Joystick Sailors

Model yacht racing takes off in Virginia.

The colorful sailboats zip across the water, looking like toys. On shore, people pace back and forth excitedly, remote control devices in hand. You’re watching model yacht racing. Also known as radio-controlled (RC, for short) yacht racing, it’s one of the most exciting hobbies to hit Virginia. Just as pickleball emerged from tennis, this is sailing’s scaled-down offshoot. 

The sport attracts all ages, says Alice Krebs, a member of Williamsburg’s Kingsmill Model Yachting Association, which in a typical season holds about 20 races. A long-time sailing instructor and William & Mary’s team advisor, Krebs has a leg up but, she says, novices do well, too.

Model boats range from 10 inches to more than six feet in length. Some, like the DragonFlite 95, require a few hours to build. Others, including the affordable RC Laser, come almost ready to sail; just add batteries—and skill. 

Duncan Bell, who founded the Tidewater fleet in Virginia Beach, says you can be all-in with a new RC Laser for around $600. A knack for reading the wind and waves helps. So does a soft touch with the remote’s double joysticks: one guides the sail; the other, the rudder. “It’s a different slant from actual sailing,” he says, “but there’s the same intensity and competition, and it requires the same concentration when you’re racing.” 

Regattas can involve as many as 20 yachts. “Everyone stands elbow to elbow,” says Krebs, who loves the camaraderie. “You’re also dodging bodies. You’re so intent on the boat.” High-level racers compete across the country—and the globe. 

Virginia has 12 model sailing clubs, all members of the American Model Yachting Association. But, for Krebs, “it’s about getting outside and having fun.” TheAMYA.org


This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue.

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