|Elite Fleet Racer|
ACHIEVING its own class start at the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Series on Loch Fyne with 11 boats, the RS Elite entry has more than doubled since last year. There are high hopes that the class size will double again for next season, but that would almost certainly require further growth from within Scotland and the north of England rather than relying on the majority of the fleet emanating from Belfast Lough as it did this season, writes YL racing editor Andi Robertson.
It has been something of a slow burn success story, the RS Elite, but there are now nearly 90 boats built with fleets in Lymington, Burnham, Falmouth, and Cowes as well as Northern Ireland and Hayling Island which gave birth to the class originally, after the members there agreed to buy an initial order of 12 boats.
A month after the Scottish Series the RS Elite National Championships were due to take place on Belfast Lough attracting around 25 boats. The fact that the nationals are in the north of Britain this season may have effectively diminished the Loch Fyne entry as far as English visitors are concerned, but hopefully the Loch Fyne fleet will comprise more English boats in 2010.
While it raced in the Sportboat class originally, the RS is in fact more of a displacement type keelboat, which automatically sets it apart from the highly successful Laser SB3.
While the SB3 still holds huge appeal to the more sporty, physical types, the RS Elite has a strong appeal to all ages and both sexes. Loads are light, the narrow Phil Morrison designed hull is easily driven, and it boasts a traditional symmetrical spinnaker system.
So who is it appealing to? Well, it is best described as a modern classic. And while the new Etchells has a huge worldwide appeal, the price in excess of £35k is only worth considering if you will be fleet racing in a competitive environment.
And the Dragon, which is where some of the RS Elite owners have moved from, is at least as expensive and has virtually now priced itself out of the domestic club racing market on one level, and become uncompromisingly expensive to campaign internationally.
RS Elite owners on the other hand are arriving from big boats, seeking solace from big bills, crews and the logistics required in even leaving the dock to go racing of an evening.
It’s because the RS Elite is about simplicity, ease of use, close one design racing in an elegant, low maintenance modern glassfibre boat with a powerful, simple all carbon rig.
It has a long slender hull with shallow draft keel. The hull is just over 24ft (7.1m) with a beam of 5ft 8in (1.7m), drawing only 3ft 7in (1.1m), all beautifully built in Malaysia.
Adhering closely to the one design ideal, the foils are encapsulated in glass skins, including the lead keel bulb, so the foil shapes are identical. The keel is moulded on to vertical stainless struts which bolt neatly and directly into the hull flange. There is a sub floor structure to deal with the keel and rig loads.
The long sloping transom and steep almost parallel sides, maximised waterline length and chopped off forefoot are pleasingly reminiscent of the IACC Cup designs, and the boat is designed for excellent upwind speed, finger light control and efficient downwind sailing.
The layout borrows some of the best in modern dinghy thinking. The generous, powerful kite is launched and retrieved on a single line through an excellent chute system moulded into the bow. The mainsheet system has developed since our slightly older generation test boat, supplied by James Peterson of Scottish RS agents JP Watersports, because the mainsheet track systems on the older boats have never been great, with quite a high, upwards sheet load transferred to the track.
The principal power controls are led to the helm/mainsheet’s feet on the boat, but on more modern boats come out to the sidedeck.
It is a strictly no hiking boat. Crews’ knees must stay inside the boat at all times. There is a full length alloy tube kick bar down the centreline of the boat which you hook your feet under. If you are over 2m tall you can probably gain a little leverage, but this is as much for security and all round vision as being able to sit out.
The rig is generous enough, but it was reduced during development to ensure the boat is not at all tender with the shallow draft.
The carbon mast is set on a pivoting heel so that it can be put up by hand with no fancy dollies or purchase systems required.
Swept back spreaders and no backstay means a simple rig which is easily tuned for the conditions via the forestay which is controlled by a cascade system under the foredeck that in turn is controlled from the cockpit.
The non-overlapping jib is self tacking on a single line, which is lead to a 4:1 purchase. There is no crew weight limit, but the class rules specify that it must be sailed by four or less and more than one. Sails were previously by Batt, but more recently they are from Hyde.
We sailed ‘Forth’ from Port Edgar on a perfect sunny day with just a light easterly sea breeze which built to eight or nine knots, so we were able to learn how easily driven the hull was both upwind and down.
We sailed just two up and were always in control in the gentle conditions. The sail handling is much more reminiscent of a dinghy than a 24ft keelboat and it was truly relaxing and enjoyable.
True to form it is light on the helm without being flighty, it can still be a rewarding boat to get the final small percentage out of and sailing close, boat for boat, in one design fleets will test the finer points of tacking and other manoeuvres.
The boat is quick upwind and fairly stiff. It’ll pace or just beat an SB3 upwind, slightly closer winded and much less physical.
The short keel means a wider chord to the foil and that in itself requires a precise technique. The boat tacks beautifully and loses little speed, but it does reward co-ordinated crew work, with careful choreographed speed built to maximise the flow as quickly as possible.
However if you tack from fully sheeted and flip the bow over, it is easy to over steer, so ease onto the new tack, slight dip and sheet on progressively.
It is easy to kill the speed by being too greedy or lazy in the tacks.
But at all times the boat slipped along, keeping her way nicely in the lighter spells, leaving a tidy undisturbed wake and tracking cleanly answering just gentle, small helm movements. But, equally, for those clubs which might have a desire for match racing to prosper, this would be a great boat, much more inspiring, interesting and rewarding than the Sonar which appears to
have taken hold in some places.
Downwind it is equally rewarding. The spinnaker pole is stowed along the boom and is easy to operate. Otherwise it is typical of a conventional symmetrical pole system. Two up, the helm can control the kite through the gybe as the front person does the business. After so many years of asymmetric sailing it was a real pleasure to just be able to dig deep downwind and get pushed along rather than constantly working the angles.
Overall the RS Elite leaves a favourable impression. It’s competitive value against the SB3 at around £17,000. There is no doubt it offers everything it needs to be a great success in the north of Britain, but it will need a core of enthusiasts, just as any one design needs, to push it and spread the word.
For the discerning big boat owner who wants a Wednesday night class to race, then this is undoubtedly one of the best options around.
The 1720 was okay to race in big fleets, but is neither quick downwind nor especially simple and the Elite would be a great direction for those who are now looking for somewhere to go.
But for clubs which have a strong traditional membership such as the ‘Royal’ clubs, Forth, Gourock, Northern, Tay, this would be a great class to adopt and prosper with, and there is always the option to travel in the UK for excellent fleet championship racing. Meantime the boat rates to race under IRC and Sportboat rules.