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Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Down to the Lake in [Tiny] Ships

NEEDHAM

A shady bank of Rosemary Lake became a maritime battleground yesterday for nine skippers from the Needham-based Minuteman Model Yacht Club, who gathered for a noontime regatta during the July 4 festivities.

Hal Robinson, 70, examined the black carbon fiber hull of his U.S. 1 meter yacht, tightening the mesh and polyester sails before floating it into competition. Despite their toy-like appearance, the boats can cost up to $1,500 and miniature yachters take their sport seriously, abiding by the same rules established by the International Sailing Federation.

The wind whorled in all directions, churning the lake waters into choppy waves. Commodore Cliff Martin, who said the club has members that range in age from 12 to 95, yelled out the course the sailboats were required to take around the brightly-colored buoys positioned throughout the lake: Green! Orange! Red!

The race began. The fleet of ships ripped through the waters toward the first buoy. From the bank, the scene looked like a Fitz Hugh Lane painting -- except for the skippers, who manned the boats from the bank with radio transmitters, whose dials and switches moved the rudders and sails like string-less marionettes.

“You guys are just sitting there. I’m going in!” said Robinson, charging his boat through the fleet and risking a 360-degree penalty circle for making contact with another craft. The gamble paid off, and he safely cruised through the other boats.

As a thunderstorm crept up, the race ended without a winner. Putting aside their competitive intensity, the skippers left to celebrate the regatta at their traditional clubhouse: Dunkin’ Donuts in Town Centre.

-- Lauren K. Meade

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