Sailing in its purest form
Free sailing is the simplest form of model yachting. The direction of your yacht is governed by the angle of the sails to the wind. With no electrics or Rc on board there is no way of altering the course of your yacht once it has left the shore and so all adjustments have to be made before release.
The direction of a free sailing yacht is determined by the angle of the sails too the wind (the trim) not by a rudder as most people believe. The closer you pull in the sails, the closer your yacht will sail to the wind. Likewise the further you let them out, the further off the wind she will sail. The same principle applies from our single sail “Waterbugs” to our “6Mt Class” racers.
Most free sailing races consist of two yachts or more yachts crossing a lake, the first to the other side being the winner. As the wind is the driving force of a yacht the wind direction is the most important factor to the free sailor. With the sails trimmed correctly and as long as the wind does not change direction (to much) over the duration of a race you should be able to get to where you wanted to go.
When model yacht racing first began (around 1820s) boats consisted of just a set of sails a hull and ballast. As there was no way of adjusting the sails out on the lake the skill of the skipper was to read the wind ahead and trim the sails accordingly before release.
It was soon learnt that to get the best out of their yachts the boats had to be in perfect balance with the elements . This was called a balanced rigg. In simple terms it meant that the center of energy from the wind on the sails had to be in the correct position to the center of rotation of the hull (the point along the side of a hull that when pushed with a pencil the hull would move parallel back through the water) . Too far forward and your yacht will not sail towards the wind. Too far back and your yacht will keep heading into the wind constantly tacking from side to side. There was often a method of moving the mast fore and aft to fine tune the yachts.
Early racing was normally conducted on a wind ward course . This was because to sail down wind you have to let the sail right out. This unbalances the yachts as the force of the gusting wind is out to one side causing the yacht to swing round to windward violently.
There was many ingenious mechanisms invented to counteract this force to allow model yachtsman to race both up and down the lake. It was not until 1903 when Mr Braine of the Kensington club in London came up with a mechanism that gave reliable and consistent results turning model yachting from something that was a bit hit and miss into a sport. This became to be known as Braine steering gear after its inventor.
Between the two great wars the sport grew rapidly with international races every year. The boat became more developed and so did the steering gear. Vane steering gear became popular that kept the sails at the perfect angle to the wind.
Free sailing can be enjoyed at any level, there is still a small but dedicated group of people that take free sailing very seriously. The Vintage Model Yacht Group organizes races for those interested in racing Vintage yachts and the Model Yacht Association is the governing body that organize racing for more modern boats.
There are some very historic yacht clubs that go back a long time with free sailing races becoming an annual tradition such as the Southwold Regatta.
You dont have to be in England to free sail, many other country’s around the world have there own dedicated followers. There is a very strong following in America see VMYGUS a wonderfull web site with lots of information . Also france and germany.
You dont have to go racing to enjoy free sailing it can just be an impromptued visit to a lake with family or fiends. It is a wonderful way to relax on a warm summers evening and to teach our younger generations how to sail.
To find a lake near you have a look on our map of free sailing lakes in Uk or contact your local Model yacht club. Alternatively just go onto google maps and check your area to see if you have a lake near you, its amazing what you can find. I have always found the waterboard to be very accommodating but do write to them first and ask for permition.
If you cant find a lake near you with all round access don’t dispare there are other ways to free sail. You can sail from a canno of skiff or on a tethered line from the banks of a natural lake or calm river. You can even sail in a swimming pool.
I hope this has given you a small insite into the joys of free sailing a pastime that has given me so much pleasure over the years. So go on grab yourself a boat or better still have a go at building one your self and get out on the water.