Wednesday, March 04, 2015

How to Launch the RS Aero in 5 Easy Steps

I have been following with interest the growth of RS Aero activity in the UK in the last year, and as I don't live in the UK any more it has been mainly via the RS Aero Class Facebook page and other online media. The only direct involvement with the boat that I have had so far was when I had a chance to try it out at Minorca Sailing in October.

The growth in the class in the UK has been impressive in its first year and there are, no doubt, a number of contributing factors, not least of which is that the boat is a well designed fun boat to sail at an attractive price. However it has been the process by which RS Sailing has supported and promoted the introduction of the boat into the UK sailing scene which has particularly impressed me.

Watching the process from afar it seems there have been five keys to success…

1. Demos, demos and more demos. I am probably not hearing about all the demonstrations of the Aero that have been held but it is clear that opportunities have been provided for hundreds of people to have trial sails in the boat at dozens of locations. Some folk may buy a boat like an Aero after seeing it at a boat show or reading about it in a magazine. But most of us want to kick the tires metaphorically speaking, experience it for ourselves, try it out on all points of sail - ideally in different wind strengths - perhaps sail it on our home waters, have an opportunity to ask an expert about technique and rigging and sail controls, check out how easy capsize recoveries are etc. etc. etc.

RS Sailing seem to have been traveling all over England with demo boats, running demo days at a variety of sailing clubs. I am reading between the lines here a bit, but I am guessing that at a typical club a small number of sailors become interested in the Aero, maybe see it at a boat show, perhaps a couple of them place provisional orders, and RS Sailing arrange to come up to the club to do some demos. Again I am guessing, but I suspect these initial Aero enthusiasts talk to all their friends in the club and that a lot of other sailors show up to check out this new little boat on the demo day. It would not be surprising if a few more sailors place orders after trying the boat. So now we half a dozen sailors, maybe, at the club with boats on order, eagerly awaiting delivery.

2. Deliver the boats. There's not much point in drumming up all this interest in the boat if you can't deliver. From what I have been reading, there has been a backlog of RS Aeros orders of several months but RS Sailing have been ramping up production and been steadily delivering RS Aeros to lucky owners all over the UK (and a lot of other parts of the world.) I don't think RS Sailing have published any official sales and production numbers but reliable sources report (meaning I read it somewhere on the Internet) that RS Sailing have taken orders for about 700 Aeros so far, have delivered over 300, and are now manufacturing 15-20 a week, i.e. 750-1000 a year.

Very impressive numbers for a new dinghy these days. Although, to put it in perspective, there have been over 200,000 Laser sold in just over 40 years. So, if RS Sailing think this boat might be as popular as the Laser (and why not?) then I hope they have some idea of how they will increase production to 5,000 a year at some point.

3. Lift-off Days.  This has been the part of the process that has impressed me the most.

How did we get  here?  A small number of sailors at a sailing club put down deposits on a new boat. RS Sailing came out to the club to do some demos and a few more sailors ordered some boats. Over the next few months, half a dozen boats were delivered to sailors at the club. A fleet!

So then RS Sailing come along and organize an RS Aero Lift Off Weekend to launch the new fleet. All the Aero owners at the club participate and maybe one or two sailors from other local clubs who have Aeros show up. RS Sailing bring along a few demo boats. A dozen other sailors from the home club and local clubs hear about the event and show up too. So now you have approaching twenty sailors and eight boats, say, taking part in the Lift Off.

Here, for example, is an account of RS Aero Lift Off Weekend at Chew Valley SC in January. Yes January.
Kicking off with an informative briefing, we ran through the boat; rigging, launching, boat care and design. Whilst the ethos of the Aero is simplicity it remains packed full of small design features that are all there for good reason!  
On to the briefing the sailing side of things; sail controls, technique, boat handling and recovery - describing many Aero specifics where the lightweight 30kg hull and responsive carbon rig may vary from previous classes sailed and an adjustment in techniques may be required, as they would when you change between any two boats.  
We then took to the water and with a simple windward leeward course practiced our modes of sail and boat handling to the whistle! A short break for lunch to de-brief and re-brief, experience Chew’s fantastic hot catering, and we were ready to go again

I bet RS Sailing took a few more orders for RS Aeros after a weekend like this. So the club will now have a fleet of ten to twelve boats in the near future.

