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‘Great camaraderie’: Experienced skippers, novices sail model yachts on Harper Lake

Club Member Jim Mariner carries his boat back to the shore after sailing during a Harper Lake Model Yacht Club open sail session in Louisville on June 30. It was Mariner’s first day of sailing at Harper Lake. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
Club Member Jim Mariner carries his boat back to the shore after sailing during a Harper Lake Model Yacht Club open sail session in Louisville on June 30. It was Mariner’s first day of sailing at Harper Lake. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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For a few hours most Saturdays, a handful of skippers carefully steer yachts across Louisville’s Harper Lake.

Though they behave similarly to full size sailboats, the yachts are about 3 feet long — leaving the skippers on the shore controlling the boats through a remote.

Multiple classes of model sail boats participate in a Harper Lake Model Yacht Club open sail session in Louisville on June 30. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The Harper Lake Model Yacht Club has been meeting consistently since 1999, attracting experienced sailors and intrigued bystanders alike.

The club holds regattas on the set course at Harper Lake almost weekly during the April through November season, rotating between the three yacht classes.

Club Commodore Don Verhaeghe said the club aims to get in eight regattas for each sailboat class for the year, and they keep score to hand out trophies at the end of the season.

“It gives people that have an interest in model yachting a group of people to go hang out with and share good times with,” Verhaeghe said about the club, adding, “Louisville rangers come out often on Saturdays and enjoy seeing us sail. It’s very unobtrusive, there’s no noise. On a nice day it’s a peaceful thing for people when they walk by, seeing all these sailboats and no other means of propulsion.”

Verhaeghe joined in 2008 and commutes from Colorado Springs. He said he grew up sailing full-size boats in Michigan, and joined the Harper Lake Model Yacht Club after sailing his father’s model yacht for the first time in 2007.

Club Member Murray Lull checks the radio in his sail boat during a Harper Lake Model Yacht Club open sail session. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

“I decided to buy myself a kit and built it over the winter,” he said. “I was up there October and November while they were still sailing just to get to know the guys. It’s a great group of guys, a lot of great camaraderie.”

The group runs about 25 members right now, about eight fewer than their pre-pandemic roster. Some members seek the club, while others stumble upon it.

“We really encourage people to join when we do coaching. We hand them our transmitter and give them quick instructions and see what they think,” Verhaeghe said. “A few weeks ago a guy came to the club who had just moved here. He said his family gave him a membership to the club as a housewarming gift.”

The club has raced the Thunder Tiger Victoria and the ODOM yachts since its start, two boats that take some time to assemble. The club in 2018 added the Dragon Force 65 to their fleet, a more beginner-friendly option that can be put together in about two hours.

The club members are mostly 60 years old or older, and many are retired. Club Secretary and Treasurer Chuck Drake, 87, joined the club seven years ago.

Club Secretary and Treasurer Chuck Drake steers around other model sail boats during a Harper Lake Model Yacht Club open sail session in Louisville. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

“It’s been a wonderful outlet for me as a retired person,” he said. “It means a lot to me in that respect.”

Drake said he’s built many model airplanes, but never a model yacht. When he first joined other club members helped show him the ropes.

“It was a whole new experience for me, not being a sailor,” he said. “Club members that had been there 10,12 years helped me get the boat set up and tell me what I needed to know and so forth.”

Verhaeghe said those with sailing experience do have a learning curve when translating to model yachts.

“They are definitely similar … It still took me about a year to really get the hang of model yachting,” he said. “On a real boat you can feel what’s happening. Boats respond to wind changes, anything slightly different you can feel it as much as you see it. Model yachts you can only interpret what the boat is doing 50 feet away from you. Without that sensory perception, it’s much more of a challenge.”

Club Member Jim Mariner steers his sail boat around the lake during a Harper Lake Model Yacht Club open sail session. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

In addition to the weekly regattas the club, has an annual Circumnavigate Regatta, where skippers sail around the entirety of Harper Lake, about one mile. This year’s was rescheduled from June 26 to July 17 because of bad weather. Verhaeghe said people come as far away as the Western Slope for it, and he’s expecting a big turnout this year after it was canceled in 2020.

The group also has another invitational in September, the Rocky Mountain Regatta, which is open to anyone with the right class of boat.

The club is always open to new members, and no experience is required. For additional details about the Harper Lake Model Yacht Club or to view the upcoming schedule, visit hlmyc.org.