loudspeaker blares, "Start your engines" and the scramble
begins. Racers have two minutes to get their souped up boats started and
into the water. The test of skill begins immediately as the racers have
thirty seconds of milling time. Thirty seconds to run loops around a
shortened course trying to time the loop so that their boat will speed
across the starting line at full tilt as the countdown reaches zero.
A little too fast, and the racer has to loop around all over again, thereby starting way behind.
I watched spin outs, flips, and even a run up on the shore. Thankfully there were no collisions between racing boats this day.
Running on the Lehigh River, these boats routinely break 50 mph.
Well, there's a catch. The club sponsoring the race was the Lehigh Valley Wavebreakers- a bunch of folks in love with radio controlled model boats. Yes, the sharp turns, the airborne moments, and the impressive rooster tails were all the results of skilled handlers on the shore controlling boats typically two to three feet in length.
Many of these crafts are truly works of art. I met Jack Tapler of the Wavebreakers who has won national and international competitions in 1990 and 1993. Not for speed, but for authenticity and scale. His model of the Circus Circus boat took three years to build, but he still races it. I asked if he wasn't nervous about his three years of labor getting banged up in a racing collision. He answered simply, "Sure I'm nervous, very nervous, but racing is the function it was built for." Check out his Miss Bardahl.
It was rather ironic that the club brought regular sized boats with trailers to the race. Why? The regular boats are needed to retrieve errant models. Weighted fishing lines and tennis balls on a string provided a retrieval method for model boats closer to the shore.
A model racer may be made of wood, plastic, or fiberglass. The models run either of two types of engines: a smaller engine running more expensive nitro-methane fuel or a larger engine running regular gasoline. The sophistication of today's radio controls is amazing. The boats use two to four channels controlling speed, direction, plane, and even the throttle mixture.
A newcomer can start with building a motorized radio controlled racer for about $300. (Radio controlled sailboats offer a slower but somewhat lower cost alternative.)
Building the model, adjusting its performance, and improving its authenticity are constructive alternatives to the "boob tube". Most of the racers were proud owners of more than one boat and clearly devoted a lot of their free time to tinkering with their boats. Children can race. I was told that at the nationals in Greely Colorado, a two year old was an official entrant in a race;happily guiding a boat around the course from the shore.
If you're in the Lehigh Valley and would like to learn more about this hobby, call the president or vice president of the Lehigh Valley Wavebreakers:
If you're outside the Lehigh Valley, check the website for the national organization, NAMBA.
There's a break in the racing action, and the club's serving the
hot dogs now. My stomach is telling me that it is time to go. Hope you
enjoyed this peek into the world of radio controlled power boat racing.
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