4. Regattas, Regattas, Regattas. It always helps a new dinghy to take off if the new owners have regattas where they can go and race against sailors from other clubs, and in the process learn from each other and make new friends.

An RS Aero Winter Series was organized - piggy-backing on the existing GJW Direct SailJuice Winter Series for other dinghy classes. One of the events in the series was designated as the RS Aero Winter Championship and 25 Aeros showed up at Oxford SC for that event.  In all 40 Aero sailors competed in at least one event in the winter series.  It sounds like there was a whole range of wind strengths during the series from nuking to drifting, enabling the UK RS Aero sailors to work out which of the three rigs suited them best in different conditions.

Some days were light...

Some days were windy...

But it all looked like a hell of a lot fun.

I see that other regatta are being planned throughout the year, including a UK National Championship and International Open in Weymouth (home of the sailing in the 2012 Olympics) and another international event in Barcelona, the RS AeroCup:Barcelona Edition.

5. Use of the Interwebs and social media. There is an RS Aero Class Association website which includes, as well as the information you would normally expect, a global map of RS Aero activity and a user forum. And there is an RS Aero Facebook group which has been frequently updated with photos and reports of demos and lift-off days and regattas etc. etc. etc. Both the class website and the Facebook group have helped to get the word out about all the RS Aero activity and to build confidence that the class is growing. I, for one, am much more likely to buy a boat if I am hearing that lots of other sailors are buying that boat and someone is organizing all sorts of events and activities for owners of the boat.

So congratulations to Peter Barton, the RS Aero Class Manager, and to the staff at RS Sailing for making all of the above happen. As a result the RS Aero had a very successful first year in the UK, and I can only assume the second year will be even better. Brilliant!

So, the questions in my mind now are…

Can RS Sailing repeat this success with the RS Aero in North America in 2015?

Do they even want to?

Is the North American market important to RS Sailing?

Does RS Sailing have the production capacity to see the UK success repeated on the same scale in other markets?

Would the same process that was so successful in launching the RS Aero in the UK work in North America?

Or would RS Sailing need to adopt a different approach?

If so, what would it be?


Michael O'Brien said...

We now have six Aero's ordered by folks in Seattle. Mine arrives in 2 weeks and I can't wait.

Tillerman said...

Great news Michael. It sounds like the Seattle fleet is off to a great start. Anybody have news of other fleets in the US with six or more boats on order?

R1 said...

Are other RS fleets well established in the US?

Tillerman said...

Good question R1. Can any of my readers let us know about thriving fleets in the US of other RS classes? I haven't seen any but then it's a big country and I may not be looking in the right places.

George said...

This is a map of most of the RS fleets (it's missing a few). Not just individual boats, but full on fleets for racing and training.

Most popular are:
RS Teras
RS Fevas (obviously, being a worldwide youth race boat)
RS Visions
RS Ventures (14 or so in Bay Area already?)

Also racing fleets of:

There are 100s, 700s, 300s, Vareos and Qubas sprinkled around the rest of the country.

Jay Eveleth said...

An interesting list of questions, Tilllerman, but I think you and the RS folks may be underestimating the really crucial issue. The low weight of the boat is a game changer. I believe that when a boat gets this light, its weight is so low that it does not enter importantly into the equations which determine sailing function. When this feature gets extended to all dinghies and larger boats, the whole sport of sailing changes and gets more exciting and more fun. I would expect that ultralight boats will will dominate the next decade of sailing technology evolution and ultimately even the Olympics. If I had to guess, the next step will be development of lightweight monohulls with hydrofoils so that the performance of the hull can be tuned and trimmed like the sails and rigging.

Jay Eveleth

Tillerman said...

Thanks George. Looks like RS Sailing have had some success already at building fleets of their boats, especially on the west coast.

Jay, you may be right. Of course there are already lightweight monohulls with hydrofoils - the International Moths - for people who want to sail that kind of boat. And they have lighter hulls than the Aero.

Personally, having sailed an RS Aero I'm not convinced that its light weight is literally a "game changer." It's a nice feature and my impression is that the Aero does plane at somewhat lighter winds than a Laser. And of course the light hull weight is a convenience for handling the boat on the land. But an RS Aero sailed by a 200lb man has about the same displacement as a Laser Radial sailed by a 130lb woman. It's still a hiking single hander and racing it, I believe, will be very similar to racing any other hiking planing single handers. It doesn't change the game. It will be the same game only a bit more fun.

