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Keeping their feet dry while sailing Marsha Seff | Sat, Nov 06 2010 12:00 PM

It's a Saturday morning and 70-year-old Chula Vista resident Ed Sayres and about a half-dozen friends are sitting in lawn chairs on the north shore of the Mission Bay Model Yacht Pond running radio-controlled sailboats, steamboats, tugboats and even submarines.

Sayres built the 53-inch schooner Atlantic, which is tacking across the bay-fed pond, from kits. It's a scale replica of the full-size boat, "But the full-size one doesn't have a pirate flag." It took more than two years for him to complete the boat. "It was thrilling to put it in the water in June."

Sayres' other sailboat is a 40-foot Catalina monohull which he sails about three times a week. "I have just as much fun with both of them," he said.

"You have to feel the (large boat) and feel the wind. You have to kinda watch things on the (radio-control) boat. I watch the flag and see which way the wind is going." With both, he says, "It helps to know how to sail... It's not that hard really."

He's sailed the schooner in Hawaii and Mexico as well as off the coast of San Diego. He says his wife "tolerates" the little boat. "She likes the big one, as long as she takes her seasick medicine. For me, the rougher the better."

The retired mechanical engineer and long-haul truck driver says he's been toying with radio-control models since he was 10. He started with model airplanes, then moved to a hydroplane. That boat was clocked up to 102 mph, he says, adding, "I don't think that fast anymore." Anyway, when the ethanol and oil fuel used to power the hydroplane climbed to $70 a gallon, he says, he switched back to airplanes.

His mini sailboat reaches speeds of up to 5 mph under sail or with the electric motor. "I use the motor only if the wind dies down."

Sayres says he built a steamboat about five years ago in five weeks. "It's fun to run, a lot of tinkering and adjusting. Anyone can run an electric boat."

Members of the Mission Bay Radio Control Scale Boaters range in age from 25 to 81, though most are retirees. "Some of us have a lot of skill; some of us don't. Actually, the skill is in crafting - not running."

The pond, on Vacation Isle just south of Paradise Point Resort and Spa, is used for both sail and power model boats in races and regattas. Members of the Mission Bay Radio Control Scale Boaters meet Saturday from early morning to noon. The sailboaters take over at noon, according to Sayres, who says, "They're very competitive. All they do is argue." The speedboaters show up at the pond on Sunday.

"We can't outrun (the powerboats), but we can outwork them," Sayres says.

He says he likes the camaraderie of sitting at the pond. "And I get out of the house before my wife starts cleaning or I'll have to do it."

Running the boats from his chair isn't much exercise, Sayres admits. "But I get enough exercise during the week with my wife's honey-dos."

According to him, "None of our boats is fast enough for us to be competitive." So the armchair sailors just take the boats in leisurely circles.

"Eighty-one-year-old Ernie Andrew of University Heights is running the Haunted Lady, a fantail launch he built. "It doesn't look like the plans; I customized it," he says, pointing out the two miniature skeletons that are supposed to be riding in the little boat. "Once it sunk out there. I waited 30 days to get it out of the pond."

According to Sayres, "The biggest part (of the hobby) is building the boats and seeing if they work. Running them is relaxing. We just sit here and listen to our arteries harden."

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