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Model boats make a splash at Greenbrier

May 02, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Sporty boats rode curves in the wind, kicking up fishtails of water behind them.

Back on land, men, women and children stood with small boxes in hand, intently pointing antennas toward the vessels and chiding them into obedience.

The boaters -- as they are called -- were competing Saturday in the Radio Controlled Model Boaters Competition at Greenbrier Lake in Greenbrier State Park.

Members of the International Model Power Boat Association race the fiberglass and plywood boats -- ranging in size from 24 to 42 inches -- around a one-sixth of a mile-long oval course on the lake.

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Remote Control Model Boaters of Baltimore sponsors the event at Greenbrier twice a year -- the first weekend in May and the last weekend in September.

Tim Clark of Silver Spring, Md., president of the group, said the boats travel between 70 and 80 mph.

"The boaters need to have skill," Clark said. "They need to learn the theory behind the boats, learn to build them, learn to put the finish on them."

Not to mention learn to operate them. The boats occasionally experience mechanical issues. And running at high speeds in the wind and water while darting around other vessels, they are at risk of crashing or flipping. During many of the roughly 120 heats throughout the day, one or two boats got hung up in the lake.

"We have to send guys out in a retrieval boat to get them," Clark said. "Usually, it's a fuel problem."

Clark said the boats cost anywhere from $300 for a "ready to run" up to $3,000 for upscale models.

Last September, model boaters attended the event from across the East Coast, the Midwest and Canada. Clark said the rainy morning weather was a deterrent to attendance Saturday, with only about 25 people competing in the event.

"We usually have 50 to 80 boaters racing upwards of 200 boats, with a couple hundred spectators," Clark said.

Despite lower than usual attendance, competition director Eric Thompson of Pasadena, Md., said model boaters attended the event from across Maryland as well as from Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware.

Greg and Ann Heffner of Denver, Pa., and their daughter, Christen, 14, all participate in model boat racing. Christen said she remembers standing on a cinder block to see her boat during a race when she was 5 years old. She now is moving from novice into upper classes. When she is not racing herself, she is taking note of motor sizes and hull types.

"Dad's doing the 40 hydro," Christen said to her mother.

Ann Heffner said model boat racing is "good family time."

"This is really a family event. It's fun for all of us to come here, relax and race," Ann said as her husband finished up the race. "Now, I have to go to pit."

Ann Sarrell of Laurel, Md., was camping with her family and friends at Greenbrier. She had been out walking when she heard the din of the race and went to investigate.

"I wanted to see what was going on," she said. "This is pretty cool. I ran back to the campsite to grab everyone else to come and watch."

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