Tuesday, November 04, 2014

RS Aero - Capsize Recovery

On Tuesday of our second week at Minorca Sailing I sailed the RS Aero with a 9 rig specifically to test out capsize recovery. I had heard that a number of people who had sailed the Aero in Minorca had had trouble getting back from the water into the boat from the side. And I had also heard from one sailor that the Aero had blown away from him faster than he could swim.

I took out the boat at lunchtime. Minorca Sailing don't have a rescue boat out on the water at that time of day, just one instructor on the shore keeping an eye out for mariners in distress. So I left instructions that I wanted to do some deliberate capsizes and recoveries and that I didn't need any rescuing unless I was in the water for at least 10 minutes.

It was about 6-8 knots with the occasional gust of 12 so I sailed around for a while and did some ugly tacks and gybes trying to capsize it but the damn thing wouldn't go over. In the end I forced it into a deliberate broach. As the mast hit the water I tried to do a dry capsize but got my foot caught in something as I tried to climb up to the high side, so I dropped into the water thinking that I needed to test what happens if I did fall out of the boat anyway, because even if I did manage to learn how to do a dry capsize I can't guarantee I won't ever end up in the water.

I swam round to the daggerboard and pulled the boat upright. That part seemed a little easier than a Laser. (Important note - the Aero at Minorca Sailing had a mast head float fitted (as do pretty much all the boats there except Lasers) so I wasn't able to test the tendency of the boat to turn turtle or not.

As I was warned by one of the instructors, it was not easy for a heavy person like me to get in over the side of the boat. This pre-production boat did not have grab rails so the only thing to grab was the hiking strap and every time I tried to pull my weight into the boat using that the boat capsized again on top of me. I tried and failed three times. Please note that I weigh 190lbs but have never had this problem before with Lasers or Sunfish.

As I was swimming around the boat to the daggerboard one time I momentarily lost contact with the boat and it started being blown downwind away from me. The boat was on it side and the boom was high in the air so the sail was helping to push it downwind too. I think the only thing that saved me was that the masthead float was acting like a sea anchor and by swimming hard I managed to catch the float and then work my way down the mast to the boat itself. Without that float I don't think I would ever have been able to catch the boat, and this was only in lightish winds. Goodness knows how fast the boat would sail away on its own in 20 knots. I guess this is one of the consequences of the boat being so light.

After three failed attempts to get in over the side of the boat I decided to try Plan B - climb in over the transom. This wasn't as easy as it might have been because although the Aero looks like an open transom boat it isn't really. It has those funny little honeycomb contraptions that hold the drain flaps so you have to pull yourself in over one of those. But by grabbing the back of the hiking strap and pulling hard I managed to drag myself in over one of the honeycomb gizmos. I was worrying I might break the honeycomb gizmo or detach it from the hull. I didn't do any damage this time (but more on this design feature in a later post.)

Rear view of RS Aero showing 
the "honeycomb contraptions" which support the drain flaps 

So I didn't cheat the nursing home this time, but I think my inability to get in over the side of the boat and the speed with which the boat blew away from me in even light winds are serious questions I need to consider before deciding whether to buy one.

Bottom line is that I strongly recommend that anyone having a demo in an Aero should try out capsize recoveries. Maybe you will have a better experience than I did. Sailors who are lighter than me or more agile than me may not have the same problem. Also I understand that the production boats have grab rails so that may make re-entering the boat somewhat easier.

Photo from RS Sailing Facebook page 
showing grab rail on production RS Aero


Bruce Taylor said...

Cool, sounds like my kind of boat. I can make gains on the lard arses in some breeze because they will be swimming for longer!

R1 said...

The first rule taught to youngsters at our club is "Stay with the boat". How can we teach the Aero to "Stay with the helm"?

Tie the end of the mainsheet around your ankle? Or do you, like me, spend too much time untangling legs from sheet in the Laser for fear of getting stuck under the water in the event of a death roll?

Tillerman said...

Good point R1. I have been preaching for years on this blog such messages as "stay with the boat" and "hang on to the mainsheet" and "don't sail a boat you can't get back into without aid."

