RS Aero and Hanse 315
By Sven Donaldson
Recently I took a spin on a Byte dinghy that we keep around for the grandchildren, and the frisky little boat very quickly rekindled my appreciation for the essence of our sport. Roll tacking to capitalize on minor wind shifts, steering mainly by sail trimming and body movement… it’s all standard fare for dinghy sailors, but uncharted territory for those who have only sailed big boats.
For those unfamiliar with the Byte, it’s essentially a smaller cousin of the famous Laser—the world’s most abundant one design for adults. Over the years, a number of “more advanced” single-handed dinghies have debuted and flamed out, while the simple, sturdy Laser pushes into its fifth decade with over 200,000 sold. This not to say that the Laser is perfect. With the full rig, the boat demands a fairly large and extremely fit athlete to race competitively; and even the down-sized Laser radial rig can challenge smaller sailors when the wind pipes up. All the same, the years roll by and no other single-hander has, so far, dented the popularity of the Laser.
Initially, I wasn’t bowled over at the news that another slick single-hander—the RS Aero—had just splashed in Britain because it seemed like I’d seen the movie too many times before. Now, just a year later, RS Sailing reports having delivered 600 boats with another 150 on order, so it’s clear this is more than just a flash in the pan. Moreover, the Aero has been catching on outside of Europe, and on every continent (except Africa). Aero fleets have already formed in Portland, Seattle, and Santa Barbara, and this past July, the first North American Championships were held at Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge with 22 competitors attending.
RS Sailing is a long-established British builder that currently manufactures some 15 one-design sailboats ranging from roto-molded trainers to high performance racing skiffs. At present, there are six RS distributors in North America and a growing number of regional sub-dealers.
The Aero’s defining feature is its remarkably light weight—only 30 kg (66 lbs) for the unrigged hull. To appreciate the importance of this figure, consider that the Aero is roughly the same size as the Laser, but barely over half the weight! As a result, the Aero will not only be quicker to accelerate and plane, but far easier to manage on shore. Stronger sailors will be able to place the Aero onto a car’s roof rack without assistance—a serious weight lifting stunt if attempted with other single-handers. The fully rigged Areo (88 lbs) can even be tipped on its side and carried into the water using one hand on the vang and the other on the hiking strap. So instead of a launching dolly, all that you’ll really need for set up is a small pad to protect the hull from scratches.
Of course, light weight alone is not enough to explain Aero’s burgeoning popularity. Also central to the concept is a three-rig system using different sails (and corresponding carbon top masts) to suit sailors from 35 to 95 kg (77 to 210 lbs). The designers’ aim was to develop a dinghy that would be extremely fast and exciting, yet easily controllable in the hands of any good sailor regardless of body size. Official Portsmouth handicaps for the boat were issued this spring in the UK, and while the biggest rig is, not surprisingly, rated fastest, the time differences aren’t huge (the Aero 9 owes the Aero 7 180 seconds per 100 minutes of sailing time). Whenever fleet numbers permit, the class intends to provide separate starts for each of the rig sizes, but with the Portsmouth handicapping, competition among the three rig sizes has, so far, appeared very fair.
The Aero’s three-rig system takes advantage of the sophisticated carbon tube production systems used to manufacture sailboard rigs to precise stiffness specifications. Aero sails are built—not out of mylar/scrim laminate—but from lightly-resinated woven polyester. Using polyester sailcloth ensures sufficient bias stretch, allowing sail camber to adjusted over a wide range. The relatively soft sailcloth also deteriorates less abruptly, potentially giving one design sails a way longer competitive life span.
Jo Richards—an Olympic sailing medalist and successful race boat designer—spent four years working with RS Sailing to build and evaluate a series of hull shapes, rigs and foil variations before the production Aero was finalized. The finished product incorporates a great many innovative features, but at every turn, it seems that practicality has not been sacrificed in pursuit of an extra iota of performance. The hull/deck structure features fully-cored, epoxy construction using a combination of fibreglass and carbon reinforcements, so it’s not only far lighter than most similar-sized dinghies, but tough enough to shrug off rough treatment. For example, the boats are designed to nest together, and can be stacked seven deep without damage.
So it’s still early days, but it looks like the RS Aero has a very rosy future. One design racing aside, this would be a fantastic boat for beach/cottage use, or for that matter, a great toy to take aboard a cruising yacht. The Aero, equipped with a choice of one rig, is currently selling for $7,495 US or $10,995 Canadian. Would I like to add one to the family fleet? You bet!
