Musings on the RS Aero - by Mark Riddington
There is much excitement in our local clubs about the introduction of the RS Aero and the D-Zero, barely a week passes without someone declaring they have paid the deposit for a new boat. And not just from Laser sailors, other classes are also showing an interest in migrating to the new boat.
Given the interest, I've been keen to try the boat, and managed a very short test sail in a demo boat a couple of weeks back. Thought I'd pen a few thoughts for those considering the Aero.
The boat is of interest to me. By way of background, I've been sailing the RS 300 for a few years now and decided over last winter to try and get fit for the season ahead. I bought a mountain bike, discovered Strava, and have put in good mileage over the first half of the year. The unexpected consequence from the biking has been marginal improvement in fitness, but a definite result in weight loss - down to ~67 kg, not especially a good thing for the 300.
So I've been thinking about getting a boat that is more suited to my weight, and the 7m version of the Aero is a good candidate. Before describing my test sail, I'm going to caveat the findings. I sailed for 25 mins in a consistent f2/3, sailed only upwind/downwind, and used only the 9m rig. This is nowhere near enough time or variation to give a meaningful overall assessment of a boat, but it was enough for me to make some observations on the 300 .vs. Aero performance, which is what I wanted from the test. So to my experience of the Aero:
- All the material I've seen to date about the Aero has focused on how light the boat is. I saw people giving astonished cries of joy as they picked up the hull at the RYA Dinghy Boat Show (I didn't pick it up, there was a queue to try). My test sail was immediately after someone else, and so the boat was already launched. So I can't comment on the weight of the boat, but it did feel sprightly and responsive on the water.
- The kicker is central on a swivel cleat. Thought this was going to be a pain, but the beam of the boat is such that you can just reach in and adjust so no problem. Outhaul and downhaul are led each side to cam cleats and were continuous. Foils looked well finished, nicks to the trailing edges will take some skill to blend in.
- The rig is full carbon and the ease of control adjustment appears to make it very tunable. The sail itself looks a bit drab, but not sure many will attach much significance to the aesthetics.
- Upwind. One of the nicer aspects of the 300 is that it is joy to sail upwind, and given that ~60% of racing is upwind, that is important. I started the test sail thinking that the Aero would never compare, but I was wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by the Aero upwind - it felt balanced, sprightly and reasonably quick. Hiking position and comfort were fine, and a little windward heel worked well. I would be interested in trying the boat in a solid 20 knots in Chichester Harbour wind-against-tide chop, I wonder if the light weight of the boat would count against it in keeping momentum through chop. Roll tacking was easy, although I'd cut the tiller extension down by a few inches to stop it interfering with the falls of the mainsheet (as it stands, I was having to use too much rudder, Steve C would have berated my tacks). Overall though, nice to sail upwind.
- Downwind. So sailing downwind on a run in a f2/3 flat water is never going to be the most exciting experience, especially without a fleet around you. The Aero was easy, stable and responsive, but I wouldn't describe it as fun. The trouble is that I'm comparing it to a 300 (I've never really sailed a Laser). Sailing a 300 downwind in a f3, the boat still feels lively and fun to sail, I didn't really get that feeling with the Aero. My children have started to use the expression 'meh', and that sort of summed up my downwind sailing experience in the Aero. That said, again it would be interesting to try the boat in more wind, maybe it picks up in fun-factor, and I might be doing it an injustice.
- The Aero raced in a club race immediately after the demo, sailed by an ex-300 sailor. It finished 5 mins after the 300 in a 100 minute race, and well in front of the Lasers. The conditions of the race were the sweet spot for the 300, and any sort of conclusion on handicap would be meaningless. But I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the 9m Aero is slower than a 300 and faster than a Laser.
In the ideal world, I'd buy one, and keep the 300 at one club and the Aero at the other. In the real world, where money and spouse-negotiation-for-expenditure is involved, I can only realistically keep one singlehander (especially as I'm in the process of buying a 200 with supercrew Claire, two boats in two months would not go down well). As I sit here writing this, I've made the decision to keep the 300 for the time being - the boat is just fun to sail, has a great fleet both locally and nationally, and unsurpassed camaraderie (the joint chairmen of the class are doing a fantastic job). But I'll certainly be looking for another demo in an Aero in a bit more wind, and can see why so many local sailors have placed an order. They will have great racing as they establish a fleet in Chi Harbour.