Every Wednesday, a group of hobbyists gather at Sopers Hole to race model sail boats. (Photo: JOEY WALDINGER)

Save for a few sparse chuckles and light-hearted commiserations about how slow their remote-controlled sailboats were moving, the men gathered on the dock at Sopers Hole were as quiet as the air was still. 

They come every Wednesday to race model sailboats, but with the pink sun fading and no wind, they were about to pack up and retreat to a nearby pub for a few beers. 

And then a gust blew in from the east. One of the boats caught the gale, agreed to hold one last race. 

The racers lined up their vessels, someone started a countdown, and then they were off, the men laughing and concentrating as their boats moved silently and slowly through the water. 

The wind soon dissipated, taking along with it any speed the boats were carrying. But no one seemed to mind.  

Racer Simon Wood pulls his boat out of the water after moss gets tangled on its rudder. (Photo: JOEY WALDINGER)
‘Banter is really good’ 

The weekly races are mostly a fun excuse for friends to gather in the middle of the week, said Captain Simon Wood. 

“We’ve known each other for years; the banter is really good,” Mr. Wood said. 

The easy rapport was apparent later as the racers sat at a picnic table outside. The Admiral Pub and explained how they came to adopt the hobby. 

They interrupted each other to add details to a story or ask for a mould they needed for a repair, and dove into tangents about the wind speed at long-ago regattas. 

Though no one could say exactly when or how the weekly races started in the Virgin Islands, they agreed that people were sailing model boats well before Hurricane Irma in 2017. 

The races in Sopers Hole, however, began about two and a half years ago, after Ewout Franse, the owner of EC Yacht Services, bought a boat off one of his friends. 

He created some markers using old buoys and homemade anchors and started sailing with some friends in the harbour, which he chose for its generally quiet marina and consistent breeze, he said. 

Before long, the races became a weekly fixture.  

After a race last month, the wind was so still that Mr. Franse had to collect one of the boats from the water while retrieving the course markers. (Photo: JOEY WALDINGER)

Now, Mr. Wood estimates at least 20 people in the territory own model racing boats, almost all of them Lasers, a model that lends itself to being tweaked and customised. 

Mr. Wood likes to shape his sails using Christmas wrapping paper, he said. 

Most, if not all, of the hobbyists at Sopers Hole were sailors by profession, and while they said the technique to race the model boats is supposed to replicate the real thing, it really doesn’t take much skill. 

“Any old bloke can do it,”said Richard Wooldrige. 

And the barrier to entry is minimal, according to the racers. 

A remote-control Laser can be purchased online for about $300, and it requires minimal upkeep. However, occasional issues with the electrical wiring can make it hard to control the rudder, and it’s not always easy to figure out why, explained Henry Leonig, director of HorizonYacht Charters. 

But Mr. Wood said the trick is to always keep a set of spare parts on hand. 

For the most part, however, all one needs to do is spray down the joints with anti-corrosion solution after every race, Mr.Wood said. 

“If you don’t do that, you’re gonna be in trouble,” Mr. Leonig agreed. 

The sailors have an easy camaraderie that breeds easy laughter and banter whether the races are exciting or not. (Photo: JOEY WALDINGER)