How the RS Aero (almost) got selected for the Olympics.

RS Aero beats Laser 9-3

It has been a wild ride for the RS Aero Class over the last few weeks.

As you may have heard, World Sailing has been reviewing which boats should be used in the Olympics (from 2024 onwards) for the One Person Dinghy event for both Men and Women. The final short-list consisted of four boats – the Laser (which is the equipment for these events currently) and three much newer boats: the Melges 14, the Devoti D-Zero and the RS Aero.

A panel  of experts to evaluate the boats was appointed, and those experts conducted a thorough, impartial, objective evaluation of the four boats which included visits to the builders of the boats and a week of “sea trials” in Valencia where all four classes were put through their paces on the water by a group of 11 top single-handed dinghy sailors (both men and women) from 9 different countries. The panel scored the boats on a whole range of factors and in May delivered a 36 page report.

To cut a long story short, the scores received by the four boats were…

What? I must admit I was astonished by the result for a couple of reasons…

1. The Melges 14 and D-Zero scored worse than the Laser? I know the Laser well and it is a superb little boat, but I had assumed that the Melges 14 and D-Zero, as much more modern designs, would score ahead of the Laser. But apparently I was wrong. The evaluation panel did have some very specific reasons for dinging the Melges 14 and D-Zero.

2. And the RS Aero won!!! The World Sailing Evaluation Panel said the RS Aero was more suited to be in the Olympics than the incumbent, the venerable Laser.

Of course I think the RS Aero is a better boat than the Laser. That’s why I bought an RS Aero. And after 4 years of sailing the RS Aero in all sorts of conditions (after 35 years in the Laser) I am even more sure I made the right choice. But I was telling my friends that, based on what I had been reading on the Interwebs, I thought that the panel would recommend the D-Zero for the Olympic spot. Hmm. Maybe I had been giving too much weight to articles written by a certain Italian sailing journalist who, it turns out, had strong ties to the builder of the D-Zero.

Anyway. That was very gratifying. The RS Aero won the trials! All good, but I was under no illusion that the Aero had much of a chance to actually be selected for the Olympics. There were several further bureaucratic bodies at World Sailing who would have to sign off on the recommendation, and World Sailing has a long track record of overriding what its experts say on such matters.

The next stage was the meeting of the World Sailing Equipment Committee, which was last Saturday (18 May) in London. The role of the Equipment Committee was to receive the report of the Evaluation Panel and to make a recommendation to the World Sailing Council which was to meet the following day. The results of the evaluation were presented to the Equipment Committee. Questions were asked. A vote was taken. (Thanks to the miracles of modern technology I was listening to the discussion in real time in my pajamas.) The result of the vote was read…

RS Aero – 9 votes
Laser – 3 votes

Not even close!

On Saturday afternoon my son and I went sailing in our RS Aeros (of course.) A couple of boys (sons of a new club member) came over and started admiring my RS Aero. I told them there were important meetings going on in London this weekend to decide if the Aero should be in the Olympics.

While sailing, we spotted a Laser coming out from the club.

“Look, a classic yacht!” said Tillerson.

“Yes!” I said. “Didn’t it used to be in the Olympics?”

Forgive us our hubris. I knew deep down that World Sailing probably wouldn’t make the Aero an Olympic class (at least not this year.) But it did feel good to gloat for a short while.

And of course it all came crashing down on Sunday when the Equipment Committee’s recommendation that the RS Aero should replace the Laser in the Olympics was soundly defeated by the World Sailing Council.  The Council is made up of representatives of sailing nations from around the world and delegate after delegate, especially from smaller nations, spoke about how they had Laser youth training programs aimed at creating sailors who could qualify for the Olympics and it would be much too expensive and too hard to transition to a different boat by 2024.  Democracy in action.

I must admit I would have been incredibly proud if the Aero had been selected for the Olympics. It would have been something of a validation of the crazy decision I made five years ago to place an order for an Aero on the morning that RS Sailing first started taking orders for North America. But as I wrote over six months ago in RS Aero in the Olympics? I have always been in two minds on the Olympics issue. There are downsides as well as benefits for a class being in the Olympics.

