Challenger Model Yachts: World-Class Sailing – Wiley Reynolds

Wiley Reynolds has made model yachts since 1992 and customers can't get enough of his intricate working replicas. He discusses the genesis of Challenger Model Yachts, the quality of materials he works with, and the excitement of handling a 9ft-tall sailboat.

Wiley Reynolds has been creating model yachts for nearly two decades, and he still says that the best advert is trying one out for yourself.

"It's like trying to sell the world's first hula hoop, or roller skate," he jokes. "But if you hand the controls over to people they get it straight away."

One owner is UBS – the company bought four yachts to promote the Swiss America's Cup team. The boat makes quite an impression on display, standing 9ft tall on its keel, but it really comes into its own in the water. The radio-controlled Challenger is a gorgeous 57in long, carbon-fibre racing sailboat, which packs into an 11in-high aluminium carrying case just slightly larger than a golf bag.

It is built for ocean sailing conditions but is quite at home in a harbour or city pond. Many owners carry a couple aboard their larger yachts. The boat can go from the case to the water in about ten minutes. Its large size gives it the handling qualities of a true International America's Cup Class yacht.

Childhood fascination

Reynolds himself has boated from the age of eight, when he was growing up in Florida, US. "I always liked to build models, though," he says, "and I was fascinated by the possibility of driving a boat without touching it."

He built his first radio controlled sailboat at the age of 20 with some of the earliest available radio gear. He then became a full-scale aeroplane and helicopter pilot, as well as a model airplane enthusiast. Later, he met businessman Bill Koch in Palm Beach and was invited to sail on his Maxi boat. Koch was the Maxi World Championship winner in 1990. He entered the Americas Cup in 1992 and asked Reynolds to sail with him in one of the races.

Koch won the competition and later decided to sponsor the first ever all-women America's Cup team. In order to raise further funds, he asked the company which made the original America's Cup to make a replica.

"The sterling silver Cup was beautiful, but I thought there should be a model of the boat as well," Reynolds recalls. "So, with the help of their engineers and my technical background I designed a working model." Both the model and Cup were displayed at promotional events.

Racing car quality

Interest flooded in and Reynolds began to build more models. He sourced the hull manufacturing to the same German workshop that makes carbon-fibre parts for BMW and Mercedes rally cars. The hulls are shipped to the US for masts from Texas, machined parts from Colorado and moulded parts from Wisconsin. Many components are titanium, stainless steel or chromed brass and none of the construction is wood.

The boats are easy for a businessperson to understand due to the simple, straightforward design, and they require very little maintenance. The quality of the materials should make the Challenger last for many generations.

Friendship and fun

Model sailboat regattas take place all over the world, but there is a regular meeting for the Challenger Yachts in Gstaad, Switzerland, each winter at the 'Ski Sail Weekend', where many international competitors come to represent their home yacht clubs.

"Racing model sailboats is great fun because it's different every time, and everyone's got the same advantage – the boats are a one-design class so it takes pure skill and a little luck to win," says Reynolds. "On the other hand, if you seek relaxation, just going for a sail is marvellously peaceful. Once the boat's in the water out on a journey, you are in its world. It is a real sailboat, just a small one.

"It is also a wonderful activity to do with your friends, children or grandchildren, and then of course it is not really about the boat, but the companionship."