Chapter 1        Introduction


I started racing radio controlled yachts about 5 years ago coming to the pastime from a background of engineering and aeromodelling.


It took one look at a yacht beating to windward to convince me that model yachts were more complicated than one might think. I fully expected to find numerous books each giving cogent explanations of the way that a yacht works to the point where I might contemplate designing one. In fact I found a relatively sparse library of books on yachts of any size and these gave only a passing recognition of the scientific knowledge that might be relevant to yachts. Perhaps few of those who are interested in yachts have a technical background. It took me a long time to realise that I was going to have to work it out for myself. As it happens I am no stranger to this process having had to practice it in order to earn a living. Nevertheless for anyone like me who thinks that he understands science and wants to learn to race a model yacht the process of applying the relevant science to understand how the yacht functions is quite challenging.


I was extremely fortunate to join the Swanley Model Yacht Club because it sails three classes of yacht, A boats, Marbleheads and One Metre boats. The club organises over 60 race meetings a year and anyone sailing all three classes can sail in well over 500 races a year. One can gain experience quickly at Swanley. For me the other bonus was that I was not confined to one class of yacht. Together, the One Metre boat, the A boat and the Marblehead cover the whole range of design and the A boat and the Marblehead give scope for experiment. I doubt if this book would have come to fruition were it not for this stroke of luck.


It is difficult to think about a scientific problem until you can get your thoughts in order to the point where they can be written down. These days we can all exploit the advantage of being able to work on a word processor where the ideas can be stored and reconsidered over and over again until everything fits together properly and matches up to observation. The evolution of scanners, digital cameras and colour printers has made it much easier for me than it was for earlier authors without these facilities and trying to understand the model racing yacht was an ideal use for these new devices. I did this and it was not long before I realised that I was writing a book.


I had text papers that might become chapters for the book and pre-text papers that were thinking documents that might eventually shape a chapter. The number of these seemed to be without limit as the complexities of the model yacht became clearer. I spoke to everyone who would listen but all that I could learn was empirical in that it came wholly from observation. Fortunately I had learnt earlier in life that it is wrong to ignore empirical information just because it comes without scientific explanation. It is better to look for some explanation when sometimes it turns out to be correct and very useful. It took me a long time to sort it all out and no doubt the yacht is waiting to catch me out with some aspect which I have failed to recognise.


I ran into a problem as the text grew. I knew that the book had to be understandable by a reader without a background of science and I tried to find a reader. No one I know was prepared to read it and tell me whether they understood and attempts to discuss such “obvious” matters as the function of the fin led to a “you tell me what is wrong with the way I think about it” response. So strong was the reaction that I considered trying to explain away some of the misconceptions here but there are too many and so I have decided to give only the best science I can find or construct. Then I met one person who, having spotted my folder of text, diagrams and pictures, offered to buy a copy if I would duplicate it. It was in no state to part with nor was it in a proper state to expect anyone to read but I gave John Evans a copy. He manfully read it, said that he had enjoyed it even though it meant reference to the dictionary, and said that he had a much better idea of the way his yacht worked than he had before. This was encouraging.


This experience reminded me forcibly that it is no use writing a book if no one else understands it and that when writing anything it is necessary to have a reader in mind. I expect that most readers of this book will not be technically trained but are willing to read about something which is a special interest. This means that I cannot rely on a facility in mathematics and that every attempt must be made to explain everything in words and diagrams. It is inevitable that some technical words will be used but these can be kept to a minimum if the reader is prepared to accept more words and more diagrams in order to give an explanation and also to consult a dictionary.


I found that the explanations of technical matters in most books were sketchy to say the least and often at odds with generally accepted science. I wondered what to do about this and decided in the end to start with a section of scientific explanation to which reference could be made in the main text.