When Things Just Don’t Go Your Way

As a rookie, I felt I had a great first season. I had learned very quickly how to move my sail boats around a race course. Having won the club’s championship and winning one of the races at the Capital Cup, I started feeling like I had the experience and could win against any pond competition. Then came the “buzz saw” called the Florida Traveler’s Trophy.

The Traveler’s Trophy is a multi-site competition that takes place all over Florida. The first race of the series was held in Melbourne, Florida on the 9th of January 2021 at a pond that I had competed on three times before with my U.S. One Meter and DF 65. I had done pretty well there in both classes and improved each time I raced. Hopes were high as I signed up for the race.

One thing I learned about racing the Dragon Force 65 in light wind during previous races with the Space Coast Model Yacht Club, was that those having A+ sails had about a 25% advantage over someone using the A sails. Switch out from my A rig was a must… So, I thought.

I had ordered A+ sails and they came in just in time to be ready for the Traveler’s Trophy. Since my wife also races, I was in charge of outfitting her boat too. This was my first time working with the A+ rig, so I followed the directions that came with the parts. I later found out that the directions weren’t clear in one very important area. You see, the mast is longer than an A rig and has a double-sided joiner piece to connect the mast together and then there is another to connect the mast to the hull. This is where I put them in the wrong places. Yes, I reversed them. You may ask “How could you not see this?” Well, remember, I am a rookie and despite having built eight sailboats… I missed it. I did notice that the boom sat closer to the deck and the sail had more curl, but I thought this was the way this sail was suppose to be. I remember watching the YouTube video of the Australian Guy saying to get your sail down as close to the deck as possible, so maybe by the boom being so close to the deck, this was a good thing?

Now before you fault me for not testing it out before the race, I’ll let you know that I did. I went out to the Melbourne pond and did some practice races against a couple of Solings with great success. My little DF65 with my new A+ sails was keeping up with the bigger boats very well, if not better in the light wind. So, upon arriving home happy with my boat, I adjusted my wife’s boat to the same set up. This was a month before the big race and the wind was light. Both boats were ready to slay the competition!

The day of the big race the winds were at 15 miles per hour and there were small waves on the pond at times. I remember thinking that I had wished that I still had my A sails on my little dragon. Personally, I think swapping out the rigs on my boat is tough and I am not to the point where I bring three rigs to a race like some of the other competitors did. (I hate trying to get the lines through the eye bolts). It was cold and windy that morning and I didn’t see any reason to do a few practice laps. Heck, it whooped those other Solings! Why mess with perfection? Another mistake. Instead, I walked around and met a lot of nice people until the skipper’s meeting. This was fun and I met some great people. I even met the DF65 Class secretary Darrell Krasoski and we talked about the great things we’re doing in Region 2 and how we will be hosting our first Regionals.

The call went out to get our boats in the water and I was so excited. I really thought that my boat was dialed in and I had enough race stick time to do really well. Maybe I could even win this thing representing Maryland. No pressure….

Race number one I had a decent start. I started on port tack and was up near the front of the 18 boats. When It came time to shift to starboard tack the fun ended. My boat performed horribly in the high winds and I fell to the back of the pack very quickly. The mast being built wrong threw everything off and I guess the heavy winds made everything worse? I had to use constant rudder to stay straight and my little dragon had turned into a bucking bronco! The only person that was doing worse was my wife. She pulled her boat after a half a lap and following advice from race staff who recognized my mistake, she withdrew from racing. These races were long, so a poorly tuned boat’s performance was magnified. Each race was made up of two of the longest dog-legs that I had ever seen in my limited background. The laps seem even longer when you are way at the back. It’s also daunting when spectators give you advice that only someone sailing for the first time would need. Looking back, I guess the situation really did look that bad. Maybe I should have just pulled my boat? Na, anyone who knows me came tell you that I don’t give up easily. The race must go on! Surely, I could figure something out?

The second race went about the same way that the first race. Being about a half a lap back, other onlookers wanted to adjust my boat during the race. I pulled my boat and upon inspecting it, the first interested party wanted to start cutting lines. I didn’t want to do this because I didn’t want to end my race day after only two races. In the end this may have been the right thing to do, as I adjusted several times, cut two lines and re-rigged over the course of the day.

