Freesail Yachts

To view freesail racing rules click here.

The SFMYC was established in 1898, long before the invention of radio control models or fiberglass hulls.  The challenge was to build a wooden boat, then carefully balance and adjust it to sail all by itself.  Freesailing was once very popular all over the United States and Europe.  Virtually every large city had a model yacht pond and associated club.  With the advent of radio control, however, freesailing has almost disappeared.  The ponds and model yacht clubs often still exist, but with radio sailors only.  The exception is San Francisco, where the tradition has been kept alive in the SFMYC.  It is the only place in the world where a full season of regularly scheduled freesail racing continues with four different classes of model yachts.  The SFMYC has been working hard to re-establish an interest in freesailing at the San Diego Model Yacht Club with some success.  The SDMYC freesail group has slowly grown to include two A-Class boats, two X boats, one or two M boats, and about five 36R boats.  They don't yet host host any regular season races, but do hold one 36R Invitational Regatta each year.  The SFMYC has also been instrumental in reviving freesail racing in Great Britain, where activity had dwindled to one national regatta in each of the A Class, M Class, and 6-Meter Class per year.  Now, thanks to the US/UK Challenge Cup, instigated by the SFMYC in 2001, the British have over two dozen 36R sailors and run three 36R races plus a national championship each year.

xclass5_thb.jpgFreesail racing is an altogether different sport than RC racing.  To begin with, the boats cannot be controlled well enough to round buoys or to sail in fleets.  Thus freesail races are match races, conducted in a round-robin fashion, each skipper racing one competitor (or sometimes two) at a time.  Finish lines are set up across each end of the lake, and a race consists of one downwind leg and one upwind leg, with time between to reset sails and steering controls for the next leg.  The competition is much more relaxed than RC racing, with time to stroll along lakeside chatting with your opponent while your boats are doing their own thing out on the water.  For - truth be told - the real challenge is not your opponent, but rather it is understanding the wind and how your boat will respond to it.  You are really challenging the lake itself, and the fact that you happen to be sharing the lake with another sailor is only to serve as a measure of who has best read the conditions and set their boat up to respond properly.  It is extremely satisfying when your boat responds as you had anticipated it would.  Even if your boat "chooses" to misbehave, there is still the pleasure of simply watching the yachts sail.  The scene is so beautiful, it is as though you were alive inside an oil painting.  This is not to say that there is no racing excitement in freesailing.  Sometimes the boats diverge widely, but often they stay side by side and may finish only inches apart.

Aside from the manner in which the races are conducted, the other primary difference between freesail racing and RC racing, xclass6_thb.jpgis that freesailing incorporates an intoxicating challenge to the nautical designer and modelmaker.  This is because all four freesail classes in the SFMYC are developmental classes, as distinct from one-design classes.  Within a few limits such as length, draft, weight, or sail area, the builder is free to try out different hull shapes or different types of sails.  Thus, no two boats are alike in the freesail classes.  Fiberglass hulls are allowed, but many of the boats are still made entirely from wood. (It should be noted that the RC classes do include one developmental class, the RX class.  See above.)  Unlike the RC classes, there are no kits or assembled boats available for any of the freesail classes (with one exception, see M-Class, below).  All boats are individually handmade.  Occasionally, used boats are available to purchase.  If you are interested in constructing your own freesail yacht, contact the club’s Freesail Officer (FSO).  He can supply you with the construction rating rules for each class, and show you a sampling of plan sets if you don’t feel ready to try an original design.  Also, note that the club owns several X and M Class yachts, which it makes available as a very inexpensive seasonal lease to members.

There is no national organization in the United States that administers any freesail class.  The SFMYC locally administers its X-Class, Classic-X, and M-Class yachts (as well as the RX-Class).  The Model Yachting Association of Great Britain (MYA) administers the 36R Class.  The International Model Yacht Racing Union (IMYRU) does sanction the M-Class, but its class rules differ in certain important aspects from the M-Class rules adopted by the SFMYC. See the M Class Rating Rules for details.

A major limitation to freesail yachting is that it is only practical to sail on purpose-built ponds that have an accessible edge all the way around, such as our own Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park.  With few exceptions, notably the 36R Class, competition is limited to the SFMYC and Spreckels Lake , since freesailing isn’t done anywhere else.  Another possible limitation for some sailors is that freesailing is a bit more physically demanding than RC sailing.  It requires one to walk up and down the length of the lake a half dozen times, about two miles for a regatta.  After racing, the sailors retire to the clubhouse for a period of socialization and refreshments.

The racing rules for freesail yachts at SFMYC is found here.

On the web, more information about freesail boats can be found in the Vintage Model Yacht Group (UK) and the US Vintage Model Yacht Group Sites.  

All SFMYC freesail races take place on weekends and all start at 1:00 p.m. For the freesail regatta schedule, return to the home page and click on the Sail Squadron Calendar.

