A Simple Version of Sailing I Didn’t Know I Missed
My name is George Yioulos, and I own a company called West Coast Sailing in the United States. Our company has made its name selling dinghies around the world since 2005. We started in Lasers, added skiffs and catamarans, dabbled in foiling boats, and have worked with all the most popular small sailboats. Our staff has continued to grow, and we now have some serious keelboat sailors on our team of 15. They are pushing hard for us to get into keelboats and sport boats - both the boats themselves, as well as all the products that go along with them.
This is how I found myself in the UK on a glorious spring day in late May. I had been here twice before for the very successful launch of two RS models (the Aero and Quest) and paid my own way once again to see a much different beast.
I spent the afternoon playing around on the new RS 21, a full keelboat unveiled to the public only 2 months prior.
One thing I’ve learned with ‘launches’ of boats is that the internet loves a snazzy new product. Forums and social media buzz right after a launch, asking “is this model going to change the face of sailing forever?” Regardless of whether or not you think sailing needs this change, there are strong opinions out there, in my experience, the internet is often flush with misinformation. The best way to understand a boat is to talk to the designer, understand their vision, and then, you know, sail it.
After rigging, motoring, sailing and packing up the 21, it was very different from what I expected. I’ll go through the why and what this means based on my experience.
Finally, to get it out of the way, no, I don’t think the 21 is going after boats like the J/70 or Viper. I personally don’t really see it as another competing sportboat in a crowded market.
If not a competitor to established sportboats, what is it?
It’s a small, cutting-edge keelboat that is designed to execute a sailing mission really well. A completely modern boat for teaching sailing, club racing and for individuals who want to go fast, without the same fuss or cost of older, more complex boats. That’s it.
I will attempt to review the RS 21 based on that mission, with an in-depth look at the setup, systems, upwind and downwind performance, comfort, and logistics.
Setup & Deck Layout
RS 21 is super simple. That’s crystal clear when you first walk up to it.
A carbon mast with one set of spreaders. Wide open cockpit. Design and sight lines that are ergonomic and open. This boat is the brainchild of a team of designers and technical folks who have built a lot of boats together. You see the attention to detail in how well integrated and simple the systems are.
The rudder is hung on two gudgeons. Our boat had two pintles matching, but I am told the next boats will have a single rudder pin that fits through both gudgeons.
For storage, sails all fit in their bags in the front hatch. They hit a bulkhead when you slide them in, so you have to angle them just right, which is annoying, but I think RS is going to change that slightly to give more room. The spin bag has a bunch of pockets. Not sure if they will hold up to 5 years of abuse, but time will tell. Docklines fit comfortably in the aft hatch
I didn’t time how long it took from the dock to the channel but expect a faster turnaround time due to the lack of engine fuss and a simplistic deck. No winches or handles. The jib tack is fitted to a custom bow piece, and while I wish someone would design a clew attachment that didn’t require outhaul and velcro strap every damn time, here we are. Overall very impressed with the efficiency of getting the boat set up and underway.
A brief note on the motor. The 21 is available with a Torqueedo electric motor. The drop-down setup is one of the most clever designs I’ve seen. It seamlessly integrates boat and engine. You uncleat a line, push the strut down 2’ till it locks, then you move the throttle. That’s it. It’s child’s play at worst. I still drive a gasoline-powered car, but this sort of simple technology really is impressive. We motored out and back in, a distance of probably 4-5 miles over 4 hours. After that, the battery was still at 78%. It is not completely silent, emitting a bit of a whine which is a bit annoying - but it’s quieter than an outboard, maintenance free and zero work. I can’t imagine going back to a gasoline outboard. Honestly, it’s that good. To ease range anxiety, just bring a second battery pack like you’d bring a jerry can of gas. It’s really simple.
Do note, we didn’t have to put the mast up or down, or raise the keel up to trailer. I can’t imagine either being a showstopper, especially with the carbon mast and integrated keel hoist built in. But, those were things I did not do. Otherwise, setup for sailing is just simple.
The mainsheet system is unique and unlike anything I’ve used before. Basically, it’s a continuous sheet, with a mainsheet cleat forward-facing for the crew and one aft-facing for the driver. This allows skipper or crew to trim the main easily, throughout the boat. What seemed like a gimmick actually was really a nice feature. In heavy air, or with additional crew, there are more ways for everyone to engage with the boat. Yet, it can be sailed as every other boat this size too. Interesting and clever.
The jib trims on a 2:1 system. Jib cars are easy to adjust on about a 10” track. We didn’t play with the track much to adjust jib’s shape, but it is a very simple setup by Selden that is easy and one I haven’t seen before. No metal pin to pull up and slide the car around to find the matching holes. The jib cleats swivel to accommodate for crew moving backward in the boat during planing conditions. I like those little details.
