Coming of age

Martin Wadhams talks to thedailysail about LDC's support for the foiling RS600

Wednesday March 12th 2008, Author: Toby Heppell, Location: United Kingdom
One of the most talked about boats of the past year or so, certainly in the UK, has been the foiling RS600 or 600ff. One of the big questions from the start of this project was just how involved the builders of the RS600, LDC, would be. At the recent Dinghy Sailing Show that question was answered as the foiling 600 made its debut on the LDC stand. So the company are now fully supporting the boat, but how do the logistics of this new/old design work?

First, a bit of history: foiling kits to make 600s airborne was devised by FullForce, run by foiling Moth builder, Linton Jenkins in Weymouth. “FullForce had recognised from their involvement in the Moths there were a lot of people that had, had a go at foiling but were too big to sail Moths,” explains LDC Managing Director, Martin Wadhams. “So they thought they would develop a foiling boat for a bigger sailor and felt the 600 was the right boat for the job.” How the boat has developed since FullForce settled on the RS600 we have covered previously in articles here and here.

So now LDC has come onboard with the foiler will they be taking over completely from here? “Our relationship is still as a supplier of the RS600 and if someone wants a foiling boat FullForce still fit it out with the add-ons,” Wadhams explains. In theory then the set-up is still much the same as it was previously. If you wanted to sail a foiling 600 before you still had to go to LDC to buy one - or, as many have done, buy a second hand boat. That boat then had to be taken to FullForce to be fitted with the relevant foiling kit. So the support from LDC is not in the technology or even the manufacturing process rather a simple public backing of the project and embracing the boat as a genuine part of the RS range.

If this is the case and LDC do not need to make any large scale manufacturing commitments to the boat, why has there been such a delay in their officially supporting it? “We wanted to understand if the RS600 could really work as a foiling boat before jumping in with both feet,” Wadhams explains. “We do not claim to have a foiling background or to be able to make those decisions ourselves.” In addition to being thoroughly convinced by what they saw of the foiling 600 in the last year or so, the reaction from those out on the water sailing the boats helped them decide to support the class. “I guess the reaction from people has been the same as the Moth sailors who have got involved in foiling, they are just really positive and excited by it,” he confirms.

Despite some boats and foiling kits having been sold, there is still some experimenting going on and several aspects of the class still to be finalised. Specifically, the standard 600 sail has never looked perfect when the boat was foiling at top speed. But as those at the Dinghy Sailing Show will have spotted, the foiling 600 on the RS stand was sporting a snazzy new rig. “There is a little bit more work to do on the new sail,” Wadhams comments. “It has been given a square head as most will have seen at the dinghy show. The cut and the shape of the sail are designed specifically to fit the needs of a foiling boat.” The sail definitely looks better than the old one but there has also been some clever thought about what features of it to keep. Firstly, and most importantly, the new sail fits on the old spars, meaning the expense of an entirely new rig is not added to the conversion cost. The RS600 always had an impressive zipper and mast shortening reefing system that gave it a reasonable second, smaller sail. This option seems like it would be of great use on a foiler - where added sail area just becomes drag at top end speed - and has been kept with the new main as well.

It is not just the sail that is on the list of things to develop though, as the actual 600 hull may well see some modifications in the coming year or so. “It was important to us that the foiling kit worked on a standard 600, so there does not need to be any structural change to the boat at all,” Wadhams explains. Already it has been proved the boats are strong enough for the loads that come with foiling, with no major issues having shown up to date on the boats that have already been converted. “Going forward there will be some extra internal reinforcement in the form of extra laminate in some key areas to ensure the new boats have increased longevity,” Wadhams adds. He further states that these changes to the hull will not affect the speed of a new RS600, just the long term stiffness.

One of the clear advantages we can see for RS in taking on the foiling 600 will be an increase in the numbers of RS600s being sold by the company, not just for foiling purposes. Surely the advent of the foiling 600 might also help breathe new life into the recently diminishing RS600 fleet? “I am sure that some of that will happen. It does make a good all round package. The 600 is still a cracking boat in its own right and it has still got an active circuit and the foiling opportunity is a real bonus,” Wadhams states.

Of course one of things the various RS fleets are best known for in the UK areir the combined circuits and events every year. We wondered whether the foiling 600, being a not-quite RS boat, would become a part of this established circuit. Specifically, it makes sense to sail the RS600 and foiling 600 fleets together, which would have the double advantage of increasing turn-out for what are, effectively, two small fleets with the added possibility of selling the foiler to some of the standard 600 sailors who might have outgrown the class. “I would imagine that they will be involved in the RS circuit, though I imagine they will also be separate to some extent,” Wadhams explains. “I am sure that foiling 600s will be around at some of the big events. For example, we have our big anniversary regatta in March and there will certainly be some there in some shape or form, though perhaps not racing around on the same course as the other boats.”

As is clear from Wadhams’ previous comment on the circuit, with the class still being so relatively new, the plans for the future in terms of location and number of events is still being finalised. “To be fair, numbers are likely to be small at this stage as it is really a coming together year. I should imagine that we will be looking at ten boat fleets for most of the season,” says Wadhams.

There are likely to be around five dates this year. The circuit, however small, looks as though it will be highly competitive this season as a number of top names have bought a 600 with foil pack including Simon Hiscocks, Pete Barton, Andy Rice, Sam Pascoe and many others. “There are people that are household names in British small boat sailing getting them. They are case in point really as many of them would be a little big to sail a Moth. We are certainly not trying to take anything away from the Moth fleet, it just makes it possible for those bigger guys,” Wadhams concludes.

It is very encouraging to see RS putting their support behind the foiling 600. We feel the boat is likely to grow faster now because of it and the standard 600 fleet might even see some benefits. The new sail was definitely something needed. A new boat from RS with the foil kit on it will set you back £9,100; however, second-hand boats are still relatively cheap and as an entry to the foiling world for heavier sailors it represents a bargain route into foiling.

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