Sailboat builders once regarded their entry-level models as merely a gateway to bigger and better things, but today, there’s a growing tendency to expect far more from even the smallest boats in the line. Sales potential is obviously much greater when a single design fulfills the needs of entry-level sailors, young families on a tight budget, time-pressed professionals, retired couples and perhaps also sailing schools/cooperatives. Naturally, when a model will sell in large numbers, the unit production cost decreases, so manufacturers can potentially afford to equip to a higher spec which in turn makes the boat even more appealing. This snowballing effect obviously benefits both builders and buyers.
Over the past year or so, Pacific Yachting has reported on new and impressive small cruising yachts by Bavaria, Delphia, Dufour, Elan, Jeanneau and Hunter. Now Hanse Yachts has also unveiled an intriguing new model with a hull length slightly under 30 feet and a starting price (FOB the factory in Eastern Germany) of only 59,000 Euros. The basic boat comes with tiller steering and lacks shore power or pressurized water, but it still includes a nice galley and spacious, well-equipped head. The many upgrades available include twin wheel steering, numerous electronics options and all the usual mod-cons like refrigeration and hot/cold running water.
The Hanse 315—like every other boat in the Hanse series—was designed by Judel / Vrolijk & Co., a long-established naval architecture firm known for meticulous attention to detail. To ensure snappy performance, Judel / Vrolijk targeted a light displacement of 4.7 tonnes (10,360 pounds). Rig dimensions are sufficiently generous for a sail-area-to-displacement ratio of 17.0 with a standard working inventory consisting of a full-batten mainsail and a 95 percent self-tacking jib. The displacement-to-length ratio of 201 won’t be low enough to create a surfing monster, but on the other hand, the 315 isn’t burdened by overly wide beam—an area where contemporary designers are often tempted to push too far in pursuit of interior space. In this case, the length-to-beam ratio is 2.70—fairly high for modern cruisers of similar size, and a definite boon to excellent, all-around sailing characteristics.
When designing a cruising sailboat around the 30-foot mark, it’s all too easy to end up with a bulky cabin and/or overly high topsides in an effort to boost headroom below decks. The challenge is exacerbated with lighter displacement, performance-oriented designs because with less hull in the water, the only way to gain headroom is by reaching higher above the LWL.
For the Hanse 315, the design team opted for full headroom (about six feet, three inches) for only the galley area and head compartment—arguably the two zones where headroom matters most. Toward the front of the saloon where a centrally mounted table is flanked by twin settees, the sole has been elevated by about three inches—enough to create space for the fibreglass strong back, which reinforces the keel root area.
Evidently, the cockpit and central living area aboard the 315 were prioritized at some cost to the forward cabin, and as a result, an adult-sized V-berth will occupy the entire space ahead of the main bulkhead. Alternatives for this multi-functional area include a child-sized berth with extra stowage and a patch of floor space, or a full-length single, plus locker and folding seat. The basic 315 gets an open-bulkhead, loft-style interior, with a privacy door available at extra cost.
The aft cabin (which comes with a door as standard) boasts a spacious transverse double and a sizeable hanging locker. Headroom won’t be overly generous, but this will likely be the usual choice for the owners’ quarters.
Construction of the 315 mirrors that of the large Hanse models with key features including glassed-in bulkheads, full coring above the LWL, and an overlapping hull-deck joint that incorporates raised bulwarks for added security topsides. It’s on deck too, that the true functionality of this design really come into play thanks to an exceptionally spacious cockpit, wide side decks, and low, secure step-ups when leaving the cockpit or bypassing the shrouds.
On a similar note, the companionway steps of the 315 are angled at 50 degrees—shallow enough to safely descend while facing forward (except perhaps in very rough weather). This seemingly minor feature will definitely be appreciated by at least one of Hanse’s marketing targets: the veteran sailor not yet ready to convert to power.
Stylistically, the 315 will be an interesting boat to see in person because it represents a subtle departure from the sharply chiseled, angular look that has characterized recent Hanse models. Instead nearly all external junctures have been chamfered to create a multi-faceted effect that falls midway between sharp corners and radiused ones.
Beyond the lower up-front cost, virtues of a well-executed, “compact” cruiser like the Hanse 315 include affordable moorage and upkeep expenses, exceptional ease of handling and a level of simplicity that many big boat owners will, at times, likely envy. The 315 meets European “A Ocean” certification standards, so in principle at least, offers go-anywhere potential. Of course, limited carrying capacity would present a significant challenge for lengthy ocean voyages, but inherent seaworthiness is always a worthwhile asset.