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An interview with Edward Wolfe on the 2021 IOM Harvest Moon Regatta

by David Schmidt 2 Nov 2021 08:00 PDT November 6-7, 2021
Sailing to weather has never been more comfortable for skippers and crews © Image courtesy of the Winter Island Model Yacht Club

I've sailed remote-controlled model yachts exactly enough times to know that it's not particularly easy. As sailors, we're spoiled by the fact that our bodies and senses are physically aboard the boats, allowing us to react in real time to what we see, hear, feel, and otherwise experience. No so with model yacht sailing, as the vessel is hundreds of feet away, often sailing in its own private conditions, which the skipper needs to read from ashore.

While I've managed to embarrass myself several times while piloting RC sailboats, the thought of racing them is both intimidating and intriguing. Intimidating because, like anything, there's an inherent learning curve and plenty competition involved; intriguing because it would likely foster growth in new areas as a sailor while also providing a new venue to pursue racing and the art of sailing itself.

Call it nautical flyfishing—the sport looks cool, it has an inherent Zen aspect, and it can be enjoyed for budgets considerably more modest than keelboat or dinghy racing. Plus, as long as the water remains liquid, it's a far more civilized way to stretch the sailing season across the months when the trees are empty of leaves.

For these and myriad other reasons, model yacht racing is, and has long been, a popular pursuit across the USA. I checked in with Edward Wolfe, regatta chair of the 2021 IOM Harvest Moon Regatta (November 6-7), which is being hosted by Winter Island Model Yacht Club in Marblehead, Massachusetts, via email, to learn more about this event and the world of RC sailboat racing.

Can you please tell us a bit about the culture of the IOM Harvest Moon Regatta? What kinds of sailors does one typically encounter?

First and foremost, the Harvest Moon is a friends' regatta. Model Yachting is very unique in that you compete standing right next to your competitor.

Having sailed countless miles on the ocean, it's always fun to wave or yell to a friend on another competing boat from yours, but with models you're elbow-to-elbow with your competitor. It makes for great conversational transactions and always a good laugh at the end of the day.

What are competition levels like? Are you anticipating a friendly crowd, or are there ringers out to win?

The IOM attracts sailors of all types, but generally all are very competitive.

Some are well-seasoned offshore sailors having done Bermuda or Halifax races, others having done years upon years of One Design buoy racing, and yet others with no big-boat sailing experience at all yet top tier model sailors. The competition is very intense.

Assuming a group of a dozen sailors, about six of them are skilled to win on any given day if they sail well. However, our regattas often have much larger crowds.

For example, [I competed] in an event in NJ on October 2-3 that [saw] 28 sailors from around the USA.

National events will top 50+ and Worlds will experience twice that with a qualification process that requires ranking derived from our local, class sanctioned Harvest Moon regatta, as well as other [regattas] in the region.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta's outcome? Can you please explain?

We have held the IOM Harvest moon annually since 2017, and this year local knowledge will play less of a factor than others.

Although we are in a lunar tide phase at 11.5 feet of tidal swing on the course, the time of tide occurs near mid-day.

Model is sailing is unique in that we usually set sail from about 10:30 am to 12:30 PM and then 1:30 to 3:30pm, so the slack tide will be roughly during our lunch break and therefore creating both an incoming and outgoing tide while racing.

An outgoing tide at Winter Island plays havoc on the racecourse, and makes it very difficult to reach the windward leg as the prevailing breeze is often at a similar angle of the outgoing current, so conservative lay lines are a must. A strong outgoing tide creates pockets of local knowledge in the current, but this year the tide will be running in both directions, and although [it will be] a large swing, we won't see the apex of current flow.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) skippers, what would it be?

High-quality polarized sunglasses. As the sun dips lower later in the year, if wind angles don't entirely cooperate, the sun glare can be extreme on the racecourse. Keep in mind we are not actually physically on our boats, but rather watching them sail on the racecourse, and therefore need to see them to understand what they are doing.

What kind of courses will the event employ? Are we talking wind-ward leewards, or do you guys use different shapes and angles? Also, what are the starts like?

The IOM Group sails standard windward-leeward courses. They could be considered "C" courses of full-scale sailing, but are slightly modified.

The start/finish line is in the middle, windward and offset marks at the top, and leeward marks are a rounding gate. Once again, finishing in the middle of the course- twice around, good, tight finishes to windward are a hallmark of model yacht racing.

I've always found that a bird's eye view would be really helpful when sailing RC boats...have you ever had competitors launch drones so that they can get a top-down view? Is this even legal in the rules?

The IOM Class in particular has a set of rules that limit anything more than just two channels of use. This means the Sail control and Rudder.

Other developmental classes, such as the US1M have experimented with telemetry including cameras on the boat itself reporting back to FPV goggles. While the technology is very interesting, it does make for a bit of an "arms race" and the IOM class has eliminated this aspect.

However, we are very fortunate to sail at Winter Island Park in Salem, M.A. which has a very large fixed concrete structure several yards above sea level, creating almost a birds-eye view of the racecourse while racing, so the advantages of having an aerial view of your model are not all lost at our venue.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

Model yachtsmen are extremely efficient folks. Every regatta I go to, we are sure to pack at least three boats, tents, chairs, gear and people into a single car. Travel to a venue really is the largest environmental impact of the sub-division of our sailing sport.

Many skippers will join us from M.A. CT, NJ, and related areas, with some coming from as far as Florida and California. Not one travels alone and each van is packed to the gills, making a fun experience and reduction on our impact to the environment on the roadways when traveling to a regatta.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

Our friends at Rumson's Rum are spectacular. Let's face it, we're a model yacht club sailing model yachts. Our regatta budgets aren't anything close to the NOODs and related [events]. These guys are just go-to sponsors of anything sailing related in the Marblehead, M.A. area.

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