Not ‘just another' Nationals
The RS800 National Championships will this year be held as part of RS Games, a unique multi-class extravaganza which will see nine RS classes come together over two weeks to contest an assortment of National, European and World Championships.
If there are any dinghy classes who know how to host a regatta, it’s the RS cohort, and a fabulous week of racing and socialising is promised for all who enter, as well as for those who simply come along to enjoy the atmosphere onshore.
The RS Games will be held over 14-26 August at Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, where, exactly one year later, the Olympic 2012 sailing events are due to be held.
For the RS800 fleet, whose National Championship forms part of the RS Games, there will already be an Olympic tingle in the air in the fleet, thanks to the boat’s prospective position as the RYA’s women’s skiff of choice. This status was recently established in the run up to November 2012’s ISAF decision over the equipment for Rio 2016. While the RS800 itself is not a potential candidate for selection by ISAF, it has been chosen by the RYA in the interim to develop training and provide a focussed, stepping-stone solution. As part of this, the RYA are aiming to select a number of sailors to form the Skandia Team GBR Women’s Skiff Squad; although the selection criteria have yet to be confirmed, attendance at the RS800 Nationals during the RS Games will form a part of this selection.
To bring the RS800 into line with the widespread skiff practice of playing the mainsheet from the boom, all-girl teams entering the RS Games will be permitted to sail in this mode, which will allow the mainsheet to be played upwind by the crew, lightening the load and allowing for slicker tacking.
Past RS800 National and several times Eurocup Champion, Peter Barton was one of the coaches for the RYA and Skandia Team GBR’s ‘Girls 4 Gold’ women’s skiff open training programme held over two weekends in June as the first phase of the programme. Barton says he is excited about the impact that the RYA decision is already having on the class and the new faces that are appearing in the fleet as a result. “At least six all-female teams have bought boats and there are several more to come,” he says. “This is a great influx of keen new talent into the class, increasing turnouts and developing skills.
“The decision is providing an interesting challenge for the all-girl teams, who are coming into the class from a variety of backgrounds. Laser Radial sailors may have little skiff experience, but have great potential with good physique and attitude. Some, like the 470 and 420 sailors, will need to learn the finer details of asymmetric racing. Then there are those with 29er experience who need, like most others, to master helming from the wire.”
Frances Peters was one of the first who made the leap into the class, U-turning a commitment to the 470 when she first heard that an Olympic women’s skiff was set to feature in the sailing equipment for Rio 2016. Peters has now teamed up with Nicola Groves, and will be entering a number of RS800 events this year, including the RS Games.
Peters explains: “This is a really exciting opportunity for all-girl teams to get involved with some great, established skiff racing at a high level, and hopefully give some of the guys a run for their money!
“The RS Games will see very hot competition from all male teams, all-girl teams and mixed teams in the class. There are a lot of highly experienced sailors in the class who know how to make the boat go quickly in all conditions. Many girl teams are still in the process of forming and it’s such early days so it's hard to know who is going to be up there. But I think it's going to be about getting as much time in the boat between now and then as possible to learn how the boat works, and get the boat around the course in all conditions with confidence.”
With 50 entries now confirmed and more still to come, the RS800 National Championships are undoubtedly going to be a tough contest. The RS800 will be the first of the nine classes which form part of the RS Games to kick off their championship, with two races scheduled for 15 August. The RS100 and RS500 will also be on the water that day, each taking advantage of class-specific coaching sessions being run prior to the RS100 National Championship, and the RS500 National and World Championships.
The RS800s will enjoy ten races in total over five days, taking place out in Weymouth bay, culminating with prizegiving on 19 August.
With a packed evening social schedule including the Geeta’s Indian Fancy Dress Party, drinks reception at Portland Castle, RS Sailing Games Nights and the Mount Gay Rum Championship Ball, no doubt some of the competitors will be glad of the afternoon start times! The social aspect of this unique event is certainly a big draw for many of the competitors, with the concept of the RS Games being to provide a friendly and enjoyable event across all nine classes. The RSs may have held multi-class events before, but this is certainly the first one that has been held on such a scale; no doubt the socials will push the limits too.
On the water, however, the question of who will walk away with the championship title looks set to remain wide open until well into the final stages of racing. Peter Barton will be taking part in the event himself, and with hopes of regaining the title of National Champion, which he last held in 2007. But he is under no illusion that it will be an easy ride this year! The influx of newcomers to the fleet is not just from all-girl Olympic hopefuls.
Barton gives his form guide: “Several new teams are putting in the effort this season and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them walks off with the Games. When teams are improving quickly it is always hard to predict. The RS800 is not overly challenging to sail in skiff-terms when compared to a 49er, I14 or Cherub for example, so teams can focus on the racing rather than handling and means new teams can become competitive quickly. Nick Charles and Chris Martin are in their second season and are key contenders. Past RS400 champions, David Hivey and James Stewart, are likely to be sniggling up the front when they find their trapezing legs. The RS800 class is very competitive at the front of the fleet with perhaps anyone of the top ten able to win races and take events.”
Andy Jeffries, current holder of the RS800 Eurocup title, is also looking forward to a hotly contested event. He says; “I think the standard for the RS Games will be pretty high, as a lot of people are focusing on this as the big event of the year. I’m also expecting to see some club sailors boosting the numbers because it’s being held at such an amazing venue. Weymouth itself is a great place to sail and on top of that, the Olympic facility is state of the art. All in all I think it is an event that you can’t afford to miss; it may be a cliché but it really is a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to sail at the venue of the Olympics in the final run up to the Games proper; it’s like riding your bike on a stage of the Tour de France. When the drama of the medal races is being played out on TV next summer, you’ll have that special connection. I think because of this, it will be the hardest fought RS800 Nationals to date; everyone will want to be a winner at this huge event.”