Below is a short guide to RC yacht racing, for those new to the sport it gives some good information about what to expect on the water at a race event. Most of it is common sense and once you've been to one event you'll be eager to get to the next. The sport of RC yacht racing is unfortunately rather addictive as well as being an exciting, challenging and very satisfying pass time. The best thing to do to further your knowledge is to join your local club and get involved.
An Introduction to Radio Controlled Yacht Racing
Who Looks After the Sport?
The sport is administered in the UK by the Model Yachting Association (MYA), the division member for the UK of the International Sailing Federation, Radio Sailing Division. Search the web for the model yachting association in your country - most countries have one, although its name may be different to that of the UK's national body.
Racing follows the same rules (The Racing Rules for Sailing 2001-2004) as those used in full sized yacht racing - with a few minor changes to account for the fact that helmsmen are not in the yachts but on the shore.
Most races follow the standard 'Olympic' course (see diagram) using three buoys set out in a triangular arrangement as shown. The second illustration (diagram) shows how an arrangement of eight buoys allows a course to be set for any wind direction. This layout was used in the 1968 Acapulco Olympics.
The purpose of the 'Olympic' layout is to ensure skippers' skills are tested on all points (directions to the wind) of sailing.
The Beat to Windward
After the start skippers are faced with a 'beat' against the wind which will involve tacking the yacht a number of times before reaching the windward buoy. The course therefore actually sailed to the windward buoy takes the form of a zig zag and not a straight line as shown (see third diagram). The beat is a very tactical part of the course - many places can be won or lost on the beat.
The Broad Reach
After rounding the windward buoy the yachts sail a 'broad reach' which is the fastest direction, relative to the wind, a yacht can sail.
At the wing buoy the yacht has to 'gybe', which in full sized yachting is the one of the most dangerous manoeuvres a yacht can make. The manoeuvre requires great skill to effect safely and efficiently. A gybe causes the main sail to 'flip' violently from one side of the yacht to the other.
The Second Reach and Beat
The gybe is followed by another broad reach down to the leeward buoy where the yacht begins another beat up to the windward buoy.
The Run and Final Beat to the Finish
After rounding the windward buoy a second time the yacht now sails dead downwind on a 'run' to the leeward buoy before beginning their final beat to the finish line.
How to Win Races
To win races a number of quite different 'qualities' are required:-
An awareness of wind direction.
Good sail trim and an understanding of how sails work (read a good book on the subject)
A sound knowledge of the racing rules (buy a good book or CD ROM of the rules)
An understanding of race tactics (there are some good full-size yacht racing videos available)
Optimum rig/sail trim for all 'legs' of the course
A good start - i.e. on time and in a good position when the start horn sounds
Lots and lots of practice