The RS Elite may only be small but the fleet at Skandia Cowes Week is certainly making waves.

Described as “the new modern classic keelboat”, the RS Elite was designed by Phil Morrison, one of Britain’s best-known small boat designers. Morrison has designed a number of the RS range but the RS Elite, as its name would suggest, could be his best yet. First launched in June 2004, this is only the boat’s second year racing at Cowes.

The RS Elite class is very tight knit with more than half of the boats sold competing regularly; ten of those are here at Skandia Cowes Week. Martin Wadhams is top of the class From the name of his boat, it might sound like he has an unfair advantage, but he insists that he doesn’t compete all that much, although the RS Elite is his craft of choice.

“I’ve sailed quite a number of the RS boats and spent quite a lot of time in the K6, our other RS boat. The K6 is more like a big dinghy, it is lighter and it responds and feels like a dinghy, but without capsizing. The Elite feels much more like a big boat does, you tend to pant the rig in the same way.”

The Elite is usually sailed by three people and is a longer, heavier boat. Quite narrow for its length, you can sail it heeled over whereas dinghy shaped boats need to be sailed upright. The Elite has a no hiking rule.

Wadhams continues, “Physically the elite is easier to sail. The other big difference is that it has symmetrical spinnaker so the boat is more versatile downwind, you can sail the boats in all sorts of places where asymmetric boats aren’t so suitable.”

So, just in case it isn’t already apparent, why choose an RS Elite?
“I think the Elite is just a fantastic boat to sail, it’s a beautiful, light refined feel on the helm, the rig is very controllable it feels like you can set it up easily. Annually it is very low maintenance. The other thing is that it is good-looking, I like it when people admire my boat. ”

Hayling Island Sailing club member, Mike Tong, also sailing at Skandia Cowes Week, has had an involvement since the boat’s first conception. He was in the steering group that made the decision to create the new boat, specifically for the waters around Hayling Island. Designed two years ago, the prototype was launched in December 2003 and Tong has sailed an RS Elite ever since. He believes that the RS Elite makes for very exciting racing.

“It is like racing a small version of an America’s Cup boat because it’s slim, very close winded, the spinnaker has a big effect. The racing is fantastically close.”

With 36 boats having been produced so far, most of them sticking together as two main fleets – in Hayling Island and Burnham-on-Crouch, RS Elite racing has definitely made an impact. Hayling Island Sailing Club hosted their first RS Elite National Championships last weekend with 16 boats racing and the numbers are sure to go up.