RC Aquanauts ready to sail if weather cooperates [ *** GALLERY *** ]

SEQUIM — On just about any given Monday, Wednesday or Friday, you are likely to see up to 18 grown men hunched over their remote-control devices, playing what looks like a kid’s game.

In almost all kinds of weather, as long as there’s wind, the RC Aquanauts compete in mini-regattas at the city of Sequim’s Water Reclamation Demonstration Park pond.

Racing around buoys

The group of mostly retirees primarily races meter-long sailboats around buoys placed on the pond.

“A little over 10 years ago, some of the guys that had been flying radio-controlled model airplanes got talking one day, and we said, ‘Why don’t we do some boats?’” said Jack Ronda, the group’s unofficial spokesman and a retired rocket propulsion research scientist.

Some members of the group even ventured out to the pond last Monday, after the first of three snowstorms hit the area.

“The pond was frozen over, so we couldn’t sail,” Ronda said Friday.

Clear sailing

He hoped Friday morning, with snow still covering the ground, that the weather would clear, as forecasted by the National Weather Service, to the point that the group members could sail Monday.

If not, they’ll probably do what they did last Monday — gather at Adagio Bean & Leaf at 981 E. Washington St. in Sequim.

“It depends on the weather,” Ronda said.

“If the pond is unfrozen, then we are out there sailing.

“If it’s frozen over [or if it’s raining], we head off to Adagio’s for a cup of coffee . . . assuming we can make it on the roads,” he added.

After last Monday, the RC Aquanauts hunkered down, waiting out the freezing weather.

‘Wasn’t much action’

“There wasn’t much action this week,” Ronda said but added that members are usually at the pond from 10 a.m. to noon every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

People of all ages are welcome to join them at the demonstration park’s pond east of North Blake Avenue, north of Carrie Blake Park, he said.

Many in the group gravitated to the hobby after wearying of the expense of repairing cracked-up remote-control planes, Ronda explained.

So they did some model-sailboat racing at John Wayne Marina on Sequim Bay before moving to the pond shortly after the city added the demonstration park’s pond.

There, their model sailboats drift in the wind much like their real and much larger counterparts on the bay.

It started with six remote-control Aquanauts who built their own models.

Today, there are more than 60 models built by sailing hobbyists like Ronda.

A tugboat and a hydroplane will occasionally race on the pond to pick up the pace.

“It’s the challenge of who can beat the other guy,” said Ronda, nearly 80, who retired after stints at the likes of Rocketdyne, Boeing and Lockheed.

The Aquanauts are a loose-knit bunch of people who have built a tight camaraderie over the years.

‘Word of mouth’

“Basically, it’s just word of mouth,” Ronda said, describing the group.

“We don’t have meetings. We don’t have officers as such.”

They do crank out a newsletter that is mailed to club members.

Once a year, they put on a club party at the Oak Table Cafe, 292 W. Bell St. in Sequim, that includes trophies for winning sailors.

It’s not a cheap hobby, Ronda admitted.

The basic kit for a keelboat Soling remote-control sailing model is $140 to $150, which is made of tough plastic resin-type Styrene.

Radio gear that tacks the sails is installed in the boat body, which costs about $200 for a transmitter and receiver, part of the remote-control device.

‘Nice, fast boats’

The remote controls steer the model vessels’ sails to effectively maneuver and tack in the wind, and the sleek vessels dart around the pond when the wind picks up.

They also sail meter-long ODOM- (one design, one meter) model yachts, which have deep keels filled with lead shot for ballast and taller sails for speed.

“They’re nice, fast boats,” Ronda said.

“We have quite a variety of different boats,” he said, including a smaller Victoria yacht, 30 inches long, and some larger schooners modeled after real sailing vessels.

Sometimes, Ronda breaks out his Hobie tri-foiler, a triple-hulled catamaran model craft with dual sails.

“If you have enough wind, it actually gets above the water on hydrofoils,” Ronda said, adding that the more unusual boats make appearances Fridays on the pond.

Vance Bingham, a retired Port Angeles dentist who met Ronda at the Sequim Bay Yacht Club and joined the RC Aquanauts five years ago, said he finds remote-control sailing at the pond more challenging than sailing his full-scale sailboat in Sequim Bay.

“I’m a regular,” Bingham said, adding that he makes it over to the Sequim pond at least twice a week.

“People come by and say, ‘It looks so tranquil,’ and I say, ‘Stick around for a while,’” Bingham said with a smile.

The Sequim RC Aquanauts are members of the American Model Yachting Association, www.theamya.org.

Ronda can be phoned about the group at 360-683-3460.

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]

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