The earliest records we have of organized model yachting date from the middle 1800's in Great Britain. The boats were small, such as the 22" hull illustrated here. We imagine that the early boats sailed in the United States were similar. By the 1860's there were occasional international contests between model yachtsmen in Great Britain and those in the United States. The only documentation we have is from British periodicals, which naturally covered the events there.
The sail plans for these little boats were quite complicated; in fact, the boats could be thought of as working scale models rather than the specialized competition machines they were to become later. This drawing illustrates the sail plan for the hull given ove. It is an example of the "cutter rig" that was popular in full-sized yachts of the time. Owing to the shallow keel and small size of the model, the full rig would be practical only in the kindest of breezes; the lower picture represents what the boat would look like on most days.
These two plans are from a British book by Tyrone Biddle, published in 1879. They are the earliest published plans we have been able to locate. Like many vintage model yacht authors, Biddle documents the practices of a decade or so before his book was published.
This engraving is from approximately the same period, and is one of
the most accurate depictions of boats of that time that we have. It is
well worth clicking on the thumbnail and studying the details of rig and
hull shape. Note in particularthe extreme range of sizes and classes of
Racing from skiffs. Although this picture dates from the early 1920's, the scene could be from forty or more years earlier.
By the late 1880's the sport was in full swing, principally in the New York City area. There were three clubs there, and they formed the first sanctioning body for interclub races in the United States: the Model Yacht Racing Union of North America. This organization died out, and a national group was not formed again until the early 1920s. The boats of this period were sailed from small, one-man skiffs on large bodies of water. The predominant classes were quite large and heavily canvasssed; a typical boat could be six feet in overall length and carry 2200 square inches of sail on a twenty pound displacement hull. Although the boats raced at the same time, the race was actually against the clock; the skippers pursued their models in the skiffs, and a penalty was assessed for each time you touched your boat to adjust its trim or course. Collisions, fouls, and protests were common. The plan is of "Emma," a typical boat of the late 1880s. It is an early boat by the celebrated "Admiral" Walter Many.
Around this time the first specialized ponds for model yachting were beginning to appear in public parks. Two of the earliest were in Central Park, in New York, and Spreckles Lake, in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
The two views above are of the Central Park pond before World War I.
Here's an early picture of sailing in San Francisco. A bit of a mystery surrounds this, as the postcard was postmarked 1911 and Spreckles Lake was not supposed to have been built until 1916; but the path and "rip rap" banks tend to place the photo at Spreckles. Note the length of pole needed to get the boats clear of the rough bank
This is definitely Spreckles, starting a beat from the East end of the lake.
The two boats that sailed for the first International Championship in 1922. On the left, E.A. Bull of the United States and Polka Dot. On the right, W.J. Daniels of Great Britain and Endeavour.
The 1920's and 1930's were marked by the epic international battles of A class boats. The series, though open to all countries, was mainly between Great Britain and the United States. The first race was won by the United States, largely because of the British unfamiliarity with sailing from skiffs. The subsequent races were from side to side of ponds, at which the British designers and skippers excelled; the United States did not win again until 1948, when Bill Bithell's Ranger was triumphant. In 1927, John Black's Bostonia II lost the series by a single point. In his report on the race (published in Yachting Magazine), he accused the German skipper of throwing a race in order to increase the point score of the British boat. A heated exchange of correspondence resulted. John Black was later famous for the Cheerio series of M class boats.
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