by Zoe Hawkins
Radio controlled sailing isn't just for retired yachtsmen: the current generation of America's-Cup pros are also enjoying the challenges of racing miniature boats, and Wattle Farm in Manurewa is one of the best venues in New Zealand for the purpose.
Radio controlled yachts racing at Wattle Farm
The New Zealand Radio Controlled Yacht Association is a little known centre of excellence in the world of grand prix sailing.
'We are not just playing with little toys, we are playing with yachts that are exactly what America's Cup boats are,' explains Wattle Farm Radio Sailing Club Commodore Bill Bradley, who sailed all his life, saw his son through the traditional youth classes, and then decided he wanted to get back into sailing, but opting for miniatures of the real things.
The Association runs three types of boats: International One Metres, Marble Heads, and Nautic 12s, and past and present members include Olympic Gold Medallists Helmer Pederson and the late Geoff Smale, and several America's Cup sailors, including BMW Oracle's Matthew Mason.
'Within the International One Metre class, we design and build our own boats to very specific rules, just like the America's Cup boats do,' says Bill Bradley. 'This limits the materials you can use, but encourages innovation in design and boat tuning.'
Bill built his own boat after purchasing one that he wasn't quite happy with. He got plans from the Internet, made his own mould, and perfected it slowly over time. He says a good boat is worth $850 in parts, but can be worth up to $3,000 if it is successful in club racing.
Like the America's Cup, racing is very competitive, and requires dedicated adjudicators to make calls on the finer aspects of yacht racing such as mark roundings, overlaps and buoy room.
Wattle Farm is nestled within a wildwife reserve and park, and with flat water and purpose built jetties, is ideal for remote controlled sailing, with a shifty breeze and plenty of passing lanes.
'I am a yachtie and I just love it, I have a passion for it,' says Bill, whose lounge walls are dedicated to the boats.
'Local kids come up and ask what sort of motor the boat has in it – they are fascinated by the fact that it doesn't have a motor at all. There is nothing better than to race and beat up some of your mates.'
He says that remote control sailing has some great advantages over traditional sailing. 'At the end of the day you rinse your boat off and put the battery on to charge, there is very little maintenance and expense involved.'
Down the mine, without getting your feet wet - in a radio controlled yacht
Meanwhile, New Zealand yacht designer Des Townson, who passed away several years ago, created many classic and modern classic designs that still endure today, and one of them is the Electron radio controlled yacht. The Electron is a perfect replica of its real sized counterparts, over 1,000 boats have been made to date, and a group of enthusiasts will be racing theirs, at Westhaven Marina on Auckland Anniversary Regatta day.
The beauty of the Electron, says boat owner Ray Nixon, is that it is a one design, easy to rig, and all of the boats are the same. That means that racing is very close, as skippers need to rely on tactics and strategy to do well on the race course.
'We can play with the shape of the mast, to suit the sails, and trim the sails to however we think it will get us the best advantage, but once you send them out to sea you are not onboard, so if you haven't got it right you either sail slowly, or bring the boat back in and change things.'
The boats were designed for performance, but the rig is unstayed, and the boat is easy to rig, and Electrons are usually raced on an America's-Cup style windward-leeward course, with some taking their racing fairly seriously.
Race start times and locations for radio controlled yachting on Monday 28 January:
Electrons - Marine Association Pontoon, Westhaven Marina, 10am
International One Metre, Marblehead and A2 fleets – Wattle Farm, Manurewa, 10am
Those interested in watching should arrive about 30 minutes before the advertised start time, to see boats being rigged up and launched. Full details of the 16 events scheduled, for spectators and competitors can be found at www.regatta.org.nz.
Organisations supporting the event are the Royal New Zealand Navy, Classic Hits 97.4FM, the Spirit of Adventure Trust, The Southern Trust, The Lion Foundation, and Ports of Auckland Ltd.