MicroMagic's in Vuosaari

There's a new area around Vuosaari in Helsinki being developed and they've built a number of channels/ponds close to a park and the golf course. Google map view here.

8 boats, possibly the largest gathering of MicroMagic's so far in Finland, showed up for some friendly racing today. I tried it too for two races. The boat is very light and responsive, and you really have to react to the gusts of wind. At low speed on a beat I found the boat drifting to leeward quite heavily.

The sailing site with buildings, bridges, etc. around meant that the wind was of variable strength and coming from variable directions.

Two boats heeling over while the others wait for wind.

No rescue boat was used, the marks were just pushed out from the bank/bridge with a long pole.

It looks like we will have a number of these boats for next season, and the action probably starts at Model Expo 2008 (like this year), with hopefully a number of regattas through the summer.

Results will probably appear on the Finnish MicroMagic site.

Helsinki Model Expo 2007 - Day 3

Last day at model-expo, my first try at using google video!

First the new Futaba 2.4GHz radios. There are two wheel-model radios already on the market, and I was told two stick-radios (a 3-channel and a 6-channel model) will be in stores very shortly. Priced close to the Spektrum offerings at around 200 eur. Then to the pool for some scale-models. A fast electric racing boat after that, followed by some aerobatics, and some car-racing at the end.

(the noise from the fans was not as bad as it sounds in this video...)Then MicroMagic sailing! We had a lot of fun and a fair bit of spectators for each of our sailing shows, about 15-20 minutes every hour. You can see that the two fans we brought with us don't cover all of the pool, and that the wind speed is quite fast near the fans and lighter downwind. More boats and more fans for next year!

When someone interested came to talk to us it was so easy just to point to the many MicroMagic vendors and say 'there, that's where you get it and it costs around 250eur with everything (boat, radio) included.' This relates to what I wrote earlier, I believe the success of the micromagic largely depends on it being cheap and easily available.

So, for the IOM class to experience continued growth I think it would be a great help if a competitive boat would be mass-produced (in ABS or similar). I know Graham B in the UK and John E in the USA have had some plans... but nothing seems to have materialized yet. Newcomers to our sport don't want to send 1000 or more euros overseas and then wait 3-6 months for a (hand made) boat, they want their new boat now, cheaply, and from the local hobby store.

Thanks to Jari for lending me his MiniDV camera.

Helsinki Model Expo 2007 - Day 2

A long day at Model Expo today...

Our main new attraction for this year was Micro Magic sailing in the pool - and it worked great!

This picture shows a general view of the pool, the marks, and the blowers(the yellow and blue fans at the top of the picture) that created wind for us. The size of the pool was 14x17m and we sailed a windward-leeward course along the diagonal of the pool.

Here the boats are rounding the leeward marks.

Rounding the top mark, with one of the fans in the foreground.

Looking for the stream of quickly moving air on the run.

What can be done better next year? Now we have three boats, but there's certainly room for more. Perhaps up to 6-8 MicroMagics could be sailing at the same time. I'm sure that would please the crowd as there will then always be something to watch and incidents all the time. One or two more fans would not hurt either. The power of the fans was fairly OK with a nice gust towards the top of the course and steady decreasing wind towards the leeward marks. Finally, frequency allocation between us, the motor boats, the car track, and robo-war was a bit of a hassle - bring only 2.4 GHz radios next time!

A general trend across all disciplines in model hobby(cars, boats, airplanes, etc.) seems to be towards smaller, lighter, and cheaper models. New tiny electronics makes it possible to build these models. Here's a plane with a small LiPo cell in the front (I'm told these cells can come from bluetooth headsets or similar), a combined receiver/motor controller in the middle, and two motors in each wing for propulsion/control (people use motors from CD-players, cell-phone vibration alarms etc)

Even the smallest mini servos are too heavy for the lightest models, so people use these more or less home-made coil/magnet actuators. There are two magnets, one on the moving control surface, and one on the stationary part. The stationary magnet attracts the moving magnet and thus centers the control surface. When a current is applied to the coil the control surface can be deflected each way. Weight 0.3g . Brilliant!

More and more devices are showing up on 2.4 GHz. This is a ready-to-fly plane and transmitter from the Kyosho stand. With the electronics becoming cheaper and cheaper all the time I'm sure these things will show up in supermarkets for about 50 eur or so.

There were many heli/airplane simulators hooked up to a computer and a wall-projector. Great fun, and no expensive re-building after each crash. I might actually get one...

Another futuristic looking transmitter from the Kyosho stand. (is it for a simulator?)

One company was showing tiny cnc-lathes and mills. These were from some uknown Asian company. Looks like they are entry-level hobby-cnc stuff: small stepper motors connected to normal threaded screws.

These machines are kind of cute, and may be suitable for making a small number of very small parts in soft materials. I'm afraid that Jari's and my own cnc-hobby (or is it an addiction? 🙂 ) will require something substantially bigger and more expensive for our next machine (think Haas Minimill or similar...)

A nice long-exposure shot of one of many slotcar tracks.

