Tides; it’s all about tides. Wait, “tides?” I thought this was an article about radio controlled landsailers. It is, and I promise we’ll get there.
In an attempt to actually finish this article, the author went off to the America’s Landsailing Cup where rumor had it there would be competition in the various classes of radio control landsailers and an opportunity to report on those races. As it turned out, that never happened—all because of tides. Wait again! There are no tides in the desert. Precisely! No tides, and the wind blew more or less continuously for a week at levels that allowed full-sized landsailers to go. On several occasions I saw Bat landsailers zipping around people’s camps—many people had them—but despite Robert Weber’s valiant efforts, it was never possible to gather all the folks together for any kind of organized racing. There was a brief lunchtime attempt, which resulted in total chaos. It was like herding cats. Cones were placed, a course laid out and people immediately started sailing their Bats (and a few other models) around the course…in both directions, and diagonally across the course. Since they all look very much alike, it was fairly difficult to figure out who was driving which boat, although more experienced pilots seemed to know. It ended in semi-staged carnage with a pile of tangled Bats and a lot of hooting and hollering and taking pictures. (People were clearly having fun) ten minutes later, full-sized racing had started again and the Bats were stashed in people’s cars and motorhomes.
I can’t help but think that if we had tides it would all have been different. If we had tides the whole culture of landsailing, both radio-controlled and full-size, in the US would be completely different. This article is more about how things are, but it is worth thinking about the “why?”
Radio controlled landsailers have existed for at least 30 years. There is an international organizing body www.IRCSSA.org , International Radio Controlled Surface Sailing Association, that regulates the class structure and rules, and there are a number of, mostly small, producers of RC landsailers, iceboats and plans. The concept is really quite simple by radio controlled standards, only two channels required, one to steer and one to run the mainsheet, simple servos translate the radio signals into steering and sail control. What makes the Bat 1 different from the host of other RC craft is the boom in numbers created by the collaboration of the designer, Robert Weber, and Hong Kong hobby store HobbyKing, which has resulted in Bats appearing worldwide.
Although it is not clear who, if anyone, invented the RC landsailor, Robert Weber has been involved since the 1980s. Robert transferred his experience with full-scale landsailers—Robert is a 3-time America’s Landsailing Cup Class winner— to designing scale models, starting with a ¼ scale Stiletto based on his ALC yacht. His latest project is the Bat2 a larger, faster, model based on the Bat 1 fuselage.
RC landsailers have been appearing at US and international sailing venues, with organized and ad hock competition, for several years replacing horseshoes and bocce ball as low-wind activity of choice. Although napping and bench racing may still be the number one time filler, especially for those times when there is not even enough wind to move a Bat around.
As with full-size landsilers, there are long-established classes for the radio-controlled boats. The classes, if not one design, are based on size.
Specifications are box rules, which limit Height, Length, and Width. Everything else is, “Run what you brung,” to quote Robert Weber.
This leads to very little squabbling about rules.
|Class||Max Length||Max Height||Max Beam|
|1||0.75M (29.53”)||1.00M (39.37”)||0.50M (19.69”)|
|2||1.00M (39.37”)||1.50M (59.06”)||0.75M (29.53”)|
|3||1.50M (59.06”)||2.00M (78.74”)||1.00M (39.37”)|
The Bats that are sold by Hobby King are Bat 1. The 1 indicates that they fit in the class 1 “box” similarly, the new Bat 2, although sharing many components with the Bat 1, fits in the class 2 box. I have not seen any push to force the Bat 1s into a strict one design. Bat 1s have mostly sold to people who are already landsailors. As a group, we tend to be tinkerers and even though the Bat is completely functional right out of the box (the packaging box, not the rule box) modifications started happening almost immediately, the most common being softer axels, softer masts and redesigned and resized sails.
From the sales data that Dirtboating has been able to gather it looks like over 1000 Bat 1 landsailers have been sold, the majority has gone to Europe with around 200 going the US and everywhere else. This article has photos of them in the US, Ireland and Germany although many have gone to France and Belgium as well.
As is often the case, this Dirtboating article depends on input from readers. Most of our information on Bats in Europe comes from Sven Kraja who was gracious enough to give us a fairly detailed description of his experience.
Sven sailed different RC Landyachts over the years; some he designed and made himself, another was designed by a friend but was “too expensive to produce,” a third was produced by a German model company, but was set up like an antique stern-steerer iceboat and was not very functional. The Bat looked like a good combination of design and price so he decided to order one for himself. Thinking a little further, he decided it would more fun if his girlfriend also had one and then included two other friends in the first order.
Since Sven is a sail maker, his first project was to equip them all with computer-designed Frog Sails sails using a mast pocket instead of clips on the leading edge and very thin sailcloth for the main part of the sail (the sails look great and seem to work well and have been seen on Bats in the US and in Ireland (as well as Germany, of course).
German Bat sailors started playing with the Bats on a parking lot near the beach. Add a little beer drinking to the afternoon racing and a social component was added to the mix. Eventually, they attracted the attention of a couple of “kite guys,” who were immediately hooked and they started putting together a second order for 10 more. They promoted the after-work racing and beer drinking using a WhatsAp group, which I gather is like a MeetUp group in the US. Christmas gift giving added a lot of young bat sailors to the fleet. They now have as many as 60 active Bat sailors in Germany. It is likely that similar stories exist in other countries where landsailing is popular (and where they have tides). A bunch of Bats running around with Frog Sails should also be good advertising.
There was an attempt to organize competition at the 2015 European Championships, but as happens everywhere, people were too busy sailing big boats…Hey, what about when the tide was wrong, but it was still windy?…maybe there is a hole in my Tides theory.
Regular acing in Germany (weather permitting) has led to more development, with Frog Sails offering regular sails, storm sails and modified axels. See video links at the end of the article for more information.
Bat sailing in America seems mostly limited to casual gatherings at landsailing events and individuals sailing on their neighborhood parking lot.
I may have a skewed vision of this since I live so far from any other active landsailors. In general, we don’t live near each other, certainly not close enough to get a group of folks together after work to sail our Bats and have a couple of beers on a regular basis. Most of us drive hundreds of miles to sail our full-sized boats and most would not be willing to drive far for a Bat event. El Mirage seems to have the most potential as a bat venue, it is close to millions of people and groups of landsailors end up there fairly frequently. Evening Bat sailing seems to happen there fairly often with as many as 10 RC landsailers (mostly Bats) zipping around after the pilots are too tired to keep sailing their “big” boats. It is fun and people seem to be more than happy to hand off the controls to newbies. Of course, all it takes is one fluke with someone sailing where people can see how much fun it is, or buying a handful of them for their friends, and the German scene could be duplicated here. We could probably even sail these on the beach without getting arrested.
Development continues In the US as well. For example, Robert Weber, the designer of the original Bat is now offering A Bat 2, which is longer, taller and wider, with a front springer for suspension, a taller flexier rig and a redesigned boom system. The modification makes it faster, smoother and, interestingly, easier to sail.
Where do we go from here? Hobby king is still selling Bats; they go out of stock and then come back to both the US and international warehouses, so they must be ordering/building/selling them. The important thing to ensure continued popularity for those of us without tides will be finding a time and place to race them that is not in direct competition with sailing full-sized landsailers.
Bat Related Video Links:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pI__zVNF484 (frogsails on the beach)