There is a jib cunningham, which I think is overkill in a boat this size, no matter what the design brief. That said, it’s integrated well enough where it’s not annoying. Perhaps useful and warranted in heavy breeze, but it was the main ‘extraneous’ piece of hardware I saw.
We sailed in light breeze and flat water with a knot or so of tidal current. We had the final iteration of the Mylar ‘Race sails’ but the boat is also available with smaller and less expensive dacron.
The helm on the 21 was very light in feel - almost neutral. I am told in medium to heavy breeze, you get more bite out of the blade. As much as I’m used to that, the neutral feel was quite nice here. It makes the boat feel docile, never trying to tell me where to go. It assures confidence for a new driver and/or club racing.
The hull is light and I was surprised it didn’t just bash its way through waves. You need to work it up and down a wave - which I didn’t do at first. It reminded me just a tiny bit of the RS Aero in this regard. You don’t simply beat your way to weather, rather you guide the boat upwind. It is very responsive to the drivers inputs.
Again, in bigger breeze, it’s possible the boat just obliterates waves, especially when heeled and not sailing flat. But, for my time on it, you plan ahead and put the boat in the right spot to get over them best.
RS continues to offer boats with optional symmetrical spinnakers, which continues to amuse me. We’re a pretty big dealer for their boats and I’ve never once had a customer ask for a symmetrical spinnaker instead of an asymmetrical. But, I guess there are people out there…
In the most common asymmetrical setup, two lines operate the spin. A pole launching line and a halyard. The spinnaker launches from a bag right behind the mast, so all that needs to happen is pole out and hoist. It’s a masthead kite (the first prototype was ¾ or so). It’s, uh... pretty big. The lone puff to 8kts or so came when we hoisted and the boat got going right away. Not quite ‘scalded cat’ but after some easy upwind work, the boat loaded up as the kite filled and I was reminded this isn’t an old heavy keelboat. We only got one or two gybes in before we had to douse (thanks tiny English channels), but it was quickly clear that the 21 has some serious pull. I’d love to sail it with 3 or 4 folks in a blow - I think it’s going to move along more than I expected.
The deck was redesigned from the first two pre-production boats. It has built-in kick bars, wider pedestal for feet to push off of and two stainless steel foot holds. I didn’t sail the first two boats, but this seems like a good solution. The hiking pad is thick and well built and the custom stanchions are angled out with spectra running the length. I was sailing in just normal board shorts, no padding, and had no issues with tired thighs or a pained rear afterwards.
The cockpit of the 21’ is wide. Well, it’s hard to explain. The boat is fairly narrow at the beam, but the cockpit uses most of that width. The flare from the cockpit sole up to the gunwales just opens the boat up compared to other 20-22’ boats out there. 4 adults is easy. 5 will work and I am pretty confident you could fit 6 adults in this boat. and there is just more space than you’d expect. When you look at the boat from the dock down, it is immediately obvious what I mean.
Boom height is acceptable. I think some people will wish for 2-3 more inches of height, but it likely wouldn’t change a thing unless it was 1’ higher, so, it seems fine where it is.
There is no cabin, none of that fuss, no attempt to take away from the sailing experience.
While I don’t see it swaying the average sailor, I can see clubs, programs, and new customers being happy to know the 21 is probably the greenest sailboat being made. It’s no angel since almost everything is still petroleum based. However, the 21 is the first boat I have heard of that is built partially out of recycled content. The foam core is made of recycled material, which is cool to see.
A couple of people have commented that the bow looks funny in pictures. I guess beauty is subjective, but I liked it. When you walk up to the boat sitting in the water, it looks racy and ready to go.
I was selfishly hoping that RS would make some killer sport boat, bringing UK design, their heritage and class development to North America. Proving some naysayers wrong while showing others how to do it.
Instead, RS built a boat that is back to basics sailing. Up to date, with the newest technology, but not for the sake of just having technology. They really thought about some details that impact your ability to race, train or just have a lovely day on the water.
You can see people learning to sail on this boat for decades. Comfortably, and not pushing water around like boats designed in the 70s and 80s. Yet also not intimidating like a 2-3 person hiking sportboat that is on the ragged edge of sailing ability in 15+ kts.
I didn’t think I’d like a ‘simple’ boat, and I didn’t think RS was particularly out to develop that. Though that is in fact what they did. A pure, comfortable, open and inviting keelboat that has the sensibilities and innovation they have shown for two decades… without feeling the need to follow the pack.
The 21 is a boat that keeps sailing simple.
And, I think that’s a message no one was expecting.
I like it. It’s the first keelboat in a while that’s caught our attention from a reliable builder. I’m ordering one for demos and looking forward to sailing it this summer.
West Coast Sailing