Escape's Rumba - Entry Level Sailing

A ground-breaking boat that could introduce a lot of people to the sport

Wednesday July 19th 2000, Author: Peter Bentley, Location: United Kingdom
Let's Rumba!
    The Rumba is the largest in a ground breaking range of boats from Escape. What makes them so innovative is the approach they have taken to selling boats to people who have never been sailing. The smallest is the Cha Cha at only 2.3 metres long and barely more than a beach toy. While the Rumba is marketed as a more ambitious sailing boat, aimed a little beyond the raw newcomer. Virtually nothing else has been built to this design brief in the last 20 years - the Sunfish is the oldie-but-goodie in the market. It’s a void the Rumba aims to fill, using modern materials and new techniques.

    MadforSailing’s reviewer was Peter Bentley, putting the Rumba through its paces in medium conditions, dusted with a few light spots and a short, wind-against-tide chop.

    In appearance, the Rumba sits a long way outside the conventional design envelope. Pointed at the front and blunt at the back are about the only features that the Rumba owes to modern dinghy design. The cockpit shape is hard and angular, the flat moulded hull has full length bilge rails. An unusual boom curves to fit into the deck next to the mast. But the combination of the striking appearance and bright yellow colour is an effective attention-getter.

    The Rumba scores high MadforSailing ratings on all the things the designers set out to achieve - principally ease of set-up and sailing for beginners. Rigging could hardly be simpler with the two-piece alloy mast slotting together and the sail slipping over the top. The mast and boom drop into their respective holes, then hook up three ropes and you’re ready to go. The stand alone mast can be rotated to reduce sail area safely and efficiently. And she is stable enough for an adult to stand on the side deck without the boat capsizing. The Rumba is manufactured by the rotomould system from polyethylene, and should last for years even with rough treatment, so she scores high on durability.

    On the down side the boat is hard to right after a capsize - a minus point for the beginners. Other low scores were given for a lack of performance, although not surprisingly, as it was probably never intended to be a feature of this design. In light conditions the large wetted surface area of the flat hull makes the boat slow and unresponsive, while the hull flexes noticeably in big waves. Despite this, the boat has the potential to plane in winds above 12 knots. More low points were also picked up because there is unlikely to be any competitive class racing for a boat like the Rumba.

    But the Rumba cannot be judged against the standard of competition dinghies. So it’s no surprise that overall, this boat scores low on MadforSailing’s rating system - designed for that purpose. But in this case, that’s not the point. The Rumba is great value for money, and a couple of hundred of these leisure playthings have already been sold. It promises to attract newcomers into sailing, and hopefully on to something a bit more sophisticated. That can only be good for the sport, and MadforSailing can only applaud Escape for their efforts.

    Rants Tricky to right from capsized
    Raves A real boat that's cheaper than a cheap one on a cheap day - excellent value

    Photo by Peter Bentley

    The Nitty Gritty

    Ease of Sailing

    As a beginner’s boat, the Rumba needs to deliver easy sailing. But in some areas this is compromised by the second part of its mission, to deliver low-cost access to the sport. The manufacturing system, for instance, requires external ribs and stringers to get sufficient stiffness in the hull. The Rumba uses these as design features as far as possible, and some stiffeners double as bilge runners. These have an impact in various ways. They certainly encourage directional stability, which is excellent, though this does somewhat compromise responsiveness to small rudder inputs.

    The number of ribs and obstructions in the bottom of the cockpit - required for stiffness - also somewhat obstruct smooth movement around the boat. The single centre toe-strap does require a very straight position if the lower portions of your body are not going to drag in the water. For those who want to work hard, the cockpit ergonomics are just about acceptable with a reasonably comfortable hiking position available on the rounded portion of the gunwale.

    The sloppiness in the rudder system - reported in build quality - did make steering less than perfect. As far as we could tell, the rudder balance is reasonably good, providing the centreboard stays all the way down. Careful setting up of the downhaul is required to make sure the board is fully down while sailing upwind, while at the same time allowing it to pop up easily when running into something solid

    The flat moulded hull form has a couple of significant advantages. It's stable for a start - so stable that a substantially sized adult can stand on one side without capsizing the Rumba. Similarly, additional weight in the form of more crew has only a minimal effect. But it’s going to get pretty slow with more than an adult and child aboard. We would question the wisdom of sailing the boat with two adults and three children - as shown in the Escape brochure.