During a break between races a nice man who was from Ireland helped adjust my boat by adjusting the vang all the way down to take the twist out of my sail. The next race, I figured out that you can adjust the boom too far down on the deck, as my sails would not winch in and were stuck out because they were caught on the deck! So, I spent the whole race trying to figure out how to navigate in the high winds with my sails stuck all the way in. Not fun and embarrassing! It was probably a good thing that it took so long to get my boat back to shore, as a thought about drop-kicking it did go through my mind.

Then in about the 6th race, I thought I had it all figured out and adjusted. I started fast and went to the front, then as I went to starboard tact, that’s when I noticed that I couldn’t hang with the other boats. My boat’s sails would lose the wind and I would have to fall off the same line that the other boats were taking. At least I could sort of stay with the herd on port tact and it wasn’t so bad. At this point, I finally gave into the fact that there was nothing I could do with the mast problem and would have to be happy just being able to sail around the course.

Just sailing with the group was fun. Then another calamity occurred. Right before that race, I had cut my rigging and tied my main sail as high up as I could to the top of the mast. Well, I guess I didn’t tie my knots very well, as it came untied! Yep! My main sail dropped to the deck and I had to limp to the dock once again.

This was the end for me. How much of a beat-down can a sailor take? Just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong including jumping a start in one of the races. I guess I should be happy my batteries, servo or winch didn’t go bad? Better yet, my boat didn’t sink!

Why am I sharing all this?

I wanted to share my experience and lessons learned, so that some day when you have a crummy day at the pond, you can remember this story and not feel so bad. Some of the lessons I learned were that you should always ask for advice when building a new rig and adjusting your sails. I’m sure someone from Space Coast Model Yacht Club would have helped me test my boat the day before. It’s imperative that you practice a little before every race as nothing replaces stick time. Lastly, when you go to these races that bring sailors in from all over the place it’s important to keep things in perspective. These racers are good!


P.S. I want to thank the sailors who took the time to help adjust our boats. We really appreciated it. The Space Coast Model Yacht Club threw a great event and are a bunch of nice people. I can’t wait to fix my boat and race with you again. Maybe next time I’ll win a few races? No pressure….

Sail Whenever You Can

I was talking to Bart Drummond the other day and he mentioned while he is in Florida now, he wants to get prepared for the upcoming sailing season in Maryland. He was lamenting he didn’t have another boat to practice against. I told him while that certainly can be handy, just getting out on the water with your boat and getting stick time, is almost more valuable. I actually spend more time sailing solo working on things, than I do with other boats. For those of you who might be able to sneak in a day on the water before the season starts, or even anytime, the following are some things you can do to knock the rust off before the first race day or further improve your skills.

While this year I am the Coordinator for the Victoria Class, the following is applicable to all RC boats. One of the first things I try to do, is practice setting my boat up for the prevailing wind. Dialing in a boat is extremely important. It allows you point higher, sail as fast as possible and sail a boat hands free. Now all this is sometimes a magical combination of rig position, rig shape, sail shape, and sail trim position. Finding these things is a matter of feel and practice that comes from doing it over and over again. Sailing by yourself and working on this to develop this skill can be huge. Imagine having your boat balanced and having the confidence to look away from your boat as it is sailing upwind, so you could survey the course ahead, knowing your boat will be sailing dutifully by itself. This would allow you to judge what the wind is going to do, and then you could take advantage of it. Ever notice how Danny Thomas always seems to jump on those wind shifts ahead of everyone else? Heck, you can practice not only by yourself, but with out a boat! Go to the water sometime and just watch the wind on the water. Learn to read the ripples, shadows, smooth spots on the water. After a good long while, they will become like billboards on the water, telling you what is coming!

