This year I finally bought myself a radio controlling sailing boat having wanted one for longer than I can remember, I went for a Dragonforce 65 V.6 an entry level RC yacht. I regularly sail a full sized boat and having made plenty of boats and gliders as a kid was especially curious about sailing an RC scaled down version. I hadn’t had RC models of any kind till now.
Having set it up and working, I realised there were a few things I wish I’d known before embarking on building it which prompted this post.
First off, in addition to a tape measure, make sure you have super glue, a sharp craft knife and ideally two pairs of forceps. I found myself using the forceps to tie small knots. The super glue is essential to prevent the dyneema thread fraying when you cut it. The idea here is to dab a drop of glue onto the thread, wait for it to dry and cut on that spot.
Get used to this, you’ll be doing it a lot. Also, look carefully at how to tie the black bowsies correctly, there is a right way and a wrong way, fortunately the instructions are pretty clear. Before handling the sails, cut your fingernails as it’s easy to dent them.
Make sure you’re familiar some some basic knots, at a minimum:
- slip knot that won’t undo itself, see a slip knot
- a knot for making a non slip loop at the end of a line such as a bowline
- a knot for adding a loop to a line e.g. farmer’s loop, also known as a alpine butterfly knot
Rig set up
Out of the box, the stand is quickly assembled and there isn’t a whole lot to do with the hull which is easily and quickly assembled which takes us to the rig.
Setting up the rig is a bit fiddly but once set up, nearly all rig adjustments will be made by moving the tensioning bowsies which is quick and easy. This post should also help prevent you making some of the mistakes I made.
I think the most important thing before putting the rig together is to set the mast step correctly. The mast step position alters the vertical angle of the mast, this is called mast rake. The mast can be raked foreward and back.
I noticed in my first sailing sessions that in stronger winds or gusts the boat tended to round up into the wind, rather than just heel over and continue on its course. Moving the mast forward improved this and I now have it set on the first graduation towards the bow off centre.
There is another reason for having the mast step set further forward during rig set up and that is because it makes tensioning the forestay much easier later on.
In the image on the left, if I needed to rake the mast forward, the gap at A wouldn’t leave enough play to allow further forestay tensioning. B might be ok. Redoing the forestay and jib halyard bowsies to get rig tension would be a pain.
Continuing the theme, it’s also important to get the jib boom as low a possible. In the picture on the below, the boom is a too high, that could make tensioning the jib difficult.
The image below shows the boom better attached, the line is attached to the boom using a fishing line slip knot and hooked around the half eyelet with a farmer’s loop knot. A small drop of superglue on the knots is still a good idea to help prevent them slipping. The loop below has slipped and will need redoing.
Using a metal swivel to fix boom to eyelet could work, but might break class rules if you intend to race. If I did need to rake the mast back, raising the jib boom would still be easier than reattaching forestay and jib halyard with more play.
You could even have two attachment lines permanently tied to the boom, one for a low boom position one for a higher boom position. Or with some nifty knot work, even two loops on one line.
There are other places where it’s important to get dyneema lengths and bowsies right. The picture below shows the downhaul tensioning bowsie for tensioning the main sail luff. The luff is the leading edge of the sail. In this picture below the bowsie is set correctly and the downhaul will be easy to tighten.
Make sure the sail is tied to the mast boom as close to the top as possible, in the picture below, this gap could be smaller. If this gap is too large, it becomes impossible to tension the luff with the downhaul bowsie (see above).
Once the rig is correctly set up, a nice design feature of the Dragonforce 65 becomes apparent which is that the whole rig can be removed from the boat very quickly by unhooking it in four places.
Smaller and larger sets of sails are available for the Dragonforce 65 for sailing in different wind strengths and the boat comes with an A set. For lighter winds there’s an A+ set and B and C sets for increasingly stronger winds. Rig suppliers are listed below.
All optional of course, I’ll be sticking with the A set. Keen racers will no doubt have rigs with different sail sizes ready to go.
When constructing the mast make sure you glue the top and bottom parts together, C on the left. The mast won’t be straight under pressure if you don’t glue it.
As on a real boat, the rig is very adjustable; there is a downhaul to adjust main luff tension, a halyard for jib luff tension, adjusters for forestay and backstay tension and jib leech and main leech tension can be adjusted via a jib leech tensioning line and fully functioning vang respectively. Both jib and main also have simple adjustable outhauls for altering sail depth.
The mast rake setting will affect the lengths of the forestay and backstay, bear this in mind as you read tuning guides for the boat. If a tuning guide suggests fore/backstay measurements in conjunction with the mast rake setting, then this should be fine.
The instruction booklet provides a good guide to get you going.
Top tip! Correct positioning of the jib boom is essential to make the boat tack firmly (tacking is changing direction into the wind), and can make a big difference to boat control. Simply move the jib boom back and don’t extend the counter weight.
This is the bit I knew least about not having owned an RC model previously but it’s all quite straightforward. There is a servo for the rudder and a servo for the winch which adjusts the sheeting of the jib and main. Sheeting is about pulling the sails in or letting it out.
The pictures below show the electrics tray with servos and batteries. Note how the coloured cables are connected, this is hard to determine from the greyscale instructions sheet.
It is possible to put the batteries further up into the hull near the mast and keel housing which would alter the trim of the boat moving weight further forward. I haven’t experimented with this but will try it as it should improve boat balance.
