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An interview with Jake Sorosky about RS21 class’ recent inroads into American sailing

by David Schmidt 13 Jun 08:00 PDT June 13, 2019
The RS21, launched by MarineShift360's new Pilot Partner, RS Sailing, earlier this year. © MarineShift360

I knew I was in for an interesting evening when, less than two minutes before the start of a local Monday-night beer can chase, one of our fellow competitors started giving us grief over our apparent lack of an auxiliary engine. What this luddite didn’t realize was that we were sailing aboard the new RS21, which uses a small electric engine that raises and lowers via a stainless-steel bar that doubles as the boat’s mainsheet attachment system (there’s no traveler). We politely explained that we were using newer, greener technology and then promptly showed her our open transom, at least until the wind petered out. Then, we gave our suspicious competitor, and the rest of the fleet, a visual demonstration of the boat’s auxiliary propulsion system.

Trust me, it works well.

While this race was just a local lark and nothing any serious sailor would take to heart, it afforded a great opportunity to test drive one of the hottest One Designs with mass market appeal to have arrived on American waters since the J/70 first set sail in 2012.

And while the two boats are similarly sized, the sailing experiences are totally different. For starters, the RS21 is an open boat that’s more than happy to get wet while racing hard, and the costs for operating and campaigning the boat are significantly less than the J/70. (This is no slight on the J/70 or its class, it’s just to clarify that the two designs don’t share any real DNA.)

To be fair, our best sailing took place before the starting guns sounded and before the wind vanished, but our crew of four (which included three top-shelf dinghy sailors and myself, a longtime big boat racer who hadn’t been aboard something smaller than 22 feet LOA since the Melges 20 was released in 2007) took advantage of our pre-racing time to get comfortable flying the kite and gybing the boat. Much like the Melges 20 and the J/70, the RS21 sails legs-in, making for a seriously comfortable ride, and its running rigging is set up to further compound the comfort factor without intruding on the boat’s performance.

I checked in with Jake Sorosky, who handles outside sales for West Coast Sailing (westcoastsailing.net), to learn more about this exciting design and its recent American invasion.

Can you give us an update on the RS21 class in the USA?

We’ve (RS NA dealers) sold a fleet to the Premiere Sailing League in Detroit, the first six have closed and they should be shipping in the next couple of weeks, and more should be closing shortly, and we’ve got a couple other deals going in other parts of the country like Texas and California. Other fleets are coming up around the world as well in Italy, Asia, Australia, and the British Keelboat League is up and running in the UK.

Are there any regions so far that are setting themselves up to be hotbeds? Southern California is looking pretty good, Texas and Florida. Right now, California on our website searches is almost double anyplace else, so there a lot of interest down there.

SoCal tends to be pretty light air, whereas Texas and Florida can be windy, so is this geography based on the boat’s specs, or is it just based on where interested people live?

Some—there’s a club in Texas right now that’s looking pretty good and they have a large but shallow bay right off the club, and this boat scoots right in there. Their facility is set up really well to handle a good fleet of them, and they can sail within a bay that’s right off the club, and have great club racing. I think the interest currently may be coming from areas with older one design fleets that may be looking for something more exciting but also cost effective.

What kinds of sailors do you see jumping on this boat?

All kinds. The boat is simple and forgiving for less experienced sailors, but responds to and really rewards good, technical sailing.

It also makes for a great youth platform. In Charleston and San Diego, youth teams podiumed at both events and pushed the adults really hard.

Am I correct that 2019 is the boat’s first year in the USA?

Yes. The first boat debuted in late 2018, [but]‘19 will be the first full year in the States along with a racing tour.

So do you get a lot of head-snapping when you’re sailing around? Yeah, a lot of cool interest, people come and check it out. And when the fleet travels—we call it the “six pack”, and it travels to NOOD regattas and other events…so when the six-pack is there, we try and have a nice atmosphere. People can jump onboard and check it out, we have some music and some good company and people who are there who are knowledgeable about the boats.

Do you see the RS21 being a pretty tight One Design class, or do you see it sailing in mixed handicap fleets, down the road? The class rule is really tight, and the whole goal that RS Sailing is trying to do is form a nice class rule that’s cost effective, owner-friendly, and not to get too far blown out of proportion. So, we’re doing things like sail limits for the year, professional [sailor] limits, tight One Design rules in regard to rigging and sail spec. There’s a lot of stuff that’s going to be released soon in regard to the One Design format that’s going to turn a lot of heads as well.

The other thing we try to do as a class is get everyone together after the days racing and have a good group debrief. Everyone has been sharing all information from boat handling techniques to rig setups, keeping the fleet tight and the atmosphere fun and light with great competition.

In your opinion, what’s the boat’s happiest wind range? 15-20 knots is so pleasant. It’s not overpowered, the rig and sails aren’t flopping around, and off-the-wind it’s just a dream.

Anything else that you’d like to add for the record? It’s just a great, one of the most surprising boats to sail. Looking at it on paper and photos is one thing, but when you actually get to get onboard and feel the sensation and feel how responsive it is and how easy to it is to sail, even in 25 knots when the thing really gets up and going—it’s different. So, if you get a chance to demo the boat, give it a shot.

Lastly, charters are available for upcoming regattas and demo information can be found at the RS Sailing website.

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