Going Global?

We catch up with the RS classes

Friday April 25th 2008, Author: Toby Heppell, Location: United Kingdom
In just over a week sailors from all RS classes will be meeting up in Hayling Island to take part in the RS 14th Anniversary regatta. The regatta takes place every year in Hayling and is a huge get together of RS sailors for sailing and partying in the early part of the UK season.

With RS’ parent company LDC being based in the UK and the RS range being mostly sailed within the confines of the UK, this typically marks the start of a busy season for the company as the year kicks off properly. However, with a number of classes now being taken up overseas this year could well be the last that Managing Director, Martin Wadhams gets a bit of a break over winter.

Perhaps the two classes that have taken off most successfully in the last few years are from the youth range of RSes. The RS Feva in particular has seen some massive expansion and after achieving ISAF-recognised status and holding its first World Championships last season, the boat was awarded ISAF International status at the ISAF Annual Meeting in November. This spreading global presence has led RS to appoint new dealers in both Australasia and North America. “[The Feva] is spreading strongly and the new dealers in that part of the world are quite big steps for us or at least they will be - they are still getting their set-ups underway at the moment,” confirms Wadhams. “They are key sailing areas obviously and ones we were not strongly represented in, in the past.” Clearly the Feva has been changing this and, as well as being given ISAF International status it has been incorporated into the Australian youth program, will feature in their Youth Nationals and has recently been selected as one of the boats for the 2009 junior Olympics, also to be held in Australia.

In addition to the Feva, the newest addition to the RS youth range, the RS Tera, has also been making progress on the global market. The boat represents an effective smaller version of the RS Feva, with a variety of rig combinations. “The Tera [introduced just over a year ago] has got off to a really good start,” Wadhams explains. “Last November it was awarded ISAF recognised status which is a good step so early on. That has been selling across Europe and is now spreading out from there. We believe it has the legs to be a serious class in coming years.”

Although the Feva and the Tera clearly benefited from the ISAF meeting in November, being awarded International and Recognized status respectively, it was not all good news for RS. When ISAF announced it was considering a women’s two person high performance dinghy (women’s skiff) for the Olympic Games, the RS800 had been mooted as a possibility early on. Following an equipment trial in Hyeres in early 2007 the boat was looking strong. However, with the announcement that women’s match racing was to be brought in all possibility of the 800 becoming an Olympic class for 2012 went out the window. “We were very disappointed following November’s decision. We believed and we still believe the 800 would be fantastic for that job,” Wadhams laments.

However, some good has come out of the women’s skiff trial process. RS developed a new cockpit layout which featured more scalloped decks to reflect the fact that nobody sailed the boat in the single trapeze setting. The 800 class as a whole have since adopted this change and boats are now rolling out with the different deck layout. In addition to this, some other changes have been looked at: “After the trials we did do some more work with a more modern looking mainsail and a masthead spinnaker to ramp up the horsepower for the elite sailor and that seemed to go down very well,” Wadhams continues.

With the boat out of the running for the Olympics (for the time being at least) the new rig seems unlikely to see the light of day now. Wadhams explains that with any one design it can be hard to decide how much development to do and they felt the mainsail and spinnaker would be a bit too far, not something the class needs in the current market. “Any change in a one-design boat can feel a little like treading on egg shells,” he adds. “Nearly all successful one-designs have changed over the years in various ways. Even the standard Laser started with wooden foils. The bottom line is that a rig change would be unnecessary. The boat works with males and females able to race together without having to give up the day job and go to the gym. For those people there is no need to increase the horsepower.”

Interestingly it is both the extreme ends of the RS fleet that are helping the company gain a foothold overseas. In addition to the small Feva and Tera, the two RS keelboats are also starting to get picked up around the globe. The K6 in particular is now starting to build momentum in the States, and significantly the New York Yacht Club have now got almost 20 of them. “A properly solid fleet,” as Wadhams comments.

Of course with new fleets comes the possibility of racing overseas, and this year the K6 fleet have already held their first event in the States. “That was fantastic as they did not have to ship any boats, they just sorted a format where people could hop on a plane and go race on Long Island Sound. I gather some of the other halves spent obscene amounts of money in Manhattan while the racing was going on though!” Wadhams confides.

The Elite - a slightly more conservative keelboat designed specifically for Hayling Island SC - is also starting to make sales outside of the UK, with a fleet now in Ireland. RS are also in the late stages of closing a deal for two fleets in the Bahamas which, as Wadhams points out, would make a pretty spectacular venue to visit. The class, in association with RS, is setting up a Grand Slam series this year for the first time. The event will visit three venues with ten or more boats and will be comprised of the Baily Bowl in Dublin, Skandia Cowes Week and the National Championships, run within Burnham Week.

Currently there are no new boats being developed by RS and the company is looking at ensuring all their boats are produced to the highest standard. However, there has been one new addition this year as the company officially gave its support to the foiling RS600 and helped develop a new sail for the class (to read more about this click here). Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the foiling 600 seems to have encouraged a resurgence in the RS600 itself. “The 600 fleet had their biggest open meeting turnout for several years a few weekends ago, despite it being the weekend of snow,” Wadhams enthuses. “It never stopped being a great boat but I think it got seen as being superseded by the asymmetrics and other singlehanders. Putting the boat back in the spotlight must have been good for it. I think there have been some people buying up old boats or digging their boats out from the long grass and remembering how much fun they actually had with them.”

The RS range is fairly vast in the UK and the steps overseas with some boats will, presumably, be emulated by others in years to come. The RS200 for example is somewhat of a phenomenon in the UK, regularly receiving 65+ boats at Open Meetings and over 100 for the National Championships or bigger events. It would seem mad, given this level of success, if the boat was not actively marketed overseas. The impressive uptake of the Musto Skiff shows there is a market for a boat like the RS700 both in Europe and the rest of the world.

RS have traditionally been fairly coy about the potential to push their classes overseas. However, with agents now being put in place around the globe and the junior and keelboat classes already taking off, surely it is only a question of time before it becomes a proper, global brand.

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