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An interview with Ryan Schenck on the 2022 RS Aero North American Championship

by David Schmidt 16 May 16:00 BST May 19-22, 2022
RS Aero North American Championships at The Gorge © RS Sailing

The RS Aero arrived on the sailing scene in 2014 and quickly snapped heads thanks to its modern sailplan, its lightweight carbon fiber hull construction, and its three different rig combinations that support sailors of all sizes. Now, almost a decade down the (metaphorical) racetrack, it’s clear that designer Jo Richards' brainchild is the rightful heir to the one-person boat formerly known as the Laser.

While it’s fair to say that countless people, myself proudly included, enjoyed some of the best days of their lives aboard their trusty Lasers, it’s also fair to say that, in many cases (mine also included), the RS Aero didn’t yet exist. If it had, I suspect the grins might have been even wider.

Fast fact: A Laser’s hull weighs 130 pounds. An RS Aero weighs in at 66 pounds.

While the Laser (sorry, “ILCA”) is in no danger of losing popularity anytime soon thanks to its status as Olympic equipment, the RS Aero class has steadily attracted plenty of talented sailors who are seeking a more modern singlehanded One Design dinghy experience.

This year’s RS Aero North American Championship is being hosted by the Davis Island Yacht Club, in Tampa, Florida, from May 19-22, and has attracted sailors in all three classes—RS Aero 5 (seven sailors), RS Aero 7 (16 sailors), and RS Aero 9 (14 sailors)—from across the country (and Canada).

I checked in with Ryan Schenck, co-chair of the 2022 RS Aero North American Championship, via email, to learn more about this exciting One Design regatta.

Can you please tell us a bit about the RS Aero class, its culture and competition levels, and the kinds of sailors that one can expect to encounter at this year’s North Americans?

The RS Aero is broadly defined by its inclusion I would say. You’ll find it welcoming for anyone from youth coming right out of Optis all the way up to individuals who have had very successful Olympic bids.

There are also several people who jumped over from Lasers and Sunfish, or [who] sail in both fleets. You’ll find that there’s stiff competition at the top, but these sailors really try to coach up the rest of the fleet. Everyone has somebody to compete against no matter the skill level.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, are there any notable geographical concentrations to this entry list?

This year we have 38 registrations. We’ve done a lot to attract sponsors for charters to get more underrepresented groups within the class to compete at this year’s NAs.

The great thing about the RS Aero is that it has three different rig sizes, the 5 rig, the 7 rig, and [the] 9 rig. It allows for competition between someone like me pushing 215 pounds and someone much smaller in a 5 rig.

We have people coming from as far as Ontario and California to join us. Most of the RS Aero racers are concentrated in Connecticut, Seattle, California, and the Gulf of Mexico states.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off on Tampa Bay in mid-to-late May? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

So in Tampa Bay area we have pretty consistent breeze throughout the season. We have temperatures in the high 70s to mid 80s, with winds somewhere between 8-12 knots.

Worst-case scenario there could be little breeze during the day, but the predictable sea breeze is very reliable in the afternoons as intensity of the sun wanes creating temperature differentials between the adjacent land and upper Hillsborough Bay. Best-case, we get 12-16, worst case, we are sailing in sea breeze only.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta’s outcome? Can you please explain?

I don’t think that there will be a whole lot of local knowledge that will play into this year‘s regatta. There’s not a large tidal range to really contend with except for in the channel where we won’t be sailing.

Some of the areas directly around Davis Islands can result in some odd wind/land interactions, but these can be determined during the practice races on Thursday. All of this is easy to pick up with one day of practice. Talk to the local sailors, even those that aren’t competing! They are happy to share their knowledge of the area with anyone who asks.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) sailors, what would it be?

The RS Aero is such a fun boat and the competitors that race in the RS Aero fleet are amongst the best individuals in the world. I’d recommend anyone coming from out of town or joining the fleet for the first time strikes up conversation with everyone at the regatta. Ask questions on the water between races. Follow up after racing with people.

This goes without saying for most but is worth stating. Be kind to the race committee and staff at the hosting venue, it can go a long way to making an incredible regatta and ensuring that you have the best time possible while being hosted at Davis Island Yacht Club.

Do you have any entries that you’re eyeing for podium finishes? What about any dark horses who you think could prove to be fast, once the starting guns begin sounding?

This year is an interesting year because we don’t have our world champion sailor Marc Jacobi due to some health issues that he is recovering quickly from. Because of this, there’s also going be a big void at the top that people will be trying to fill.

Personally, I’m most interested in the 5-rig class. In this class we’re going to have some youth and woman sailors that have been very successful in other single-handed classes.

In the 7-rig [class], you have all the usual suspects that will be battling pretty hard for the top-five positions. I think competition is going to come down to Bob Patterson, Ricky Welch, Hank Saurage, and Eugene Schmit based on last year’s results. There could be some underdogs such as Paul Perry, a local sailor who did well for his first time ever in an RS Aero at last year’s NAs, but his lack of time in an RS Aero could hurt him. Three other local sailors that have found themselves in boats, coming from other classes, could be tough competition, such as Emily Wagner (5-rig), Caroline Young (5-rig), and Callen Burnett (youth, 7-rig).

I don’t know too many of the people sailing in the 9-rig [class] this year, but I look forward to getting to know some of them and seeing who comes out on top. There is an even number of sailors in the 7- and 9-rig [classes] this year, which will make for a fun time.

How many races do you and the other organizers hope to score over the course of the regatta? Also, how are you guys managing the racecourse? Traditional racing marks, or will you use some of the new GPS-guided autonomous robotic marks such as MarkSetBots to administer the racecourse?

This year we have our PRO Eric Robbins who will be running our races aided by the wonderful individuals at Davis Island Yacht Club who really eat, sleep, and breathe sailing.

Eric has been working hard to put together the on the water teams to run races. While this question is one for Eric, I think he will try to squeeze three-to-four races over [each of the] three days.

We won’t be using any bots for this event, but maybe if we get enough competitors in the future this might be something to consider.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta’s environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

As organizers, one of the big things that we are focused on is ensuring that we keep our waterways clean for future sailors. We will have daily volunteer teams to ensure that there’s no trash generated from the regatta making their way into Tampa Bay.

Having worked with many of the volunteers that will be out on the water, they will also be collecting any trash from food wrappers or water bottles that they see floating by their boats that inadvertently fall out of PFDs.

The RS Aero class participants care a lot about the environment and ensuring that we can sail in our local bays for generations to come.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

I’d like to give a massive thank you to Salt Pines owner Andrew Smith who has done a tremendous job in helping to secure a charter sponsorship for a youth woman charter. In addition, Salt Pines is sponsoring us with tech shirts this year.

Michael Beard from 81 Bay will be providing local brews for the event, and Richard’s Laser Creations is helping with regatta swag. Andy Keaton is hooking us up with regatta signage.

Without these individuals and their support, it would be a very different regatta.

My partner Rebecca (Becky) Keyser and co-chair Michael Gold have been doing a lot to help with planning. So, a massive thank you to Becky and Michael.

Lastly, I must also thank Davis Island Yacht Club and its community for allowing these regattas and supporting the RS Aero class. I’m very excited for this year’s North American championships.

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