Model Sailing Club Discovers Tranquility On Water
By Robert Hughes // November 25, 2012
Hobbyists Race at Wickham Park
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Sailing creates visions of the ultimate get-away. In reality, a sailboat is often called “a hull in the water into which you throw your money,” not to mention sizeable chunks of time an owner spends maintaining it rather than relaxing on it.
However, a group of mostly senior men have a way of enjoying the sailing experience without the downside as members of the Space Coast Model Sailing Club.
Sailing model boats are based on the same principles as the full-size craft, they get a feel for the sport well enough to at least feel they’ve gotten away, even if they only go as far as the shore of a small pond in Wickham Park for their events.
Club commodore Steve Spatenga said, “You forget about everything when you’re sailing these boats. It’s a good release. I can’t wait to get out there.”
The model boats club members use stand 1 to 3 feet high, weigh less than 10 pounds and run on the same principles as full-size sailing, which is to say wind provides the power while steering comes in the form of rudders and sails the model sailor controls from a remote-control box.
“We sail by the same rules as the America’s Cup, except we’re on land using remote controls,” Spatenga said. “We walk up and down on the shore because the closer you get, the better you see your boat.”
Spatenga guesses the average age of model sailors is around 65.
“But we have two that are 93 and still sailing,” he said. “And we’ve all been sailors; we’ve all had big boats.”
The club’s weekly races really do seem like the real thing in miniature. And on the model scale, an observer can get a better feel for what’s going on because you can see the entire race.
Races for different classes of model boats each last about 10 to 15 minutes as they dart around buoys permanently placed in the pond on something like a 50-by-100-foot rectangular course.
The events will keep the sailors about two hours at the park, where the wind almost always is strong enough to keep matters interesting.
“It’s actually more difficult than real sailing,” Spatenga said. “Oh, my goodness, every little puff of air counts. It’s a game of inches out there.”
The Indialantic resident and New York native made his point about the authenticity of model sailing by pointing out that “Everyone in the America’s Cup (sailing race) uses models to practice on.”
Model sailing certainly makes it easier to understand how full-size sailing works and what sailors have to do to best use the winds at hand.
And certainly, the cost involved with model sailing isn’t anything like the real thing.
Spatenga said a model boat can be bought for $250 and club dues are only $25 a year.
And the club’s webmaster, Don Bryant, of Merritt Island, 80, added, “The good thing is, the boat will be good for at least 10 years.”
On land, Bryant showed the simple mechanics of the model boat, where one control stick moves the rudder and the other the sails.
“It’s like anything else,” he said. “If you’re a 10-year-old, it’s easy to learn. If you’re an old fart like us, it’s not so easy.
“But all I did was figure 8’s (on the water) until I figured it out.”
Spatenga said everyone is welcome to come out and watch the races or join the club.
“The guys are very friendly. We’re competitive, but the camaraderie is what we’re here for,” Spatenga said. “We’re all in the same boat – pardon the pun.
“And we have second-hand boats for sale. If you put one in your hands, you’ll want it.”
That’s about the way it went for another club member, Lou Rasmussen of Baytree, 73, when he took up the hobby years ago.
Rasmussen had plenty of reason to look for a relaxing past-time after he accepted a retirement package from his employer a dozen years ago.
Working to help drug addicts overcome their problems, Rasmussen said his work “went from helping 16-year-olds who still had a chance in life” to working with violent 19-year-olds who were already veterans of the prison system.
“I started out carrying a can of mace to having to carry a gun and even wear a flak jacket sometimes. It was a far tougher crowd,” Rasmussen remembered. “So, I was happy to get out of that and retire. And try to relax.”
Seeking relaxation led Rasmussen to model sailboating.
But that’s not to say he just kicks back and enjoys the races.
“The No. 1 issue is the start of the race,” he said. “The boats that get to the start line when the gun goes off have a huge advantage. And I’m really a competitive person. All the excitement of getting to the (starting) mark is a real adrenaline pumper.”
Rasmussen fell in love so quickly with his model sailboat hobby that he had to compare it to one facet of his previous employment.
“The coke users would tell me what a ‘high’ was like,” Rasmussen said. “And I must say, from the first time I was sailing, I was hooked.”