May 20, 2007

Bright's Boat

Today down at the basin I ran into Bill Bright, a model sailboat mavin, who was the subject of a story I wrote for the local newspaper almost four years ago. Still plying the waves with the same boat, Bill had returned to the park for one of his increasingly rare outings with the little rig. Herewith is the original story from September, 2003...

Hitching his boat to a breeze is a new experience for Bill Bright. But light offshore winds at Bimini Basin on Saturday gave the newbie model skipper enough gusto to tempt his burgeoning skills. Now in the water for its third outing, Bright's one-meter model skimmed the shore at a brisk pace, and skated out to deeper water with diminuative elan.

"The more breeze the better. It's just like real sailing. If you don't get a good breeze, your boat will be sitting out there waiting for it to come back. I haven't had to go swimming yet. Last week we had ten to fifteen mile per hour winds, and it was flying! But even with a five mile per hour, as long as you can keep the sails filled, it will move."

The rig consists of the hand-held transmitter and the boat's receiver and servo motors. It takes double-A batteries, which provide four to five hours of comfortable sailing, without the risk of "going swimming." The handset has a battery-power indicator, and Bright uses rechargeables, which he recharges after each outing. The boat's only motors are servos. "It has a rudder that I can control, and I can trim the sails."

Although the little boat seemed game for venturing into deeper blue on Saturday, Bright hasn't tested it's range on water. "I did a range check at home. With the boat three blocks away, the kids were still waving, the rudder was still responding. Out on the water, I try not to exceed a couple hundred yards, in case I have to swim."

So far Bright's instinct for catching the right kind of breeze has kept him out of the drink. "I thought about model planes, but gravity never takes a day off," said Bright, ruminating on the principles of physics from a beach chair. "This is a little slower, a little more relaxing."

But Bright's contemplative mood shows signs of being overtaken by an occasional gust of competitive spirit. "A poorly built boat with a good skipper who can read the wind can usually beat a well-build boat sailed by a novice. Steering slows it down. The less you have to steer, the better."

Sanctioned by the American Model Yachting Association (, the sailboats compete in regattas and races held by local and regional clubs. "There's a pretty good club in Naples," said Bright, "they sail every Saturday, I believe it's at The Vineyards." To compete in organized meets, the model must weigh at least ten pounds and be fully equipped to spec. "The kits run about three hundred fifty dollars by the time you're done," said Bright. "It would be nice to get a couple more people out here. Then you can race!"

Meanwhile, relaxing shoreside with a sailboat through which one communicates remotely with prevailing winds, is no mean pleasure. "I enjoy it. I can sit out here with my wife, she likes the sun, so I sail, she reads. It's relaxing and fun. You don't bother anybody because it's so quiet. There are radio-controlled speedboats, but with sailing you can do it anywhere."