ST. MICHAELS — Majestic sailing vessels cut across the horizon on Fogg Creek in St. Michaels. They tack, jibe and round race markers. The captains are willing their boats to win. The only strange thing is the boats are only five feet long and five feet tall, and all the captains are standing together on the dock.
Welcome to miniature, radio-controlled Skipjack racing. All the boats are handmade, mostly by the captains themselves.
“I am here for the camaraderie. It’s not whether you win or lose, it is if you participate. Of course, the starts are crowded, boisterous people yelling Starboard even when they don’t have it!” said Russell Weaver of Easton. Starboard is nautical right of way when the wind is coming over the starboard (right) side of the boat.
“It is a whole lot of fun!” Norman Watkins said.
“There are two clubs: Model Building and Racing,” Commodore Gary Nylander said.
The fleet has a regatta a year. There is another whole RC Skipjack fleet in Solomons Island in Calvert County. Their regatta in July was canceled because of COVID-19.
The captains look a little like pirates in their masks.
There is a real art to building the boats, they said. Some are better sailors, and some are better builders. The Chesapeake Bay Maritime museum sells kits. The museum also has tools available to make the process easier. If you built model airplanes as a kid, this is like that on steroids, participants said. Generally the summer is for racing and the winter is for building.
“The appearance of the boat is easily recognizable as a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack with its low freeboard, steeply raked mast, shallow draft and hard chine hull,” reads a pamphlet.
“Construction plans and instruction are available in CBMM’s Museum Store as well as from the club. Contact the commodore for keels, additional construction materials and instructions,” the club’s literature continues.
According to club history, the Saint Michaels Model Boat Club was formed in January 1983. The name was later changed to The Model Sailing Club of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
“It takes about three or four months to build one. I have one that is one third done. It’s a work in progress. Hopefully I will be done by the end of the year,” Russell Weaver said.
The club holds races on select Tuesdays each month. Upcoming races are set for Sept. 15, Sept. 29, Oct. 13 and Oct. 27. They are all held at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, which faces the Miles River.
According to club literature, “The original Skipjacks were built for the oyster business at the beginning of the 20th century, they were a cost effective working boat mainly employed in the purpose of dredging oysters.”
There is something exciting about seeing all the hard work put into building these boats being played out on the water, onlookers said. These men created something beautiful and are putting the creations to use. They learned about these historic vessels with their hands — an inch-by-inch reckoning with history. And then there is the matter of fun. Anyone watching can see these guys are playing, competing and enjoying each other’s company.