They are all captains but don’t wear lifejackets. Membership in their yacht club only costs $5 a year. When a severe storm is brewing, they don’t have to worry about moorings, storm surges or high winds. Their boats weather the worst usually on a shelf in the living room.
The dozen members of the Martha’s Vineyard Model Yacht Club are a unique group of mariners. This month they are gearing up for a busy sailing season with frequent racing and gams. They meet weekly and on April 13 and 14 most will attend the Woods Hole Model Boat Show, a biennial event now in its ninth year that attracts sailors from as far north as Gloucester and as far south as New London.
Glenn F. Provost, 70, commodore of the Vineyard yacht club and a cofounder, makes no apology for the size of the boats in his fleet. Seldom, he said, do they talk about size. Sailing is sailing, whether in a 39-foot or a 39-inch sloop. Reading the wind, feeling the water under the hull and racing strategy are the same.
All the captains are salty. Every one in the club has previous experience in larger crafts. The model boat races take place in Vineyard Haven harbor and also in Sunset Lake in Oak Bluffs. They are fiercely competitive.
“When we race you can hear a pin drop,” said Roy Gundersen, of Edgartown. “My psychiatrist told me to give it up,” he added, smiling. “I was shaking so much after a race.”
The club was founded in 1996. The Soling boats are each a meter in length and are similar to the much larger Soling class, those measuring 26 feet. Boats weigh precisely 10 pounds. Like the larger version, the boats are a sailing class with rules about their length, weight, height of mast and sail size. All the hulls are made from polystyrene plastic. Other than hull color and a captain’s personal attention to detail, the differences between the boats are well below deck. The mechanics may vary from boat to boat on how the tiller and sheet [the line that goes to the main sail] are adjusted. All are maneuvered by a radio handheld control. Through the years, the technology has improved and the electronics have become smaller. The club usually meets at Mr. Provost’s three-car garage off a long winding dirt road in Tisbury. In the winter, they meet weekly, sometimes taking turns at each member’s home. During the summer, they meet shoreside and race twice a week.
Before settling on the Island about a year ago, Carroll Buress, 85, of Vineyard Haven, taught classes in model boat sailing in Tiverton, R.I. He has assembled 25 boats for fellow sailors. Seven years ago, he gave a course in building boats at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs.
“I raced big boats for 40 years,” Mr. Buress said. “It brings out the competition you have in yourself.”
Phil Fleischman of Tisbury has captained sailboats as big as 50 feet in length, and sailed as far north as Canada and as far south as the Bahamas. “This is a lot less expensive,” Mr. Fleischman said.
Five captains are 80 years of age or older. The youngest active sailor, Peter Wells of Edgartown, is 61. Mr. Wells is familiar with larger crafts on the water and runs the Chappaquiddick ferry.
“I’ve been sailing since 1996 with the model boats. I have sailed all my life. The thing about sailing these boats is that it is like a vacation from whatever else I am doing. Because you know it takes so much concentration to race. I found that you are doing so much eye and hand coordination, and all this listening to other sailors talk. By the time I’ve been racing for four hours, I cannot put a sentence together. It so intense.”
Another Vineyard model boat organization, The Whippoorwill Yacht and Rocket Club, operates out of Aquinnah. It is about 40 years old and the boats sail in a more traditional manner, without radios.
Arthur Gaines, a co-organizer of the Woods Hole Historical Museum Boat Show, said he is looking forward to seeing the Vineyard contingent come over in just a few weeks. Mr. Gaines said racing will take place in Eel Pond and he is expecting 100 sailors with as many as 150 different kinds of model boats on display, everything from the old-fashioned home-made boats with no radio electronics, to more sophisticated, high-tech boats.
For more information about the boat show visit woodsholemuseum.org/woodspages/show.html. Anyone interested in joining the Vineyard group should contact Mr. Provost at 508-693-4245.