Another thing to practice solo is boat handling. You can practice tacking, powering up out of a tack, reaccelerating your boat from a dead stop, gybing downwind, finding the favored gybe and fastest gybe angle. All of us could use some improvement of our boat handling skills. Ever find yourself sailing backwards? You know you can use this to your advantage if you know how to steer when this is happening? It can save a mountain of time when you get into irons and start going backwards. While skulling a boat for propulsion is illegal, skulling it for steerage is legal. Try learning to turn a boat while it is just bobbing in the water. Heck, even practicing recovering and launching your boat quickly can pay dividends if you have to quickly repair something.

One other thing people don’t think about practicing solo, is a mark rounding. Think how many times you have lost places because you didn’t negotiate a rounding well. If you have good rounding skills you can turn it from a part of the race where you lose places, to one where you can gain ground every time. The most important thing you have to do is lay, or make the mark. How many times can you count you either came up short or overstood sailing needless ground? There are skills you can learn to help you prevent this. If you can throw a mark in the water it is a good time to practice and know your boat’s tacking angles. That way you can zero in on laying the mark. I know sometimes marks are hard to judge. Did you know most of the time if your boats bow wave touches a mark, you are by it? Also, you can develop proximity sense by knowing how big a mark looks next to your boat. Practice rounding again and again will help you tremendously. Finally, there is an old racing saying, “Wide and Tight” when dealing with mark roundings. I suggest you read about sailing tactics to further understand that. However, practicing that can be invaluable.

Reading time and distance and controlling it with your boat is another skill that can be practiced alone. This is a skill used all over the race course when interacting with other boats. However, it is never more important than at the start. If you have a mark set in the water you can practice timing your arrival to that mark, just like it is the starting line. Don’t just stay near it. In a real start, the fleet is all over the place and in real life you won’t be able to get near it until very near the start. So when doing this, start the process from a good distance away and whittle the time down until you can time your final approach. Every once in a while, practice bailing out and going back and restarting. It happens in real life so you should be prepared to do it.

Just like real life sailing, there is no substitute for time on the water. Tom Walsh has a saying about real life sailing, “Sail the Gelcoat off”. What he means by that, is to put so much time sailing the boat, that from friction, the water starts wearing off the surface of the boat. It would take eons to do that, but the better skippers I know are always on their way to doing that. So, if you don’t have another boat to sail against, don’t let it stop you from getting on the water. If anything, be glad you have the time to practice these things.

John Ebell

Come Race an ODOM!

The ODOM (One Design One Meter) class of radio controlled racing sailboats was born in the mid – 90s as the brainchild of Eric Peterson and Ian Scott. The ODOM design was a derivative of Bob Debow’s U.S. One Meter class design ‘Mistral’. Unlike the International and U.S. One Meters, the ODOM is a one design class with most parameters covered by strict rules. Over time the ODOM, which is a kit boat, has been produced and sold by a number of people. The current builder and vendor, as of February 2021, is a fellow by the name of Ron Saxon, who ca be reached at: The ODOM differs from many RC yachts in that it has a hand laid up fiberglass hull and deck. It is not constructed of ABS or PVC, which can be problematic structurally.

Similar to full size sailing yachts, RC yachts also suffer the vagaries of fashion and sexiness. There are always new models being developed and introduced, often leaving older, established RC classes struggling to survive. The Seawind is a classic example of this as is the ODOM, to some extent.

Despite this there are still quite a few ODOMs racing. There are approximately 214 registered, with the bulk being on the west coast, midwest and southern states west of the Mississippi. The ODOM has always been one of the primary classes raced at Maryland Model Yacht Club. ODOM participation was at it’s low point in the mid – 20s but is picking back up again.

The ODOM is an uncomplicated boat. It is easy to sail. With five minutes of instruction almost anyone can do a decent job of sailing the boat. When the boat is properly tuned it will sail to weather “on rails” with very little to no rudder input needed. And the ODOM is FAST, a real hot rod. If you want a boat that is easy to sail, well behaved and did I say fast, then you should strongly consider an ODOM.

Demonstrating the continuing popularity of the ODOM, used boats are not often on the open market. Come see us at MMYC if you would like one to race and we may be able to help you find one.

Below are several photos of ODOMS racing.

Tom Walsh