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Interview with RS800 Chairman Chris Feibusch as class allows boom sheeting

by Mark Jardine 21 Feb 2017 07:06 GMT 21 February 2017
Peter Barton & Chris Feibush winning the 2015 RS800 Southern Championship at Parkstone © David Harding / www.sailingscenes.com

We spoke to Chris Feibusch, Chairman of the RS800 Class Association, about the recent vote to allow off the boom sheeting, his long-time association with the class, and where the class is now heading and who it is hoping to attract.

Mark Jardine: How did you first get involved with the RS800 class?

Chris Feibusch: Back in the day I was working at Holt (Holt Allen as it was then) with the likes of Chips Howarth and Zeb Elliott and the company was heavily involved in the original fit-out of the RS800 and also produced the original rig, a combination of a sourced carbon tube for the bottom section and a manufactured tapered top tube, assembled by Chris Turner down in Lyme Regis. I was very fortunate to sail the prototype RS800, which actually became the single-handed RS700, and the first production boats and had a little bit of input at that point. I had number 802, which I think was the first full production boat that came out of RMW Marine's yard. Up until that point I'd been sailing the Laser 5000 and Boss for a few years, and Merlins and Lasers before that.

Mark: This was back in 1998/99, and you've had a few years away from the class with family commitments, but you're back into it heavily now with Peter Barton. What is it that drew you back into the class?

Chris: I don't think anything took me away from it to be honest! I've always tried to keep my hand in the class at club level at Hayling, always made myself available as a crew and pitched up at a few championships over the years, especially the ones at Hayling, begging, borrowing and stealing boats. I did a championship at Pwllheli with Jamie Stewart, who was building the boats at the time, and then I think it was around 2010 I was chatting with Paul Bayliss at the London Boat Show, when Paul had got bored of beating everybody in the RS700 and was looking for a new challenge, so we decided to do Garda together that year. We co-owned a boat for a while after until he emigrated to Australia and then Tracey Covell took over the other half, which we sailed together until the end of 2015.

Towards the end of 2012 I picked up the phone to my old friend Pete Barton, who was a buddy from my Youth Squad days when we raced against each other in Lasers 30+ years ago, to see what his plans were and whether I could tempt him back into the class. Pete's Moth sailing was coming to an end as the time commitment was becoming too much with his young family and so the timing was perfect and that's worked out really well. Pete's great to sail with and so I'm really enjoying it.

Mark: The RS800, while being a One Design class with single manufacturer sails, has gone through a number of changes, including the sail plan change in 2013. What's behind the thinking in making these changes?

Chris: Going back a little further than that, the first major change was the new deck layout. In the mid-2000s we were attracting some high profile sailors who had sailed boats like 49ers and they, and a number of others, pushed for a cleaner deck to allow the helm and crew to run though the tacks and gybes without restriction. The class looked at that very carefully, developed a new deck mould, keeping the all-up weight the same so that there was no performance gain, and the change has been very successful and popular.

Then in 2012/13 the class looked at itself again in the context of what was happening with the development of other skiff classes around the world, and the new sail plan was conceived. It was a cosmetic change really, designed to make the boat look better and more appealing, not really to improve performance; changing the thread colour to black to look more racy and the square top mainsail design.

Mark: The latest change, with the vote being passed with 89% voting in favour, sees the class allowing off the boom main sheeting. Do you think this is going to attract more people to the class?

Chris: Yes. That's the main motivation for making the change. The 800 is such a fantastic boat, offering unrivalled bang for buck and 17 years after it was originally designed it's still delivering. It's working for a broad range of crew ability and sizes, with male, female and mixed teams - it really is all things to all people in high performance sailing. But, in those 17 years things have moved on in the skiff world. At that time the only boats that were comparable were boats like the Laser 4000, Laser 5000, Boss and International 14, with the 18ft Skiff at the extreme end of the scale. The 18ft Skiff at that point was pretty much the only boat where the helm wasn't playing the mainsheet, which was slightly unconventional to us sailors in the northern hemisphere. Around that time the 49er had appeared on the scene with the same configuration and subsequently the International 14s adopted crew-sheeting.

Then the 29er arrived and so now we have a whole generation of young sailors coming through the ranks sailing high-performance skiffs with the crew taking the mainsheet. These sailors are inevitably and naturally the next-generation 800 sailors and making these small changes, without deviating from the original one-design ethos, continue to make the class relevant and I think this change opens it up to a far broader range of sailors looking to join the class, and that was the whole reason for allowing the alternative boom sheeting configuration.

Mark: You mentioned the Laser 4000s and 5000s which brought weight-equalisation along, which is also used in the RS800s. Do you think that also increases the range of sailors who can race the boat?

Chris: Absolutely. The weight equalisation in the 800 really works; if you look at the variations in the sizes and shapes of the people who have been competitive over the years you'll see it's proved itself without doubt and that has to broaden the appeal. Certain classes definitely favour sailors with certain height and weight attributes and other sailors just have to accept that without those attributes they will be less competitive in certain conditions; in the 800 that simply isn't the case.

Mark: Internationally, the events for example at venues like Lake Garda have in the past been a bit of a 'Brits on tour' regatta. How are the RS800s trying to increase international participation and helping fleets abroad to grow?

Chris: A couple of years ago the class took a long, hard look at this. Over the years we've attracted a small number of sailors from continental Europe; we have sailors from Italy, Sweden, Holland, Hungary, Germany and France, but no big fleets in any of those countries. The boats that RS have developed over the years have achieved greater and greater international success, right the way from the small feeder classes such as the Fevas up to the RS500 which has proved more popular internationally than in the UK.

The 500 is an obvious feeder class to the 800 and some of the international RS dealers and reps have identified it as a natural step up and we're trying to cater for those people by subtly tweaking the way the racing circuits are arranged. We now have a very well defined Euro Cup circuit, with a small number of events to qualify, and we really want that to grow organically.

Mark: With your own sailing, you've recently won the Starcross Steamer with Peter Barton in the RS800. What events do plan to compete in this year?

Chris: Yes, that event certainly blew some cobwebs away! I'm planning to do the complete UK circuit, taking in some of the European events as well, though not all with Pete. I'm quite fortunate that I can helm as well as crew the boat and I've been working hard on that and have learnt a huge amount from sailing with Pete. The major events this year will be the European Championships in Medemblik, Holland in May and the UK Nationals, which we're calling 'Stokestock' at Stokes Bay in September. I'd also like to encourage more 800 sailors to take part in more pursuit races and open events, such as the Glyn Charles at Hayling, as the 800 is a great boat to take to those events. It's great fun spending an hour or two overtaking slower boats, but also it's a really good opportunity to showcase the RS800. There's a big audience of people looking at the boats from the outside thinking, "Yeah, I fancy a bit of that myself".

Mark: If people are interested in having a go in an RS800 who should they approach?

Chris: The Class Association is very fortunate that RS have kindly made available a demo boat, which is based at Hayling. If you go to the RS800 website there's a 'Try a boat' button and anyone can come down and have a test sail by arrangement. The boat is easily configured in either conventional sheeting mode or boom sheeting mode, so people can find out what they like - so come and give it a go!

Mark: Many thanks for your time Chris.

Chris: A pleasure, thanks Mark.