06 February 2018
2017 saw the arrival of a fifth RS Elite whose owner is a permanent resident on the Isle of Wight, the Cowes Fleet's second such indigenous owner, thereby helping to fly the flag at intra-week regattas and not just at weekends, boosting the Class' profile. Since the first Elite arrived on the Isle of Wight in 2011, the fleet has grown slowly but steadily despite the Cowes presence of multiple alternative keelboat classes (Etchells, Dragons, Darings, Sonars, X Boats, J80s and Flying Fifteens); we remain convinced that the RS Elite's comparative cost, light loads and speed will continue to attract further newcomers to the Cowes racing scene as well as helms from competing classes that may wane in popularity. In addition, we expect to be joined in 2018 by a further 2 former Lymington-based boats. The 2017 season saw some wonderful close-quarter racing amongst the resident Cowes fleet over selected weekends from April to September, with a mixture of Solent Series shoreline and Cowes Keelboat Championship committee boat starts. Swan Song triumphed in the shoreline starts, whilst Soak Therapy was overall CKC victor. Cowes Week saw 19 boats competing, one fewer than in 2016 but this unusual downturn in attendance (the first for 5 years) was entirely explicable by that regatta's close proximity to the National Championships in these times of growing holiday constraints. Steps have been taken at committee level to ensure that this doesn't happen again. Riff Raff, a Hayling Island fleet visitor, triumphed spectacularly at Cowes, helmed as she was by a 14 year old, Freddie Peters, who won the Young Regatta Helm of the Week as well as White Group overall, a wonderful advertisement for the diverse attractions of the RS Elite, appealing as it does across the sexes and age spectrum. There was also the inaugural regatta hosted jointly by Seaview Yacht Club and Bembridge Sailing Club and held under the aegis of the East Wight Combined Clubs, with 10 yachts from Hayling and Cowes competing over 2 days; Nick Peters in Way to Blue eventually emerged as victor after a tie for first place and a count-back on points. The East Wight regatta was deemed a great success and it is intended that it become a fixture in the Class calendar. Looking ahead, the 2018 season will see 7 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 the 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 (see the class website archives for tales of Elite derring-do) - sadly a dedicated Cowes Keelboat Round Island race clashes with the Southern Areas - and our customary dedicated start during Cowes Week at the beginning of August. The focus of the Island fleet remains on attracting additional boats and long-term ownership through invitational exposure to crewing and helming opportunities throughout the season. We are quietly confident that the fleet has reached a tipping point, reflecting a combination of critical mass and momentum, and hope that many of the other RS Elite owners across the country will visit us during 2018 to experience the thrill of tidal racing in the incomparable Central Solent.