“ I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor.” Steven Spielberg.

Yachting on Dartmoor?

Do you love the idea of going sailing; the wind in your hair and all the excitement of being in the great outdoors and even enjoying what can be a highly competitive sport? If all this appeals to you but you’re not so keen on getting wet, cold, constantly heaving on ropes or ducking to avoid the mainsail boom whacking you on the head, there is now an opportunity to enjoy the former without the latter.

It was a crisp, clear November day. There was a light steady breeze; just perfect for sailing. I had to try it for myself. I had an invitation from the Dartmoor Radio Sailing Club to join them for a morning. It was time to get on the water.

The Dartmoor Club (the only one in Devon and Cornwall with its own lake) was started by a number of dedicated sailors who had come to that time in life when it was more attractive to separate boat from sailor. There is now a thriving membership who sail a variety of model yachts on a lake just above Cadover Bridge on West Dartmoor. A better location is hard to imagine; set in wonderful walking country. A family can combine sailing and walking. There is something for everyone.

Many such sailors hail from the world of ocean sailing; quite a few are still active racing sailors. A number had to give up full-size sailing but still have the urge to experience the thrill of yachting without having to be athletic. Even active sailors go model sailing when full-sized boats are laid up for the winter.

Model yachts, like their full-sized brothers have two sets of controls; the rudder and the trim of the sails. There is one big difference as I found when I came to try it for myself. In the full-sized yacht, the helmsman is always facing front. With models however if your boat is coming towards you left is right and right is left. At first, it is all a bit confusing. Fortunately, the human brain is a smart piece of kit, so after a bit of practice, it all comes naturally.

You are now ready to join the world of model-sailing: anything from a relaxing day out on the water to a bit of serious racing. Model yacht racers are just as keen to win as those on the open ocean. Tactics are the same. Model sailors can become super-competitive at national level; it’s high-adrenaline stuff!

How to get started
The club is open to anyone who would like to go along and give model-sailing a try. No previous experience is needed. Club members welcome the opportunity to mentor new sailors and will even let you practice on their boats. There’s a lot to learn.

The club includes a powerboat section which takes to the water throughout the Summer on Sundays and on Friday evenings. These electric-powered boats can travel up to 70 miles an hour which calls for quick reflexes. It’s not unknown for the occasional one to take a nosedive and bury itself in the sediment at the bottom of the lake, never to be recovered.

Owning your own model yacht
You can pick up a popular International One Metre class boat, second-hand, for about £300; new, they cost around £2700. Model shops sell the equally popular Dragon Force boats which, coming with everything ready for the water, are a good way to get started. Dragon Force RG65 boats cost between £130 and £140.

Club details
Sailing takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays, all-day.
The Dartmoor club charges £50 per year which includes Model Yachting Association membership. Membership includes third-party liability insurance. It also entitles you to race anywhere in the UK. The club has its own insurance scheme. Just think what would happen if the wind were to take your model yacht and blow it against somebody’s car. You see the need for the insurance!

Dartmoor Radio Sailing Club website;
Model Yachting Association website;

Words & Pictures by David Guiterman