    If you can capsize it, the boat floats high in the water. That’s not good, it makes the centreboard hard to reach, never mind climb onto. Despite this, it is relatively easy to get the boat three quarters righted by pulling down on the end of the board. Unfortunately, from this point on things become hard again, as there is nothing on the rounded gunwale to hang onto, to the pull the boat up that last bit. Once righted the cockpit self drains with the boat naturally assuming a beam-on position to the wind. Inverted, there are plenty of things to hang onto and in many respects this is an easier recovery than from a partial capsize.

    Systems and Layout

    Rigging the Rumba could hardly be simpler, with the two-piece alloy mast slotting together and the sail slipping over the top. The mast and boom drop into their respective holes and that's just about it. There are three more ropes to connect and you’re ready to go sailing. Because the curved aluminium boom fits into the deck, rather than onto the mast, the mast can rotate freely to furl and reef the sail without the complexities of any gooseneck mechanism. It also allows the single control line on the clew of the mainsail to act as a combined control for the foot and leach, negating the need for a kicking strap.

    So, in theory the sail should unroll once the mast rotation rope is released and the outhaul pulled. In practice, any significant amount of luff tension causes the mast to bend, requiring at least a hand on the mast to get it rotating. For the sailing purists there is something of a conflict here, as sufficient luff tension to give a decent looking sail does seriously hinder the ability of the mast to rotate - there is no facility for adjusting the tension underway.

    The centreboard pivots in a conventional case with any tendency to float up resisted by an elastic downhaul. The rudder uses a standard design of stock taken directly from the Sunfish. This attaches to the transom using a neat design of spring loaded clip, with no parts to lose and very little possibility of the rudder falling off when capsized. The rudder locks down with a push on the tiller and, like the centreboard, should pop up if it hits something.


    With the full mainsail performance is, if anything, better than we expected. A significant hiking effort reaps rewards in the form of a relatively decent upwind performance. Care must be taken not to sheet the sail in too tight, the best speed upwind is found with the boom end somewhere out over the back corner. Sailing with a partially rolled sail is perfectly possible, though with more than two turns in, the sail shape deteriorates significantly and the balance becomes decidedly lee-helm. At this point, Rumba sailing is a pretty unrewarding experience. In medium conditions reaching and running performance is much as would be expected with real planing potential in winds above about 12 knots.

    In lighter winds the very high wetted surface area generated by the flat hull and the bilge runners does slow the boat down. It’s in these conditions that the Rumba can be expected to perform least well. In waves there is some slamming, unsurprising given the very flat hull form. But there is still - bilge runners notwithstanding - a feeling of softness in the hull and you can feel it flexing, especially in big waves. Disconcerting, but it didn’t seem to hopelessly degrade the overall performance - which was competent, if not stunning.

    Build Quality

    It’s never good when a review boat turns up with a fault - is it just this boat, or all of them? It’s always hard to tell. The Rumba arrived with a significant weakness in the fitting of the rudder gudgeons to the transom. Despite trying to tighten up the screws holding the fittings to the back of the boat during the test, we never really managed to get them to locate securely. The consequence was some slop in the whole rudder assembly and a subsequent lack of steering precision. We couldn’t tell if this was a production problem confined to our test boat, or a more serious design fault - sorry!

    Aside from the criticisms of the rudder and to a lesser extent the centreboard, the basic hull mouldings seem to be of a good standard. Perhaps surprising, given the simple plastic construction of the hull, the foils are made in ash. The handful of fittings all worked effectively, and the sail from North is about as good as it’s possible to get with no battens.

    Anticipated Durability

    Manufactured from polyethylene in Escape's own dedicated facility, they should last for years, even with rough treatment. In the event of damage, Escape tell us that the material is relatively easily repaired. There are other boats in the market where the Rumba is positioned, and some of them undoubtedly offer better performance in pure sailing terms. But in durability, the Rumba is going to be hard to beat.

    Quality of Race Circuit

    In the USA, the original Escape has already become the fastest selling dinghy ever. Half the sales go to people who had never previously owned a boat. To a great extent, her success in the UK will be measured by the same standard - how many newcomers can she tempt into our sport? The UK importers report about two hundred had been sold to mid-2000, but there is no class association or racing yet. Escape hope it will happen within the next 18 months, though it’s more likely to be an owners association than a race circuit.

    Value for Money

    No other is as cheap!

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