group. They’re excited to talk shop and fraternize among themselves, comparing modes and setups of different rigs and how each baby 12 Meter is tuned. Some of the rigs are aluminum, and others are carbon twigs; all are built and cared for with the precision of an America’s Cup shore team.

Remote Controlled sailing

Sailors come from as far as Vermont and Michigan to race the Sun City ­Championship in Beaufort, South Carolina.Paul Todd/Outside Images

Launching an EC 12 is not as simple as removing it from its cradle and placing it into the water. Each 24-pound boat measures 59 inches in length, and the mast stands 72 inches above the deck, holding up 1,300 square inches of sail. To ease the task, Bob Dudinsky, an EC 12 sailor and owner of RMD Marine, a EC 12 supplier in St. Petersburg, Florida, has developed an ingenious boat lift for transporting the boats to and from the water. This apparatus, with powder-coated tubular aluminum and foam wrapped around both ends, hooks perfectly under the EC 12’s bow and stern. The design allows a boat to be lifted using the medically recommended lifting method — from the side of the body and a straight back — when the boat is fully rigged.

On the racecourse, orange foam buoys are placed strategically to allow for changing wind directions. On the water level of the tree-rimmed lake, especially, winds change often. Gusts are unpredictable and erratic. The most eager of the remote-­control yachtsmen have their model boats on the water long before the 0930 skippers’ meeting, practicing tactical maneuvers before the first race of the day.

Racing commences with a booming ­prerecorded countdown from a handcrafted wooden cassette player.

“Three … two … one …”

Then the hollering begins: “Don’t come down!” “You can’t go in there!” “You have no room!”

Sound familiar?

It’s amusing to watch the sailors, shoulder to shoulder, elbowing each other to get ahead. Caught up in the excitement of the races, not a single competitor worries about disturbing the resident gator. Conditions range from light to gusty, depending on what cloud rolls over the racecourse. ­Reichard Kahle, of Charleston, South ­Carolina, manages the venue best and is crowned the Sun City Regatta champion.