It’s good to have good news

Published on March 31st, 2020

National Sailing Hall of Fame inductee Bob Johnstone is transitioning again. From Sunfish to 470 to J/24 to J/44 to MJM Yachts and now to one-design, radio-controlled sailboat racing. Here Bob provides some good news from James Island in Charleston SC.


Located on the Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community campus is the Bishop Gadsden Yacht Club which maybe one of few yacht clubs still conducting races in America. Radio-controlled sailing just happens to be the perfect option in these trying times, particularly if you are in a residential community with a pond.

Following current virus guidelines, skippers can keep their social distance seated in “soccer-mom” chairs. There’s no bumping one another aboard, as no crew. And, there’s a ready group of lifetime boaters and sailboat racers among those emerging 77 million aging Baby Boomers. BGYC could be setting a national trend.

Our 11 boat turnout last weekend was the local pond record, and there will be three more to come next week. Excitement is building as our fleet of DragonFlite 95s are blossoming in all colors like a spring Charleston garden!

Along with my wife Mary, our BG cottage dining room table is the DF95 kit assembly area. We’re up to a fleet of 10 of these mini Volvo 70 look-a-likes to compete with several Lasers and Nirvanas. Speak about a one-design program!

Mary Johnstone with DragonFlite 95

With $425, a race-ready DF95 kit and tuning guide (radiosailing.net) arrives by FedEx within the week. Just add 8-AA batteries, controller neck strap, and sail numbers. Takes a day to assemble.

Radio-controlled sailboats could dramatically grow the sport of sailing… anywhere there’s a pond or pool. Not just in nice large harbors or lakes. A superb teaching tool for young kids without having to invest significant funds to buy and maintain fleets of junior boats.

Think of an elementary school curriculum. Skills of assembling the DF95 or smaller DF65 kits, tying knots, learning the physics of sailing, the complexity of electronic controls, learning how to sail without having instructors on the boat or yelling with megaphones, and learning a lifetime sport of yacht racing.

With the smaller DF65, it’s been done in swimming pools with big fans at one end. A natural to motivate video game fanatics. And, it’s a sport that can involve parents participating with their kids in the same events. You know there’s nothing more motivating to a kid than beating the old folks on the racecourse!

Sailing on these small ponds with winds coming from every direction, really teaches racing tactics. Must be how Buddy Melges got so good, being on Lake Zenda.

And in terms of helping a kid deal with life: Racing sailboats teaches decisiveness/judgement…. taking action without knowing all the facts… training the mind to assign probabilities to a number of possible outcomes like Harvard Business School Decision Tree.

Bishop Gadsden is one of two radio-controlled sailing fleets still conducting regattas in the Charleston area. Gordon MacDonald, past-Commodore of the Noroton Yacht Club, captains a fleet of 10 radio-control Lasers out of Wild Dunes. Lynn Comfort just picked one up. They race on a pond at Sewee Preserve, east of the city.

A major center of radio-controlled model yacht racing has been at James Island’s County Park, which is currently shutdown. The Charleston Model Yacht Club has about 40 members. Their active schedule included Monday and Wednesday mornings and Sunday afternoon with three RC classes: DF95s, Soling1Ms, and larger EC12s

At Bishop Gadsden, the 5 or 6 races per day, now happening twice per week, are relaxed and informal. Serious port-starboard collisions usually involve a gentlemanly solution of a voluntary 360 turn, but minor bumping and mark rounding pile ups cause more laughter than screams of “protest”. It’s a race by race event. All fun. Everyone has his/her day. No cumulative scoring. No serious betting (yet) among spectators like Aussie 18 skiffs on Sydney Harbor.

It takes being immersed in each new phase of sailing to fully understand what its potential might be for the sport, and I am seeing the massive possibility here. But for now, it is just good to have good news to counterbalance the coronavirus onslaught elsewhere in our sport. Sail on!

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