In the end I think the outcome is positive for the RS Aero. The Aero did have the highest score in the evaluation. The Aero did receive the overwhelming support of the Equipment Committee. We will always be able to say that the RS Aero won the trials in 2019. All of this should spur more interest in the boat and  help us to grow the class even faster.

Update June 23. There was one speech at the meeting of the council from a delegate who actually seemed to understand that transitioning from the Laser to the RS Aero is desirable and possible, even for smaller nations. See my blog post  Croatian man has answer on how to get RS Aeros into the Olympics.

If you want to read the full report of the Evaluation Panel, here it is….



Leave a Reply to John Cancel reply

  • Off topic totally, but I have a question for you. I am 67 years old, currently have a 37′ racer cruiser, was a past US Sailing dinghy coach and raced (poorly) a laser up until about a decade ago. Now retiring, wife can’t get around too well on the big boat, and tired of the maintenance and crewing requirements. Planning on buying a camper van and a small boat to trailer behind it and get back into dinghy sailing. Looking to sail in the circuit (poorly). Aero or Laser, and why?


    • Hi Tom, congratulations on your retirement and thanks for the question. You know I am biased towards the RS Aero but I will try and be as objective as I can.

      1. I assume you have done some research and read all the reviews of the RS Aero? If not, I have posted links to several reviews at RS Aero Reviews.

      2. If you haven’t already done so, go and try an RS Aero. However much you read about it, there’s nothing like experiencing it. For many people this answers the, “Do I want an Aero or a Laser?” question in seconds.

      3. What’s your budget? Are you buying a new boat or second-hand? There are second-hand Aeros around, but you can certainly find a 20 or 30 year-old Laser for cheaper than you will find an Aero.

      4. Where are you? Where do you plan to travel with your camper? Check out the RS Aero Class website to see if there are enough regattas to keep you happy.

      5. Tillerwoman says buy an Aero, if for no other reason that, being so light, it is so much easier to manage on the land.

      Let me know if you have any other questions. Be glad to help in any way I can.

  • What’s the point? RS is superior, of course. But Laser is very good. So, is it worth to throw away 100.000+ lasers worldwide and replace them by new boats? Not economic, not ecologic.

    Sailing is not about having the best gear. It’s about all having the same gear and let the best win.

    • Thanks for the comment John.

      I don’t think I ever advocated throwing away 100,000+ Lasers, did I?

      Even if the RS Aero had been selected for the Olympics, it would not have meant that all the still sailable old Lasers in the world would have to be trashed. I guess RS Sailing would have sold more Aeros and maybe that would mean the Laser builders would have sold fewer new Lasers. But many thousands of people would have gone on sailing the existing Lasers for many more years. Bruce Kirby’s old design won’t roll over and die!

      I totally agree with you that sailing against other sailors with exactly the same gear is the most satisfying form of racing. True for the Laser. True for the RS Aero.

      I did sail and race a Laser for over 30 years, so please don’t begrudge me my adventure of sailing a different (better) one design boat while I am still young enough to do so.

    • The idea that the boat that’s in the Olympics is the boat that everybody has to sail for the thousands of regattas and club races that aren’t the Olympics is completely fallacious. The fact is that, to within two decimal places, 0.00% of the sailors who race every weekend are going the the Olympics. It’s also true that a large proportion of Olympians are doing their weekly sailing in foiling Moths, A class cats, America’s cup boats, VO65s, just about anything but Lasers, 470s, etc.

      So exactly what class is used for a couple of weeks every four years shouldn’t really impact anyone. Sorry, I’ll correct myself: Olympic status is used by manufacturers to peddle overpriced gear to hordes of never-going-to-be Olympians, and by a few select clubs to gouge out some government funds for running “training” programs for how to be an Olympic “hopeful” (So mate, what do you do? Oh, I’m a hopeful). So yes, it matters to the bureacrats and plutocrats. Meanwhile, the actual Olympians are happy hooning around on state-of-the art hi tech machines for 3.5 years per Olympic cycle, and the clubbies can and should race whatever they like. Which for many people is and will remain a Laser. Or Aero. Or whatever.

      What I’m trying to say is: there might be reasons for throwing away 100.000+ Lasers, but something else being selected for the Olympics isn’t one of them.

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