When you decide to build or buy a model sailboat of any class you will be purchasing much more than the materials and equipment provided by the builder or in the kit. You will be getting the expertise and skill (or lack thereof) that went into designing and manufacturing the hull and rig, and, if the boat is a member of a mature class, the years of experience that were required to discover the inevitable problems with every original design and fix them. In addition, you will be "buying" the organization that administers the class. And you will be joining the group of people who sail and race that class of boat. All of these pieces are important – study each of them carefully before deciding what class to "buy."
OPEN vs. ONE-DESIGN
Do you want to be able to design or make substantial changes to the hull, fins, rig and sails of the boat with the expectation that you can make your boat perform better than the others it will be competing against? Then opt for one of the "open" classes, in which to a greater or lesser extent the class rules will permit such performance-enhancing modifications. On the other hand, if you want to race on a level playing field, where winning or losing will depend entirely on your sailing and tuning abilities, pick a one-design class where, in theory at least, the performance of every boat will be identical.
TRUE ONE-DESIGN vs. PSEUDO-ONE-DESIGN
Most classes of boats (full-scale as well as radio-controlled) that call themselves one-design do not actually adhere to the true one design philosophy. Yes, the hulls and fins may be identical and the dimensions of the sails may be the same, but that does not ensure equal performance. If you can, for example, substitute custom carbon fiber spars for the ones supplied by the builder, that's not a true one-design class, since stiffness and weight aloft are important determinants of overall performance. And if you, and commercial sailmakers, are free to modify the shape of the sails by broad seaming and other tricks of the sail maker's trade, a class is no more one-design in concept than, say, a class of otherwise identical race cars that allows the stock engines to be replaced by ones designed and built by Chevrolet, BMW or Ferrari.
Do you want to be able to feel confident that whenever you lose a regatta it is because you were simply out-sailed by the winner? Or do you prefer to engage in the sailboat racing version of a military arms race – and find yourself wondering whether the new sails the winner had just purchased were faster than yours?
True one-design philosophy is sometimes mistakenly called "strict" one-design. The full-scale Laser is a good example of a "strict" as well as "true" one-design class. It's original rules permitted absolutely no changes from the stock equipment supplied by the manufacturer (which resulted in some remarkable macramé-like work-arounds that took advantage of loop holes in the rules – proving that innovative people can find ways to circumvent any set of rules if they try hard enough – until about 25 years later when the class rules were finally amended.
It is possible to be "true" without being Laser-strict. Most sailors enjoy finding ways to improve upon things about their boats that frustrate them. Strict rules can be stifling, and some classes like the CR 914 have crafted their rules to accommodate some innovation without allowing modifications that significantly influence performance.
A class is only as good as the organization behind it. It takes a while for a class to mature, to develop leaders and to fine tune the class rules. Good intentions are not enough. Look for a class that has been around long enough to discover the bugs in its boats and class rules and get them worked out.
It's a little harder to evaluate a class organization than it is to evaluate a boat. But it can be done. Look at how active the class is. How fast is it growing? Does it sponsor lots of regattas – local, relatively low-key affairs as well as regional and national championships every year? Look at the class website. Is it updated frequently? Does it show evidence of a vigorous and enthusiastic class leadership? Study the class rules (see below). And look at how the class communicates with its members/boat owners. Does it publish a class newsletter? Does it operate a class message board or list server (if so, do you find angry comments and flaming arguments there)?
Reading class rules is deadly dull – until you need to apply them yourself, that is. But they are extremely important for the success of the class, and for your future satisfaction with it. Are the rules well thought out or can you spot loop holes easily? Are they excessively legalistic (one quick test is to count the number of pages)? How recently have they been revised, and were the revisions the sort that made older boats obsolete? Or are there grandfather clauses that could give older boats a potential advantage? Is there a process for interpreting the class rules (no rules, no matter how detailed, can ever anticipate every potential problem), and does the class publish its rule interpretations regularly?
Fleets, and even whole classes, develop specific personalities, usually reflecting the behavior of their leaders. Some are very laid back, so much so that their races resemble games of bumper boats, happy-go-lucky affairs where most anything goes. Others are very aggressive, and their races sometimes seem like battles to be won at any cost, including the loss of respect for those who bend the rules or behave aggressively toward officials and fellow competitors. The ideal balance, intense but fair competition among friends who enjoy the camaraderie as much as the contest, is hard to achieve; but look for a class that strives for that goal.
PICKING A CLASS FOR A BRAND NEW CLUB
If you live in an area where several classes are already well established, you can use these principles to pick which one to join. In general, however, if only one class is available locally, you will be wise to join it – and work to correct the problems that it may have – rather than trying to start a new fleet in the area from scratch. But RC sailing is just beginning to emerge as a popular sport, and it is likely that you will not find an ideal fleet to join in your area. Not to worry! If you pick the right class, you will find that it is easy to "grow your own" fleet. Examples abound: you'll find two good ones by visiting the websites of the Dry Pants Model Yacht Club in Deep River, Connecticut and the Laguna Lake Model Yacht Club in San Luis Obispo,California (not coincidentally, both clubs were built around the CR 914).
You'll need to pick a boat that will appeal to a broad spectrum of potential club members, most of whom will not be familiar with RC sailboat classes. It will help if your class looks like a "real" boat. It also should look and be fast, highly maneuverable, and easy to sail. It should be fairly easy to build from a kit, but not too simple, in order to appeal to the substantial number of sailors that will want the challenge and satisfaction of really building and finishing their own boats. And finished boats that are ready to race should be available to purchase from a reliable source as well. The boat should be relatively inexpensive, but not so cheaply manufactured that a buyer must face substantial hidden costs in order to make it seaworthy and competitive. It should be a so-called entry-level class, not one that requires extensive experience or expertise to build, tune and learn to sail well. But its performance should be hot enough, and its class membership should have sufficient depth and breadth, so that the sailors who join your club will find plenty of new challenges to test them as their skills improve, without feeling the need to move up to another class after a year or two.
AN OVERWHELMING DIFFICULT CHOICE?
We obviously think not. Click here to learn all about the CR 914, then look over the other classes you'll find listed on the AMYA website. You'll find that choosing the CR 914 will be the easiest decision you have ever made!