Sailing World - - Winget 2019 SW -

As finely crafted, en­joy­able to sail and oth­er­wise per­fect as the RS21 may be, there is one prob­lem. For it to be­come the next pop­u­lar keel­boat, yacht clubs and sailors be­holden to an­cient lo­cal fleets must step up and em­brace change. To­day, there is a bet­ter boat to set the hook deeper into these sailors, and that boat is the RS21. This a club racer first. A one-de­sign sec­ond.

While the RS21 is a high- tol­er­ance one- de­sign keel­boat, its list of po­ten­tial uses is long. It’s ideal for ath­letic match rac­ers and team rac­ers. It’s a week­night beer-can rac­ing ma­chine that comes from the fac­tory fit­ted with all the hard­ware nec­es­sary to switch be­tween asym­met­ric and sym­met­ric spin­nakers. RS Sail­ing pro­motes this 21-footer as a “team boat,” mean­ing ev­ery­one can and will be in­volved in the sail­ing, and they’re right.

There’s el­bow room for a crew of four or five, and the right amount of strings to pull. Jib-tack height is ad­justable dur­ing setup, us­ing a pur­chase sys­tem that’s cov­ered by a Vel­cro flap to pre­vent the spin­naker from snag­ging the forestay turn­buckle. The jib has hanks, and with the cutout fore­deck, a less-than-nim­ble bow­per­son can eas­ily go for­ward with­out fear of fall­ing over­board.

There’s a large re­cessed hatch, and when it’s open, one can be­hold the beauty of the boat’s cored vinylester lam­i­nate. The core ma­te­rial is re­cy­cled plas­tic that pro­vides a no­tice­able amount of panel stiff­ness for its weight. It’s not an ex­ces­sively thick lam­i­nate, Tom Rich says, but it’s solid to the tap test. Should the boat be to­taled in an un­fore­seen dis­as­ter, it can be ground to bits and reused as ma­te­rial for the next boat. A Torqeedo bat­tery is ac­ces­si­ble through the fore­deck hatch, and there’s room to store rolled sails in­side. There’s even a pre-in­stalled through-deck fit­ting for wiring mast-mounted elec­tron­ics.

The Selden car­bon rig (alu­minum boom) is easy to tune from the turn­buck­les, be­tween races, as with other keel­boats. Both the jib and main hal­yard exit from the mast and hook into fine-tune pur­chase sys­tems, which al­lows draft ad­just­ments on the fly and elim­i­nates strug­gles com­mon to horn cleats. The cun­ning­ham and vang are not led out­board, but each is reach­able from the legs-in hike po­si­tion. Jib leads are 2-to-1, with ad­just­ment stops on short trans­verse tracks. All-in-all, the judges say the RS21’S sim­ple front- of- the- boat lay­out won’t in­tim­i­date in­ex­pe­ri­enced crews, but the abil­ity to eas­ily play with sail shape will ap­peal to more ad­vanced tweak­ers.

The judges also agreed on one thing after sev­eral hours of sail­ing in midrange wind con­di­tions: The boat is not dumbed down or too dif­fi­cult. It will re­ward acute aware­ness of weight place­ment, an un­der­stand­ing of what mode is best for the mo­ment and, of course, smooth boathandling. “The bal­ance of the helm is re­ally nice,” Greg Ste­wart says. “It never wants to wipe out, and the [North] sails are good. It’s built well, and I would rec­om­mend it to any­one. I’m scratch­ing my head to come up with any­thing wrong with it.”

For ef­fi­cient boathandling, con­trol lines and sheet an­gles are good, and the cen­ter pod is an un­ex­pected as­set. Crit­ics will pan the fiber­glass struc­ture and its “granny bar” as ugly, but it does serve pur­poses, pri­mar­ily to house the Torqeedo elec­tric out­board when it’s stowed and raised (when stowed, a fiber­glass panel door lies flush to the hull). The pod also al­lows the RS21 to use a split main­sheet so one crewmem­ber can take over from the helms­man. The stain­less-steel grab pro­vides an ex­cel­lent bal­ance point for the helms­man when cross­ing the boat, which se­nior club mem­bers will ap­pre­ci­ate. The youn­gins’, no doubt, will use it to put ex­tra en­ergy into ev­ery roll tack.

Cock­pit er­gonomics are ex­cel­lent for a boat this size. There’s com­fort­able up­right sit­ting against life­lines, with beveled cor­ners in the deck. “It’s got the low free­board, the re­verse bow, the cham­fers for­ward and the chine back aft, so it def­i­nitely has the look of a mod­ern boat,” Ste­wart says. “It’s amaz­ing how stable it is. When we put four guys on one side deck and tried to heel it at the dock it barely moved. I felt that same sta­bil­ity when sail­ing. It feels like a big boat more than it does a dinghy.”

Allen agrees, adding, “I liked it a lot. All the ad­just­ments and ev­ery­thing were handy at the mast, and the back­stay and ev­ery­thing else were nicely led.”

“Up­wind, when the crew weight is in the right spot, it makes a huge dif­fer­ence on the load on the helm,” Allen says. It’s like a Viper in that it has the same feel. But with the RS21, if you’re rac­ing it, you want to be dead flat or have a bit of weather heel. It has a fine groove, and when you’re in it, you know it. Down­wind sail­ing is easy with this thing when the leech-twist profiles match.”

Sail­ing it may be easy, but the true chal­lenge, Rich says, will be sell­ing a $40,000 boat to yacht clubs. “It’s a prob­lem with the de­mo­graph­ics of the clubs them­selves,” he says. “The mem­bers who can af­ford these boats are older, per­haps too old for these types of boats. Is it too sporty or too wet for the 60-year-old mem­ber?”

Per­haps, but it’s right on tar­get for next-gen­er­a­tion mem­bers groomed in per­for­mance boats, so it’s a ques­tion of whether se­nior mem­bers are will­ing to in­vest in the fu­ture of their club fleet by giv­ing younger mem­bers a rea­son to be­long, be­yond the bar, the ball­room or the pool.

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