Basics

There are many books that describe the principles of sailing in great depth, and if you’re interested in starting sailing – whether big or small boats – a search on the internet or a local bookshop would be time well spent. Here is a brief overview of what happens on our smaller versions.

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Both classes we sail are driven by the wind only, there are no motors driving propellers or underwater magnets. The only things moving the boats are the sails and mother nature. Using the radio transmitter, we have two main controls over the boats, the rudder and the sails. The rudder controls the steering and the sails provide the speed. The rudder is hidden underneath the boat, turning the rudder turns the boat, as the rudder rotates further the quicker the boat turns, however the quicker the boat turns the more speed it looses. So a compromise must be found, where a fast turn can be made while maintaining boat speed. After all, the faster the boat, the more races it can win.

So, we can turn the boats, but how do we make them go? This is where the sails come into play. Most of the time, the sails act like wings on an aircraft, but instead of lifting the boat up, they suck it through the water. Depending on how the sails are angled to the wind and the direction the boat is facing, they make the boat move through the water. If the yacht is sailing downwind i.e. with the wind behind it, the wind simply pushes the boat along. If you can stop some of the wind getting to your rivals sails, they will slow down giving you a chance to catch up.

A yacht cannot sail directly into the wind, the sails flap and it drifts backwards, so the sailor has to sail the boat around 45º away from the direction the wind is coming from. This is called close-hauled, because the sails are pulled in as far as they can. Sailing at 45º will take the yacht in one direction, until it reaches the side of the lake, then the yacht have to tack.

To tack, the rudder is turned so the bow goes into the wind and out the other side. If the yacht isn’t travelling fast enough it will face into the wind and stop. With a bit more speed the yacht should continue turning until it’s going 90º in the other direction. So the wind is now blowing from the opposite side of the boat and the boat head off at 45º off the wind. By doing one tack after the other, the yacht will gradually work it’s way towards the direction the wind is coming from. The better the sails are trimmed to the wind direction, the faster the yacht will sail. As we learnt above, the quicker a boat sails the more chance it has of winning. While sailing a radio controlled boat is fun, winning is better.

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Why don’t the boats fall over or go sideways? The easy answer to this question is the keel. To put it very simply, the keel is like a small sail under the water with a weight attached to the bottom. The weight keeps the boat upright, while the size of keel stops the boat sliding sideways. On the International One Metres we sail, the keel is a long (40 cm) and narrow (7cm) fin, usually made from carbon fibre with a torpedo shaped lead weight on the bottom. Carbon fibre is very stiff so even with all the wind pressing on the sails and the 2.5 kg weight on the bottom, the fin won’t bend and the boat will continue sailing in a straight line. However on the 6M yachts the keels are shorter in depth (12cm) but much longer from front to back (35 cm). Both keels give the boats grip in the water by using different shapes.

© Graham Snook

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1 Comment »

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  1. hello we are from Aruba, we have the Stichting Aruba Miniature Sailing Boat.
    as we can see we have a lot in common. we want to know more about these boats,I love this sport!!!


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