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Little Boats and Big Hearts Bob Bowden, kneeling, gets his Soling ready for action with a little help from some fellow competitors. Photo courtesy Charleston Model Yacht Club.


here’s an old saw that goes something like this: ”There are big ships and small ships, but the best ship of all is friendship.“ Talk to anyone in the Charleston Model Yacht Club, and chances are, you’ll glean some insight about the notion underlying that maxim. Friendship, they’ll tell you, is what this pastime is mostly about. The club, which has been in existence for over 20 years and currently lists 30-plus members, is as active as any sailing club with full-sized vessels. Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, members congregate at a large pond in a nearby county park and test their radio-controlled mettle. And, with relative frequency, the club also hosts regional and national championship events. But even on those occasions, it’s not just about winning and losing. Bonds are forged and friendships renewed – over dinner as much as along the water’s edge – and participants give the impression that model boat sailing just might offer a few qualities for other disciplines within the sport to, well, model themselves after. The Charleston Model Yacht Club recently hosted its annual marquee event of the fall, the Wisteria Cup, which drew entries from Florida, Georgia and across the Palmetto State. This competition is strictly for sailors who compete in the East Coast 12-Meter Class, a fairly sophisticated, fivefoot-long design with a mast that stands six feet tall. According to local sailor and EC 12-Meter organizer Reichard Kahle, this year’s edition – the 25th anniversary of the regatta – was a fun event despite the fact that the winds rarely dipped below 15 knots and regularly surged to 25. “A lot of people broke stuff,” he recalls, “rigs and other gear, but that’s just part of sailing.” Kahle, a marine distributor who began racing model boats when he was a teenager, competes in both the Soling 1-Meter (a 39.37-inch sloop) and the EC 12-Meter. In fact, he’s a three-time national champion in the Soling and a twotime national champ in the 12-Meter. Yet, instead of dwelling on his accomplishments, he’d rather talk about his fellow CMYC members. 50 December 2012


By Dan Dickison

“The biggest group, the ones really driving this club,” he says, “are the people sailing the Solings. They probably have 15 or 16 guys show up on any given day to race, even if it’s just a regular Wednesday and not a big event. It’s like going to church; they’re out there regularly.” He mentions Erv Kaiser, who he says has built the majority of the boats that are sailed in Charleston. “A lot of sailors go to Erv’s house and he shows them how to build the boats. And a longtime friend of Erv’s, Bill Coates, is the guy who got me back into model boat racing after I’d been out of it for a few years.” Both Kaiser and Coates, like many of their fellow Soling sailors, are retired. Dick McGillivary is as well. A relatively new convert to model boat racing, McGillivary is a former national champion in several classes, including the 20-foot Tornado. He says he reluctantly gave up big boat sailing due to a diagnosis of neuropathy, which makes it difficult for him to maintain balance. “I sold my last boat to a guy who gave me an EC 12-Meter. I never sailed that boat, but it did cause me to head out to the county park and watch the Solings race one day. I was just standing around watching, and the guys there made me sail one of the boats. Right away, I was hooked. So, I bought a Soling, and I’ve been racing it pretty steadily since then. Now, about five of my friends have boats, too.” McGillivary says that participating in this is “fantastic fun. The boats are so quick. They turn on a dime and accelerate like crazy. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve been on the starting line with 15 of these things. And one of the best parts is the affordability. I remember paying over $10,000 once for a single sail for my J/130. A suit of sails for one of these model boats costs under $100.” According to Kahle, the Soling is really the more entrylevel boat. “You can get into the water with a Soling for about $500,” he says, but the EC12-Meter is more costly. “You better be ready to spend $2,000 to be competitive in that class, and that means multiple rigs and different suits of sails, etc.” The EC 12-Meter, he says, isn’t just more

Southwinds December 2012

Southwinds December 2012