Jay Eveleth said...

OK, Tillerman, let's define "game changer". My definition is that almost all events following the game changing event incorporate the change. Thus if almost all dinghy-class boats introduced in the next ten years weigh about half as much as a Laser or Sunfish, etc., the Aero will have been a game changer. Consider the "V" stance in ski jumping, or the flexible pole in pole vaulting. How about a wager of a cup of coffee? Loser buys ten years from now.

Jay Eveleth said...

Tillerman, further to the issue of hydrofoils, check out Dynamic Stability Systems and CF Boatworks. The moth does not really incorporate the idea I had in mind because the hydrofoil is used to raise the boat out of the water rather than to improve the performance of the hull. DSS is on the right track in my view but they don't carry their idea far enough for it to broadly catch on.

hetzeilen said...

The Aero gets introduced in the Netherlands as an innovation during an important boat show:

Let's see if it gets adopted there as fast as in other countries.

Tweezerman said...

Tillerman, I'm sure you have seen the very interesting writeup on the pros and cons when Steve Cockerill of Rooster Sailing trialed both the the RS Aero and the D Zero. He seems to like the twitchier feeling of the more round bilged D Zero.

Tillerman said...

Yes, I saw that Tweezerman.

I had a little chuckle at his difficulty in pulling the vang on in the Aero. Really? I am 67 years old, and I could do it easily. And an even bigger chuckle about his amazement he couldn't find the "stops" on the outhaul and downhaul controls. There are no stops, dude. They are continuous spliced loops.

Thanks for the update hetzellen. Keep us informed about the progress of the RS Aero in the Netherland.

Tillerman said...

Another example of what RS Sailing are doing in the UK to make the boat a success. This announcement just went up on the RS Aero Class Facebook page.

The whirlwind of the Dinghy Show has passed and Spring is definitely here. Time for RS to re-boot their test sail schedule....
Test Sail Date Options;
Wednesday 11th March - Hayling Island Sailing Club
Thursday 12th March - Queen Mary Sailing Club
Friday 13th March - Queen Mary Sailing Club
Saturday 14th March - Queen Mary Sailing Club
Wednesday 18th March - Hayling Island Sailing Club
Thursday 19th March - Queen Mary Sailing Club
Friday 20th March - Queen Mary Sailing Club
Wednesday 25th March - Hayling Island Sailing Club
Friday 27th March - Hayling Island Sailing Club
To book a time slot, please contact:
Simon Letten 01794 526762 or 07432 687818
email -

Queen Mary Sailing Club, TW15 1UA
QMSC, in West London has been an RS test centre for the last few years. The reservoir is centrally located, with good access from the M40, M4, M3 and M25.

Hayling Island Sailing Club, PO11 9SL
HISC is RS's new South Coast option for test sails, with it's beach location - just 15 minutes from the A27 provides the perfect setting for testing any RS.

Book your test sail;
The dates are available by appointment only, allocating an hour for your test sail. RS staff can be on hand to sail with you with prior arrangement and you must bring all your sailing kit and Buoyancy Aid. A safety boat is on hand at all times during your test sail. RS Team member will talk you through the boat before you go afloat to ensure you make the most of it.

Don't forget, you can beat the queue and pre-order a new boat subject to your test sail with a fully refundable deposit. Get in quick in time for summer!

Anonymous said...

Steve Cockerill had the good sense to evaluate both boats on the same day, and in similar conditions. The only other time this has happened, to my knowledge (same day, same conditions) was when 25 sailors evaluated both boats last summer on Grafham Water. On that occasion 23 people voted for the D-Zero and a couple for the Aero, though neither of those 2 purchased. On the other hand there is now a thriving (and growing) fleet of D-Zeros at Grafham Water.

Tillerman said...

The D-Zero does seem to have taken off well in the UK, as has the RS Aero, so it seems that there will be two thriving classes of 21st century lightweight single handers there. They both seem to be excellent little boats and it's good that folks have a choice. Competition will be good for both classes, and maybe they can organize some joint regattas?

I don't think anyone is supplying the D-Zero in the US yet, so it seems that RS Sailing have a clear field to get the Aero established here - at least for the time being. Melges have a new 14ft single hander out in the US too, but it's a lot heavier.

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