Sea-nic Boat Racing

Remote control Laser Model sailboats race on Lake Crabtree during the weekly meetup of the Triangle Model Yacht Club. The club builds and races radio controlled model sailboats.

If you ever find yourself at Lake Crabtree County Park around lunchtime on a Saturday, be on the lookout for a mini regatta on the lake, complete with remote-controlled sailboats racing around a buoy-marked course and the unmistakable thrill of competition in the air. Although it’s fun to watch skippers skillfully navigate these beautiful boats on the water, the Triangle Model Yacht Club takes their racing season — which starts in March and ends in November — very seriously.

“Our club is structured like other yacht clubs, it’s just that our yachts are small,” said Sam Harris, the club’s current commodore. “We’re associated with the American Model Yacht Association, and from a rules perspective, we follow the governance of US Sailing.”

Cothran Harris, a US Sailing judge from Wilmington, removes his yacht from the lake during a race on Lake Crabtree.

The boats are pretty incredible to look at, but they aren’t toys — each one is simply a scaled-down version of an Olympic-caliber yacht (so don’t promise your 5-year-old that he can join in)! The club races a different class of boats every week to ensure that no boat has an edge during the competition.

Boat Classes


  • One of the largest and best-organized classes.
  • 59″ long and weighs about 25 pounds.
  • Attracts experienced skippers and offers plenty of top-shelf competition.

Star 45

  • 45″ long and weighs between 12 and 13 pounds.
  • Fast and responsive, with the ability to turn in a little more than a boat length.


  • Built from an inexpensive kit.
  • Has similar adjustments to the EC-12, but is smaller, simpler, and easier to manage.
  • 32″ long and weighs 4.5 pounds.

RC Laser

  • Simplicity and durability make the Laser a good choice for beginners, or anyone who wants to race without complication.
  • Easy to sail, but challenging to race.
  • 42″ long and weighs 9 pounds.

DragonFlite 95

  • Delivers a “race-ready” experience.
  • Designed to be a convenient size, on and off the water.
  • Has astonishing speed downwind.

“We have one combined fleet, the Star 45s and the EC-12s — or what we call the big boats — and they race one weekend,” said Tom Rummage, currently the Victoria Fleet captain and an officer of the club. “We have a fleet called the DragonFlite 95, which has its own week. Victoria has its own week, which I race. Then we have the RC Laser. So we have a total of five classes of boats, but we only race four weekends because of the overlap.”

The fifth week is what’s called an open weekend, and during that time anyone can race whatever they want, purely for enjoyment. Although racing takes place, no one keeps score, and club members often use this time to encourage spectators to give it a try.

“On an open day, it would be very easy for us to host a newcomer or a guest, put a transmitter in their hands, and to let them take a boat out on the water,” said Harris. “We actually encourage new people to come out, and we’re very supportive of someone who hasn’t sailed before. We want new people to try the sport — and it is a sport.”

Although there is no minimum age requirement to join the club, younger children tend to get frustrated with the skill and concentration required to race. Plus, the boats are never fast enough for their liking.

“The concentration and situational awareness required to race starts around 12,” said Rummage. “But for people who are interested in sailing, this is an excellent way to learn how the boat works, and you don’t have to go and spend thousands of dollars to do it.”

Model yachts may also capture the interest of anyone who is into electronics, robotics, or simply likes to build things. Quite a few members enjoy building, sailing, and selling boats in their free time.

Tom Rummage uses his remote control to test his RC Laser.

“There are plenty of people within the model yachting hobby whose enjoyment comes from building detailed, perfect models, but the focus at Triangle Model Yacht Club is racing, not model-building,” said Rick Ferguson, a previous commodore and fleet captain.

Club members are always happy to recommend a used boat or a kit with easy assembly and good starting capability. They also mentor newcomers, providing coaching and guidance as they learn. Both Harris and Rummage have a lifetime of experience, having raced full-sized sailboats since they were children.

“I’ve been involved with radio-controlled sailing for about 12 years, but I’ve been sailing in general since I was in sixth grade,” said Harris. “I grew up doing this, but we also cover the other end of the spectrum. Being a lifelong sailor is certainly helpful, but it’s not a requirement to come out and enjoy this and give it a try.”

Triangle Model Yacht Club members Gerry Cobley (pointing) and Scott Allred race their model yachts remotely from the shore.

For those interested, information about classes of boats, a racing calendar, and scores for the season can all be found on the club’s website. Outside of the regularly scheduled Saturday races, from 10 a.m. to noon at Lake Crabtree, special events are scheduled elsewhere throughout the season. They present a great opportunity to compete with and meet sailors from other clubs — and ultimately, get better.

When asked what they enjoy most about racing model boats, both Harris and Rummage had similar answers — the love of being outdoors and in the sun, the thrill of the competition, and freedom from an entire (exhausting) day of racing full-size yachts.

“With my model sailboat, I can get up at 8 a.m., be at the lake by 8:30, race until noon, and still mow the grass that afternoon,” said Rummage with a laugh.

Whether you’re a parent of a small child who would enjoy watching an 8-foot-tall sailboat on the water, a left-brained teenager with an interest in engineering, or a seasoned sailboat racer, Saturday mornings at Crabtree have a little something for everyone. Hey, whatever floats your boat!

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