The RS Elite caught the attention of the press in its first season when the first six boats then built all took part in 2004 Cowes Week with their own class start. Comments ranged from admiration of the boat’s aesthetics to the close, competitive racing that has been a characteristic of the fleet ever since. Phil Morrison’s original design brief was to produce a modern version of the classic racing sailboat such as the XOD or the Swallow and, like those classes, the RS Elite has shown staying power and steady growth.
With sail numbers now up to 110 and growing, the RS Elite enters the 2018 season with a full season of club racing and open events. There are now Elite fleets at Hayling Island (the original home of the class) and Cowes on the South Coast, Burnham on Crouch on the East Coast and In Ireland on Belfast Lough and on Strangford Lough. Elites are also sailed at Nonsuch Bay, Antigua and in Scandinavia. There has been recent interest from Italy where one boat is already based in Genoa.
Open events for 2018 include the Whitsun Regatta at Hayling Island Sailing Club, the Southern Area Championships run jointly by Seaview Yacht Club and Bembridge Sailing Club on 9th-10th June, the Irish National Championship on 16th-17th June hosted by Carrickfergus Sailing Club, the Brewin Dolphin UK National Championship hosted by the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club 28th June – 1st July, Lendy Cowes Week 4th-11th August (incorporating the Tri-Handled Trophy in the first four days) and Burnham Week 25th-27th August. In addition, Strangford Lough Yacht Club run an open series in May and June and an open Frostie Series from September to November.
As well as the Whitsun Regatta, Hayling Island Sailing Club (HISC) has its open Crabber’s Nip series from November to December. HISC is also the venue for Chichester Harbour Race Week August 13th-17th which has a short series for RS Elites on the last 3 days, run separately from the dinghy racing event.
Club racing in the UK is centred on the South and East Coasts of England and in Northern Ireland.
On the South Coast, Hayling Island Sailing Club (HISC) is the original home of the RS Elite. Currently the HISC Elite fleet consists of 19 boats and racing turnouts are regularly in double figures. The HISC Elite fleet is highly sociable with monthly fleet parties on some race days allied to the club’s own active social programme. Club racing at HISC typically consists of Sprint Race Saturdays, Long Course Pennant Weekends in Hayling Bay and Thursday Evening Sundowners, plus the open events and series run from the club. This year the club has introduced dry sailing for RS Elites from the HISC beach using purpose-built launching trollies. The launch and recovery service is run by the HISC Marine Department and is tailored to the Elite racing programme. This is a popular innovation that allows sailors to socialize ashore more quickly after racing.
The other South Coast centre for the class is the growing Cowes fleet. The 2018 season will see seven weekends of shore-based or committee boat starts run by the Cowes Combined Clubs & Classes Association, Tuesday night handicap racing run by the Island Sailing Club (an Elite beat a fleet of 60 odd boats on one such occasion), a repeat of last year’s EWCC regatta to constitute in 2018 the Class Southern Area Championships, the opportunity to participate in the July Round Island Race in the Sportsboat category and the customary dedicated Elite start during Cowes Week at the beginning of August. Most RS Elites are dry sailed from the Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club, although berthing in Shepards Wharf Marina or a main harbour swinging mooring are also available.
On the East Coast, the Royal Burnham Yacht Club is the main venue for RS Elite sailing. The Burnham fleet currently numbers 8 boats, although at present only five are racing regularly. Racing takes place on Wednesday evenings followed by an informal fleet dinner at the RBYC and then again on Saturday afternoons (two races). The Saturday racing consists of a windward/leeward first race followed by a more traditional “round the cans” second race, all followed up by the time-honoured review of the races in the bar.
The fleet was stunned recently by the untimely death of the Class Captain – Trevor Greenway, who tragically suffered a fatal heart attack while racing in the Wednesday evening series. Naturally, this has affected everyone involved with the Elites in Burnham and most are still coming to terms with this tragic loss.
Formal events planned include the RBYC Whitsun Regatta and of course Burnham Week 2018 at the end of August
In Ireland, Elites are sailed at the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club, Strangford Lough Yacht Club, the royal Ulster Yacht Club and Carrickfergus Sailing Club.
The Strangford Lough Elite fleet is based at Strangford Lough Yacht Club in Killinchy, where 6 boats regularly sail for Thursday night and Saturday afternoon points racing throughout the season. The club has some of the best sailing facilities of any yacht club in Northern Ireland: a palfinger crane allows launching two hours either side of low water and moorings are only a minute or two from the club. During the summer each club on the lough hosts a regatta where the Elite fleet attend and often claim silverware in IRC2.
The lough’s highlight of the year is the Narrows Series: set over four consecutive days in July, hundreds of boats race with the famous tides end eddies at the entrance of the lough. SLYC runs its own “Frosties series” to round out the season, and regularly get 40+ yachts racing for two races every Saturday – with up to 9 Elites racing.
Elite sailing in Ireland began at the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club on Belfast Lough when the first boat arrived in 2006, racing initially with the IRC fleet. The Elite soon gained critical mass at RNIYC and the club has been a centre of Elite sailing ever since. In 2018, RNIYC will host the UK Nationals for the third time, from June 28th to July 1st. Ten races are planned over four days, together with a full social programme. Special arrangements have been made with the ferry companies to ensure a large attendance of visitors from the UK mainland.
RNIYC has always been a popular venue for the Elite class with enjoyable racing combined with uniquely Irish socializing. This year will be no exception with four evenings of revelry, including a party on the SS Nomadic, tender to the Titanic, as well as the championship dinner. Despite socialising until after midnight each night, Elite sailors can be relied upon to put up a competitive performance on the racecourse next day.