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RS Elite Early Season Report

by Alasdair McLeod 31 Mar 19:44 BST
The RS Elite has become an established class in Norway © Espen Aker

The RS Elite fleet had a stellar year in 2018. Highlights of the season included a highly successful National Championship at the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club, a record entry at Lendy Cowes Week, a hugely enjoyable Southern Area Championship jointly hosted by Sea View and Bembridge Yacht Clubs, a highly competitive Irish National Championship hosted by Carrickfergus Yacht Club and a good attendance for the Princess Caroline Bowl during Burnham Week. In addition, the Elites enjoyed excellent racing in multiclass events such as the Hayling Island Whitsun Regatta and Chichester Harbour Race Week. The class continues to prosper at club level.

2019 Programme

The 2019 programme has some exciting innovations. For the first time the class will hold its UK National Championship outside the UK, as part of the biennial Volvo Laoghaire Regatta. There will also be a new Eastern Area Championship to be held as part of Burnham Week.

At Dun Laoghaire the RS Elite National Championship will, for the first time, be part of a much larger event. The Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta is a biennial event, first held in 2005 and hosted by the Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club, National Yacht Club, Royal Irish Yacht Club, and Royal St George Yacht Club and sailed in Dublin Bay, Ireland. This year the event will be held on 11-14 July and the RS Elites, with an entry that has already exceeded 30 boats, are guaranteed their own race course and starts. Competitors can expect quality racing, a festive atmosphere across the Dun Laoghaire Waterfront and true Irish hospitality from the host clubs.

The Eastern Area Championship is a new event in the RS Elite calendar and will be held on 23-25 August at the beginning of Burnham Week. Racing starts on the Friday before Burnham Week with three windward-leeward races, followed by two races each on Saturday and Sunday sailed over Burnham Week courses with dedicated RS Elite starts. The event follows on from the success of the Princess Caroline Bowl event in last year's Burnham Week and should attract competitors from the East and South Coast fleets.

The remainder of the RS Elite calendar contains the traditional open events: Hayling Island Whitsun Regatta 25-27 May; Strangford Lough Open Series in May and June; the Southern Area Championship at Bembridge Sailing Club 1-2 June; Lendy Cowes Week 10-17 August with a new trophy for the best performance in the first four days and the Tri-Handled Trophy now allocated to the overall winning RS Elite over the week; the Irish National Championship at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club 24-25 August; and open winter series at Strangford Lough (September to November) and Hayling Island (November to December).

International Developments

The Norwegian RS Elite Fleet has been building since 2014 and now has 13 boats racing regularly in Tonsberg where they sail on a sheltered fjord at the entrance to Oslo fjord. Tonsberg Seilforening, one of the larger sailing clubs in Norway, runs Wednesday evening racing, which is the main focus for the RS Elite fleet. Courses are set among the islands of the Faerder national park in conditions that generally provide flat water in 10-15 knots of wind. A joint event between UK and Norwegian RS Elites is long overdue.

Interest in the RS Elite is growing in Italy and the new Italian fleet added a second boat in 2018. Over the winter both boats have been refitting at Manerba del Garda prior to some match racing on Lake Garda. Plans for the 2019 season include open handicap racing on Lake Garda and, in June, at Portofino/Santa Margherita Ligure before travelling to Geneva to race in the Mirabaud Golden Bowl. The Italian RS Elite Sailors are keen for members of the UK fleet to visit them and, given the attractiveness of the venue and the fact that many other UK classes have become accustomed to participating in events at Garda it is only a matter of time before we see an open RS Elite event there.

Across the Atlantic, the RS Elite has become established at the Nonsuch Bay resort in Antigua and, more recently, at the Jumby Bay resort. Whilst these boats are available for use by resort visitors, they are also used for competition. In early 2019 a group of sailors from Salcombe Yacht Club held their biennial invitation regatta in RS Elites at the Nonsuch Bay resort, enjoying a welcome break from the British winter.

Club Fleets in the UK

Hayling Island Sailing Club, the original home of the RS Elite, retains its position as the largest club fleet with 19 boats at the time of writing and the prospect of more in the 2019 season. A major success of 2018 was the introduction of a dry sailing service by the club with the boats launched from the beach by the marine staff using specially designed trolleys, then placed on temporary moorings before and after racing. This has ensured that the sailors can get afloat quickly and return to the clubhouse as soon as possible for post-race drinks and socializing. The scheme has been so successful in maximizing the number of boats racing that the service has now been extended to cover the whole fleet. Club racing at HISC typically consists of Sprint Race Saturdays, Long Course Pennant Weekends in Hayling Bay and Thursday Evening Sundowners, plus the open events and series run from the club.

The Cowes fleet continues to increase in size with new boats joining in 2019 and has become recognised as a Cowes keelboat class, no mean feat given the many long-established alternatives on the Isle of Wight. In 2019 RS Elite sailors will hope to repeat their 2018 success in the Cowes Combined Clubs and Classes Association's Cowes Solent Series and Cowes Keelboat Championship races and in the Island Sailing club's Weekday Evening Series. The Cowes fleet is also gearing up for the National Championship in 2020, to be hosted by the Royal Yacht Squadron. Ambitious targets are being set and the event organisers are reaching out to RS Elite sailors from outside the UK in their determination to add an international dimension to the event. Most RS Elites are dry sailed from the Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club, although berthing in Shepards Wharf Marina or a main harbour swinging mooring are also available.

On the East Coast the RS Elite fleet at Burnham-on Crouch has been going from strength to strength over the last two years and now has the potential of eight boats on the water. The river Crouch, although sometimes difficult for windward-leeward courses, offers challenging sailing and lovely scenery whilst the Royal Burnham Yacht club provides a lively social scene. In addition to hosting the Eastern Area Championship in August the fleet has a full social and racing calendar for 2019 with races on Wednesday evening and both Saturday and Sunday on weekends. It is worth mentioning that the last race of 2018 saw gusts of 30-35 mph and boat speeds of up to 17 knots. The RS Elites with their built-in buoyancy dealt well with the conditions whilst one of the Dragon fleet sank.

In Northern Ireland most RS Elites are based in Belfast Lough and Strangford Lough. In Belfast Lough the RS Elites are sailed from the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club which has the largest club racing fleet and the Royal Ulster Yacht Club, which hosts the 2019 Irish National Championship. In Strangford Lough the fleet is based in the Strangford Lough Yacht Club in Killinchy. Racing is on Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Each year Strangford Lough hosts a Narrows Series with hundreds of boats racing in the famous tides and eddies in the narrows at the lough entrance and SLYC hosts its own Frostie Series at the end of the season.

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