Water can get inside the hull and I wrap the batteries in cling film before putting them into the housing to keep them dry. I also put some tissue paper inside the hull to mop up odd drops. There are boat ‘mods’ that aim to prevent water ingress, more on that below.
It’s probably a good idea to get some decent rechargeable batteries such Panasonic Eneloops. You’ll need eight of them, and the transmitter appears to beep when batteries are running low.
Both rudder and winch have a dual rate adjuster screw on the transmitter. The rudder adjuster screw alters the rudder throw range and the winch screw alters the winch range between sheeted in and out.
Don’t have too wide a rudder throw range, e.g. throwing the rudder to 90° will effectively turn it into a brake.
Make sure the rudder is dead centre in its neutral position and use the transmitter rudder trim adjuster button to center it as needed.
Clean the boat with fresh water after use, and dry the hull and sails with a soft cloth paying attention to the sail eyelets and all metal parts.
Also take care not to dent or bend the sails, hard objects including finger nails will damage them. After sailing, remove the deck hatch / seals to air and dry the hull should there be any water ingress. Also release any tension from the sails.
Tuning the Dragonforce 65
Or solving basic sailing issues. There are some great resources on Youtube, see below.
1. The boat won’t track in a straight line
Check mast rake, check that the angles of jib and main sail booms are correct (see the booklet). Check sail depth (outhaul) and leech tension (vang and jib leech line). Check that the rudder has the correct neutral position. Check that the jib boom is attached correctly and not too far forward. Experiment with different mast rake positions and angles for the sails.
If the sails are set correctly and the boat still won’t track straight, likely it’s mast rake; if the boat is bearing away, rake the mast back, if the boat heads up, rake it forward.
2. The boat won’t tack
Check that the jib boom isn’t too far forward, do not extend the jib boom counter balance. If the jib appears to flick across the deck back and forth, it’s too far forward. It could also be that you don’t have enough speed going into the tack, in stronger winds with waves, bear away to gather extra speed and then tack. Does the jib have enough depth in the sail? Is the forestay and jib halyard too tight? If you have tacking problems bring the boat back to you by gybing it around.
3. You can’t get the boat out of irons
Meaning you tack and the boat stops and won’t move. Don’t force the rudder into a far left or right position, you aren’t driving a car. Try pumping the rudder, check your jib boom position (above).
4. The boat won’t respond to the rudder
Assuming electrics and battery are ok, check your rudder throw. Is it moving? Is the rudder stiff or stuck? When heeled over, the boat will be less responsive to rudder steering because as the boat lies flatter, the rudder acts more as a hydroplane. In this situation, sheet out first to level the boat, then steer.
5. The boat is heeled over all the time
The wind strength is too strong. Your options are to use a smaller set of sails, wait for less wind, or try to de-power the rig. To de-power the sails, flatten them by increasing the outhaul, try adjusting the sheeting dual rate adjuster screw on the transmitter to reduce the max sheeted in position.
The closer the booms are to the centreline when sheeted fully in, the better the boat will point (sail closer to the wind) but the more it will heel over. You can sacrifice pointing ability for rudder control and better course direction. Remember, the more the boat heels, the more it also slips sideways.
Experiment with feathering the boat into the wind to get a good balance of forward speed and heel, and experiment with different sailing angles and degrees of sheeting. I’ve had good results with the default A rig even in quite strong winds.
6. The boat won’t go downwind
Assuming rudder and electrics are good it’s likely that there is too much wind and your boat wants to head up. It is perfectly possible to have the boat trimmed so that it will beat (go into the wind) in strong winds but it won’t then come back to you. Either use a smaller set of sails or don’t sail, it’s not worth losing the boat.
The word ‘Mods’ refers to so called modifications, adjustments to improve boat function for example sealing the keel box or fixing the deck eyes with epoxy to strengthen them and better waterproof the boat. I haven’t done any mods yet, but there are some resource links below. I’m interested in doing the mods to better waterproof the hull and keel box, and in hindsight those as good and easy mods to do before assembling the boat
The Dragonforce 65 V6 is a good quality product and great value for money. The boat has very good sailing qualities and its relatively small size means it can be put in the car fully assembled, avoiding the hassle of dissembling and reassembling. The transmitter is solid and works well.
The rig is very configurable, easy to tune and comes in a variety of size options. Switching rigs is super quick and easy, parts and sails are easy to find and also relatively inexpensive.
The initial rig set up requires patience and a little time and this is definitely not a simple toy. The boat hull does need to be aired when off the water and the deck seals whilst simple are a bit fiddly, I can imagine ending up simply using tape and eventually doing the deck eye mod as well to prevent water ingress.
The Dragonforce 65 is a hugely popular class of boat which means if you want to race, the chances finding a fleet probably look good and for the money I think it’s an excellent package and a lot of fun.
There are plenty of other boats but these two seem to be well adopted. I quite like the Micro Magic which has a pleasing form, small scale and seems quite simple. My local radio yacht sailing club have these classes which could give you further ideas.
The boat, sails and spares
http://www.radiosailing.co.uk/ , spares
Tips, Tuning and Mods
Sealing the keel trunk and fin
DF65 Rigging and Tunning 1, 2 ,3 Youtube vids