A club in north Yorkshire has seen radio controlled sailing growing in popularity and becoming a positive pathway for retaining older members and gaining new ones.

At a time when many sailing clubs are looking to diversify their activities for a wider audience, Ripon Sailing Club has seen its RC yacht fleet providing an additional niche to engage members.

As Ripon’s RC fleet contact Ian Smith explains: “Not only do we have a good racing but we also have plenty of light-hearted banter, good friendship, and above all remain active members of our sailing club, making use of the clubhouse and facilities on two mornings a week when the club would otherwise be inactive.

“This branch of the sport is also a very good way to retain members, especially those who want to remain active sailors but who may not be as fit as they once were.”

The RC fleet currently also has three junior members, presenting an opportunity to schedule activities at other times of the week too, such as evenings and weekends, to make it easier for younger and/or full-time working members to join in.

Having started out with DragonForce 65 RC yachts six years ago, the club now has a competitive and growing fleet of IOM (International One Metre) yachts as well. This has in its own right attracted new members to join the club for its RC racing.

Growing interest in RC sailing has seen a number of clubs across the region not only having an active fleet but also travelling to compete at open meetings.

Ripon hosted the final round of the 2019 Jubilee Shield series for IOM yachts in September with four other clubs in the Yorkshire area - Askern RSC, Bridlington MBS, Keighley & District MES and Scarborough MYC - also having participated and hosted a round.  

IOM model yachts racing for the Jubilee Cup at Ripon SC, credit Ian SmithA dragon’s tale

The RC fleet at Ripon SC began when a small group at the club was looking for a way to fill the gap between Wednesday afternoon and evening racing.

Having heard of the development of the DragonForce 65 RC class - a concept brought together by well-known RC yachting names John Tushingham, Mark Dicks and Mike Weston - a handful of members placed an order in 2014 for half a dozen.

The DragonForce 65 is a one design class aimed at newcomers to the sport of radio sailing, and the fleet at Ripon soon doubled in size after members then placed a second order for another six DF65 kits from Mike Weston of RC Yachts, with regular racing in a two-hour slot at the club on Wednesday evenings.

In order to keep the initial costs down and competition close, the fleet decided only the standard A rig could be used at the beginning - perfect for notoriously light winds on summer evenings when the fleet first started - although members did agree to allow third party sails.

Ian continues: “As summer gave way to autumn, Wednesday evening racing ended but the enthusiasm for RC yachting continued with a core group of members continuing to race on Wednesday mornings right through the winter and into the following summer.  I think it’s fair to say that the RC yacht bug had taken hold and the fleet was now becoming well established within the club. 

“We drafted a set of rules to fit within the club’s own rules in order to both avoid conflict with our full-size friends and to set out acceptable areas for RC yachting that made it safe to launch and manage our yachts whilst also ensuring good separation between real and model craft.

“On Good Friday in 2016 we held our first open meeting, attracting a very good entry from some of the established local RC sailing clubs. We have not looked back since.”

New patio decking makes an ideal race control area with a great view over the water at Ripon SC and members pictured sailing their RC yachts from it.The rewards of RC sailing

Explaining some of the factors behind the success of RC sailing at the club, Ian provides the following insights into why he personally and the fleet have enjoyed this addition to club life:

Fun factor: What makes this sailing in miniature such an attractive addition to a popular and well established sailing club? There isn’t a short answer other than ‘it’s great fun’. The long answer is that by virtue of the size of the yachts the courses are usually quite small. We normally sail either a windward leeward course or a combination of triangle and sausage with the windward leg no more than 50 to 60 meters. The racing is usually very close so there can often be more than half the fleet vying for a perfect rounding. This in itself is a great attribute that soon has you understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing in a practical situation far more than is usual in club dinghy racing; the fact that you may be stood next to any offending helm soon has the matter resolved with the guilty helm taking their penalty turn!

Learning tool: Running our races around small courses ensures that completing each race doesn’t take much more than 10 minutes and with good race management it is possible to sail 8 to 10 races, sometimes more in a couple of hours, so there is always time to make a better start or choice of course up the windward leg. Plenty of start line practice is also a bonus. Spotting lifts and headers is equally as important for us as our full-scale friends but it is often a lot easier to see their effect when you are stood on the bank. This is one area where RC yachting can be used as a valuable tool for teaching novices and it’s far more fun than a chalk and chat session in the training room.

Transferable skills: What makes the racing fun when all you are doing is standing on the lakeside just twiddling the transmitter sticks? The simple answer is just try it but be prepared to become addicted! There is a lot more to racing RC Yachts than people expect. The DF65 is a small yacht, it is relatively low cost and quite simple on the face of it, however fine tuning the sails and sailing it well takes some skill and practice. Setting up the rig so the sails pull well and the yacht sails itself upwind with only small input from the helm leads to a real understanding of sail trim that transfers well over to full size sailing.

Competitive: RC boats are great fun and not really toys, they are just small yachts that need to be well set up and thoughtfully sailed just like their full size counterparts. The racing is on a par with first rate club racing; it is competitive, requires concentration as well as tactical skills, and rewards everyone who takes part. 

Further information

DF65 yachts come almost ready to race and start at around £230, including the radio control and batteries, while second-hand yachts can often be found for much less. Ripon SC’s RC Yachting Fleet has racing for the class on Wednesday mornings and for the larger IOM class on Friday mornings.

Further information about all aspects of RC yachting can be found through the MYA (Model Yachting Association), including tips on getting into RC sailing and details of how to find your nearest active club.

You can also try your hand at this year's RYA Dinghy Show at London's Alexandra Palace, 29 February-1 March, where there will be an indoor activity pool with some DF65s for you to sail!

Ripon SC started out with a fleet of DragonForce 65 yachts, seen here rounding a mark