by lane page
No, that is not how a regatta held by the American Model Yachting Association actually begins. It's the much more nautical ring of a bell that sets the fleets of radio-controlled mini-yachts maneuvering on their course, as they did Sept. 29 and 30 on Lake Kittamaqundi.
The Columbia-based Maryland Model Yacht Club hosted competitors from as far as Texas, Colorado and Washington state for the national finals of the 30-inch "Victoria" class, smallest of three divisions in the association.
These are hobby-shop boats that should require no more than a $250 investment, sails and radio included, according to club member Anthony Bollers of Columbia.
Saturday was a perfect day for sailing, by radio-controlled vessel or otherwise. Weather was bright and brisk, alternating "breeze on" and "breeze off," as the mariners put it. Someone even spotted a whitecap or two on the lake.
Dock and walkways had just been power-washed, courtesy of the Columbia Association, and fleets of local Canada geese were nowhere in sight. Sponsor Clyde's provided a hearty lunch.
The 20 entrants, no mere wind-powered "pond yachts" but with sail angles and rudders operated by radio control, were divided into two fleets.
Since the boats are manipulated from shore the contestants must be able to see them, so fleets are limited to 15.
As each group begins its quiet competition - the boats are quiet, if not necessarily the boatmen - some contestants walk the shoreline ahead of their vessels as if pulling them along, others move parallel to their craft. The concentration is intense, the hand-eye coordination determined, the strategy rivalrous.
Yet the tone is consistently light.
"Are you sure you did both laps?" "Commodore" (race director) Jarl Wathne asked Texan J.K. Kuc as he moved Kuc up in rank to the faster fleet.
Earlier, as several boats caught a gust of wind and heeled over sharply, someone warned, "Watch out! The harbor police might come to do a sobriety test!"
The radios can manipulate the boats to a distance of 1,000 feet, "more lake than we have here," someone noted. Rules of competition are the same as those in the America's Cup race.
The Maryland club had never hosted a Victoria class regatta before, reports Wathne, although each May the 12-meter yacht class (largest of the AMYA three) races here in the Columbia Regatta.
In four years of existence, the local club's membership has grown from 12 to 40 and has won six national competitions. Members meet to sail once a month, from March through November.
Apparently it's a guy thing. A few clubs have female members, but as a rule women are not drawn for some reason, says Wathne. "Although we don't swear ..."
Two women stopping on the dock were asked if they might be first mates or model yacht groupies. They answered in the negative, although one added with a smile, "I could become one."
When sails were (figuratively) furled and standings totalled, the Victoria first-place trophy was carried off to Seattle, the second-place award to Virginia and third to Texas. But coming in not too shabbily in places four through six were Columbia club members Danny Thomas, Hal Slentz-Whalen and Al Sellars.
The American Model Yachting Association Web site address is www.amya.org.
E-mail Lane Page at email@example.com.