36R Class

Click here for a larger picture The SFMYC was founded in 1898 by members sailing 36" yachts.  It was not, however, the same class as the 36R being sailed today.  The 36R Class ("R" for restricted) was established in England in 1929, predating both the X and M classes.  It is a developmental class based on a very simple rule:  if the hull fit into a 36" x 11" x 9" box, anything was legal.  The rule has been amended several times (it is now 37" including a rubber bumper on the bow), but is still essentially wide open, with no weight or sail area limitations.  The class is administered by the Model Yachting Association of Great Britain, where it is known as the 36" Class, and primarily sailed as radio control boats.  See the 36R Class Rating Rules (PDF) for details.

Although older than the X or M classes, the 36R Class is relatively new to the SFMYC.  It wasn't sailed here until 2002.  In 2000, the SFMYC proposed challenging its British counterparts to a race.  The challenge was accepted, and in 2001, the first US/UK Challenge Cup was raced, in England, using M Class yachts. Thereafter, it has become a biannual event, alternately held in the United States and England.  After the first race, however, it was realized that a smaller, more easily transported boat was needed, so the 36R Class was chosen.  Consequently, a crash building  program was undertaken in order to have enough boats in the SFMYC to meet the British here in 2003.  The 36R Class immediately became very popular in the SFMYC and has grown to about 35 boats, including one boat owned by the club which is available for lease to a member.  The US/UK Challenge Cup has also sparked a resurgence of interest in freesailing in Great Britain, with about two dozen boats now supporting 3 season events plus a national championship.  A nascent fleet is also growing in San Diego, where the SDMYC has about five 36Rs.

In keeping with its status as a "suitcase" boat, plus the fact that the clubhouse did not have room for another fleet, no members store 36R yachts in the clubhouse.  The 36R Class races on weekends.  It has six regular season races, plus one Invitational Regatta for nonmembers.  In addition, the SDMYC also hosts one Invitational Regatta.  The 6th US/UK Challenge Cup will be hosted by the SFMYC in 2011, tentatively in early October at Redd's Pond, Marblehead Massachusetts, and at the Reflecting Pool, Washington D.C.  (Now that does sound like fun!)  See the Current Sail Squadron Regatta Schedule for this year's race dates.

M Class

Click here for a larger picture M Class – The 50-800 Marblehead Class was created in 1930 and formally adopted by the Model Yacht Racing Association of America in 1932 and the International Model Yacht Racing Union (IMYRU) in 1937. By the mid-1930s it had grown to be the most popular class in the world.  The basic class rule is 50 inches maximum length and 800 square inches of measured sail area.  It remains the largest freesail class in the SFMYC, with the club and members owning approximately 50 boats.

It is a developmental class, with few restrictions beyond the basic 50-800 rule. With the overall length limited by the class rules, M boats have mostly evolved to have short or no overhangs at the bow and stern.  The class is still recognized by IMYRU. However, the SFMYC fleet has adopted certain draft and displacement limits which have successfully kept the oldest boats competitive with the newest.  Thus SFMYC boats are no longer competitive with modern IMYRU boats, some of which are still sailed in England.  See the M-class rating rules (pdf) for details.  All of the SFMYC M boats are custom built, either with wood or fiberglass hulls (with wooden decks).  However there does exist one manufacturer who will build you (to SFMYC rules) a freesail M Class yacht to your order.  GRP Model Yachts, in Watsonville, California.

Although smaller than the X Class, M boats are still a bit large to be easily transported.  Nearly all of the active fleet of M boats is kept in the SF clubhouse.  The club owns seven M boats which are available for seasonal lease to members very inexpensively.  The M Class races on weekends.  They have a six race regular season, plus one Invitational Regatta open to non-members, plus the Skipper's Cup, a combined X vs M event.  See the Current Sail Squadron Regatta Schedule for race dates.

X Class

Click for a larger picture X Class – The X Class was created in 1939 as an “experimental” class, to allow builders to try out different ideas in yacht design.  It’s overarching rule is a limit of no more than 1,000 square inches of measured sail area, with almost no restrictions as to hull shape, length, materials, or type of rig (although spinnakers are not allowed).  The X Class quickly became very popular all over the United States.  Boats in the San Francisco club date all the way back to 1939, and the class remains popular in the SFMYC.  A few SFMYC rules limiting, among other things, the minimum weight to 22 pounds, and the maximum draft to 15 inches, have successfully restrained development to keep the oldest boats competitive with the newest, but there is still plenty of latitude to interest the amateur naval architect.  Go to the X-CLASS RATING RULES to find the class specifications.

Since the rules do not penalize overall length, X boats typically have graceful overhangsClick here for a larger picture and look beautiful on the water.  They are also the largest and fastest of the freesail classes racing at SFMYC.  X boats generally range from about 66 to 76 inches long and from about 22 to 32 pounds.  While there are a few exceptions with simple rigs, in general X boats are too large to be easily transported and almost all of the active fleet is stored in the clubhouse.  They are taken to the lakeside in wheeled dollies.

SFMYC members own almost 40 X boats.  A number of the yachts belong to the club, and are available for seasonal lease to club members very inexpensively.  The X Class races on weekends.  They have a six race regular season, plus the Skipper's Cup regatta, a combined X vs M event.  See the Current Sail Squadron Regatta Schedule for race dates.