I'm hoping to shoot some sailing videos tomorrow.

Micro Magic

Timo brought along his latest toy, a Micro Magic, to our annual radiosailing winter meeting. This thing really is small compared to a Marblehead or an IOM! It's an all 'plastic-fantastic' ABS moulded boat, but you do have to glue the deck to the hull in this Racing version of the kit. The vitals are LOA=554 mm, Beam=178 mm, Weight=980 g, Height=980 mm.

The fin and rudder are made of ABS plastic, and the bulb is lead. There are different sized bits that can be inserted fore and aft of the fin in the finbox to adjust the position of the fin for different conditions.

An arm-winch controls both sails, the mainsheet on the left side of the boat and the jibsheet on the right. Timo is using a micro-servo for the rudder, but I understand standard sized ones are used too.

There's one central hatch with a rubber seal, but I doubt it's watertight enough to be used without tape on top.

The standard carbon mast is 5 mm in diameter, and comes with two sidestays, but Timo has made some more rigs using 6/4 mm carbon tube and intends to use these rigs without sidestays. A bit surprisingly rule-writers around the world have usually not put an upper limit to the number of rigs, so I understand some skippers have made up to 5 or 6 different rigs! (the smaller ones all fit within the biggest one)

In terms of number of boats/skippers the Micro Magic is a definite success with ca 1000 or more boats registered in both Germany and the Netherlands. It makes you think that the traditional international radio sailing classes (IOM, M, 10R, A) have somehow failed since they have not as far as I know attained similar popularity. Marketing wisdom tells us that this must be because of the five Ps: Product, Place, Price, Packaging, Promotion. (I'm leaving 'Product' last in my ramblings below, since I have the most doubts about this P)

Price: the Micro Magic wins hands down over an IOM or any other international radio sailing class. The whole MicroMagic kit with the tall rig, a basic two channel radio, and everything you need to go sailing costs about the same (300 EUR) as three suits of sails for an IOM. By comparison, I estimate a competitive IOM with three rigs and radio from a commercial builder costs about 2000 EUR. Home building a boat to the same standard and performance is not much cheaper.

So does price really matter? Die-hard radio sailors usually say no: travelling to events, staying in hotels, spending all that leisure time racing etc. constitutes a much bigger investment than the price of the boat. For someone who travels internationally every year and to all big events nationally it probably doesn't matter if the boat costs 500 eur, 1000 eur or 2000 eur. But for the beginner it does matter! I see very few newcomers to competitive IOM racing in Finland - maybe that's because of the high price tag? To really get into the class you need a competitive, watertight, and fully functional secondhand, or almost completely built new boat, and that's going to cost you about 2000 eur...

Place: go to the local hobby store, hand them your credit card, and within 1-2 days you will be on the water sailing this boat. Depending on your country, getting an IOM is either a lot harder or just a bit harder. There are no industrial builders (The Robbe Windstar is not really a competitive IOM), so you can't buy an IOM from a hobby store, and the salesperson in the shop is not likely to even know there exists such a thing as an IOM class. All manufacturers are small, most amateur hobbyists and a handful of professionals, and usually sell boats in kit-form to keep down the cost. In countries where there are no commercial builders the situation is even worse. The seasoned radio-sailors do know the international suppliers, some personally, but a newcomer is quite unlikely to send a big amount of money to an unknown builder in a foreign country (and wait the usual 4-12 weeks delivery time).

Packaging/Promotion: Probably about equal between an IOM and a MicroMagic. Promotion will largely depend on what class your local club sails I guess.

Product: Here's where my doubts are. When moving from a Marblehead (4-5 kg weight, 1.3 m length) down to an IOM, the boat felt very nervous, unstable, and hard to sail in the beginning. An IOM is also definitely harder to trim for neutral balance. This was a move down in length from 1.3 m to 1 m, and in weight from about 4.5-5 kg to 4 kg. I haven't sailed a MicroMagic yet, but we must be talking about a completely different behaviour at 55 cm overall length and < 1 kg displacement.

On the other hand, do skippers want a boat that sails and handles gracefully, like a full-scale boat, or are most skippers just looking for a level playing field where they can have fun racing the boats? If the latter is most important, then there must be a bright future for boats like the MicroMagic. In reality very few people have time to design and build their own boat, so I don't think this argument against industrially produced boats really holds.

All of this seems to indicate smaller and industrially produced is better. But there must also be some kind of scale effect: If I show my IOM to someone on the street I'm sure most people would recognize it as more than a toy, capable of racing in widely varying conditions etc. Show the same people a MicroMagic and they will definitely think 'toy'.

This is an interesting topic, so I'd love to hear some thougs from my readers:

  1. I clearly haven't done my homework well enough, so could someone fill me in on the numbers of boats in the big countries for the various 'industrially' made classes: MicroMagic, RC-Laser, Victoria, etc.
  2. How does the MicroMagic sail in different conditions? preferably from people who have a solid background in Marblehead or IOM racing! How does it compare to an RC-Laser?
  3. If you have some deep thoughts on how to make a radio sailing class really succeed I'm also interested.