I don't like the idea of tying myself to the boat. Just have this irrational fear that something will get tangled at a critical time and be more dangerous than losing the boat.

Maybe there are some techniques I didn't try that would have worked better.

Tillerman said...

Bruce - you have a point. I am probably going to write a post soon on that whole question about whether this is a boat that will be more popular with "lard arses" or "the little people."

R1 said...

Surely "lardy" and "little" people need only select the correct rig. I meant to ask which rig you had on during your report on sailing it in strong winds (I don't think you stated). And now I've asked it against the wrong post.

Maybe RS will sell transom steps as an Aero accessory.

Tillerman said...

You are correct R1. One of the attractions of the Aero (and the Laser) is that there are 3 rigs to accommodate a wide range of body weights. And I hope the Aero is successful with men of my size. But there are one or two other design factors and some marketing messages that make me think that it may be a boat that sells very well with younger teenagers and women as well, perhaps much more so than the Laser ever has.

I sailed with the 7 rig on two days - my first sail in 10-14 knots and the day when it was stronger 17-21 knots; and with the 9 rig on two days - the light wind 6-8 knot day and the day I tried doing the capsize recovery. I don't think I would have wanted a bigger rig than the 7 in 17-21 knots, and I don't think I would have wanted a smaller rig than the 9 on the light wind day.

George A said...

The hulls of Classic Moths, at least the better ones, come in at 75 lbs which is only a tad more than the Aero. A Moth design like the Mistral (deep v hull with lots of rocker, narrow waterlines and max allowed beam) tends to flip often, especially when the skipper is going up the learning curve. A Mistral with wood spars will quickly drift away with the breeze, while boats with unsealed carbon or metal spars quickly turtle if the skipper isn't Johnny on the spot. And yes, the boats with decks which are at the maximum width permitted by our rules (5 feet) require quite a reach to grab a center cockpit hiking strap. A better solution (easier to grab) is to have a pair of hiking straps which are anchored to a common point at the aft end of the cockpit and then splay out in a V as they go forward, to separate anchoring points. This config. brings the forward ends of the straps within easy reach for most skippers. Finger grips like those in the photo of the production Aero above, may be a mixed blessing--on the plus side they do provide a grip to get back into the boat but on the minus side they may snag the padding in your hiking britches as you move your butt in and out of the boat during gusty races. Yes again, your observation about how a light hull is prone to capsize to windward as one attempts to remount is commonly observed with Classic Moths. Sometimes grabbing the sheet and getting a tiny bit of pressure on the rig can help with a well timed lunge back into the boat. Going into serial capsize mode can be both very exhausting as well as costly in terms of your place in the race. Like most skills, practice does lead to improvement.

Tillerman said...

Thanks George. I was thinking afterwards that there might have been a way to get back in over the side by getting the boat sideways to the wind and pulling the sheet in until pressure on the sail could balance my weight. Maybe I will get a chance to try this when I finally get my US demo of the Aero.

I am not sure also how much the grab rails will help me. I don't think I ever use them on my Laser during a capsize drill. Could I actually get my fingertips underneath the far grab rail and use that grip to pull my weight in? Again, something I will be able to test when I get a demo on a production Aero.

Tweezerman said...

The International Canoes found the same problem occurred when they radically reduced the sailing weight - the boats became much harder to recover from a capsize. (this is not first hand experience but in talking to some of the sailors in the new IC's). It seems the hull is much more livelier when trying to get back into the boat from the water, i.e. it seems to want to roll back over top of the skipper as he/she is climbing back in. Of course the IC's also went narrower in their new program and this may be another factor.

Anonymous said...

This is why masthead floats are a bad idea unless you have close supervision by a safety boat. You often can't catch up with a boat on its side but you can catch an inverted one.

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

RS response from their FB Group:


Tillerman said...

Thanks Riki and James. There are now a number of RS Aero capsize recoveries out there showing people doing capsize recoveries in various ways. It just needs practice I guess!

Post a Comment