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Smooth sailing

Model yacht enthusiasts share their love of the water

Created date

October 12th, 2017
o (JoAnna) Johnson on a pier with her model sailboat, She fell in love with model sailboat racing after moving to Oak Crest from Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Jo (JoAnna) Johnson fell in love with model sailboat racing after moving to Oak Crest from Virginia’s Eastern Shore.


When JoAnna (Jo) Johnson left Virginia’s Eastern Shore for landlocked Parkville, Md., nearly two years ago, she thought her days on the water were behind her. But thanks to Lake Victoria, a one-acre, manmade lake just steps from her new home at Oak Crest, Jo is now navigating the waters (albeit on a smaller scale) as a member of the Blue Heron Yacht Club.  

Organized and run by Oak Crest community members, the Blue Heron Yacht Club races 31-inch Victoria class model sailboats twice a week from May through October. Typically, seven to eight boats compete in each race. This May marked 20 years since the club’s maiden voyage in 1997. 

“We lived on the water and had a fishing boat, but this is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this,” says Jo, who is currently the only female skipper. “I started coming down to the lake last year and helped keep score during the races. After the sailing season was over, somebody asked me if I would like to give [sailing] a try. They put the transmitter in my hand, and I’ve been hooked ever since!” 

In the same boat

The miniature sailboats are powered by the wind and remote controls operate the rudder and sails. Each boat is assigned a sail number and radio frequency and features a ribbon at the masthead (called a tell-tail) to show which direction the wind is blowing. The race course includes three buoys for the boats to navigate around.

“Having never sailed myself, I had to learn a lot about the wind effect,” says Jack Webb, who joined the Blue Heron Yacht Club in summer 2003. “It’s challenging because we don’t use motors. We sail these boats just as you would a regular full-size sailboat. The only difference is the bay has more stable winds; whereas, the winds here at our lake are more erratic. But it’s still a lot of fun.” 

On a whim, just a few months after moving to Oak Crest, Jack bought a used model sailboat from a neighbor. Jack’s son, an experienced skipper of both full-size and model yachts, rebuilt the boat with the exception of the hull. Jack still sails that same boat today.

“The boat is a lot more sophisticated than the skipper sailing it,” jokes Jack. “But I’ve really enjoyed it, and it’s been a wonderful hobby.” 

The club owns a number of boats for people new to the hobby to try their hand before investing in a boat of their own. Regular maintenance by the members is critical to keeping the boats afloat. 

“Over the winter, we make repairs and get together and brush up on instruction,” says Jo. “There are rules to sailing and racing these boats—who has the right of way and that kind of thing. We also go over techniques of sailing into the wind and how to operate the boats.” 

Learning the ropes

Blue Heron Commodore John Kircher began sailing at Oak Crest years before he and his wife moved to the community. 

“We were living in Anne Arundel County and had been on the Oak Crest priority list for about seven years. I knew about the Blue Heron Yacht Club, and I asked if they would teach me how to sail. I made a deal with them that after I moved in I would come back and help others to learn,” says John. “I have enjoyed it immensely. It’s a neat hobby for people who enjoy the water.” 

At the end of each season, a trophy is awarded to the sailor who has won the most races. A second trophy is awarded to the sailor of the year who best exemplified good sportsmanship and helped the advancement of the club. 

For many boating enthusiasts, the Blue Heron Yacht Club is the next best thing to being out on the water.  

“It’s been a great learning experience and very satisfying,” says Jo. “I hope to get better at racing, but either way I’m enjoying myself. It’s not as important to me to win the race as it is to just complete the race and make it across the finish line.”