I took delivery of my new Exocet RS D2 sailboard a couple of weeks ago, but only got it out on the water last weekend. These are my early impressions.
First up, some caveats.
Firstly, although I’ve been windsurfing for 25 years, I’ve never sailed a raceboard class board before. I’ve done lots of racing, but all Division II and then Formula.
Secondly, I don’t (yet) have a raceboard sail, so I’ve been getting by with my Warp F2005 9.0. This is a high wind formula sail that is perfectly at home in 25 knots, and not remotely suitable for light or even moderate winds.
Thirdly, this is all just freeride, not racing, so I can’t really comment on the speed of the thing.
OK, down to business.
It’s big. It’s purple. It’s heavy. I didn’t weigh it, but with centreboard and footstraps it was comparable to any big board. Maybe 18 kilos? Suffice to say much heavier than any short board, even the formula “plank”.
My first run was in 15-20knots. The infamous Moreton Bay chop (think of a square wave with wavelength of about 10 feet and amplitude of 2-3 feet) was in full swing. Immediately after I sheeted in and cleared the breakwater the nose punched straight through two steep waves in quick succession. When they call this a wave piercing nose they aren’t kidding. It’d be wrong to say the board went through the waves effortlessly – but it didn’t slow down much, certainly not enough to throw me off balance. In contrast, two or three waves like that would be enough to virtually stop my formula board dead unless I was really set up for them and managed to float the board over them.
Upwind I found trim a bit tricky. It doesn’t roll over onto the rail effortlessly like a Div II. It has two distinct modes, fully railed or not. Sailed flat or slightly railed, the nose lifts almost back to the mast base. Once fully railed, virtually the entire leeward rail engages. All of a sudden you’ve got an extra four feet of waterline length with a curve in it which tends to want to track to windward. As you can imagine the trim is very different between the two modes. The centre of lateral resistance (CLR) can move several feet either way in a second or two, involving a lot of dancing up and down the windward rail to keep the steering neutral. In automotive terms, the board has oversteer – bear away, the board flattens, the nose lifts, the CLR moves back – and the board wants to bear away even faster. Round up, the board rails, the leeward rail engages, the CLR moves forward, and up she goes at twice the rate. Obviously the answer is to stay in one mode, but first time on the board in that chop – it wasn’t going to happen, so it came down to being prepared and anticipating.
After a bit of experimentation I set the mast base to about 6 or 7 (just forward of centre) upwind and fully aft downwind. Upwind, with the track further forward the board would bear away uncontrollably as soon as the nose lifted. Bear in mind, though, that this flat-as-a-board formula sail was not helping at all. It’s almost impossible to rig-steer with these sails even on a short board.
Downwind…what can I say. I’ve seen footage of aircraft carriers on Arctic convoy duty with white water coming over the flight deck. That’s what it was like. This board has no rocker to speak of. It does plane nose high, but in the short steep chop it just wasn’t enough. Combine that with my “sheet in to keep the nose down” formula reflexes, and you won’t be surprised to learn that I stuffed the nose in in the most spectacular fashion about…oh, at least twenty times. I ended up standing with my back foot on the centreline of the board right over the back fin bolt. Coming down a wave, I’d sheet out, transfer all my weight to the back foot, and lift on the strap with my front foot. Think of 14 foot skiffies trapezing off the transom. It seemed to work reasonably well as long as I angled across the waves sufficiently, and by my second lap of the bay I was catching the nose much less, and recovering when I did. Stomping hard on the fin at speed did induce a bit of tail walking, but hey, you can’t have everything. Running square I didn’t even attempt – just not an option. It’s early days, but I might try a smaller fin at some point to see if it makes any difference.
Having just read an article stating “longboards don’t spin out”, I did manage to spin out twice. The first time the board slid fully sideways, the rail caught, and in I went over the high side (as motorcyclists say). Thanks to the particular wind and tide conditions, the sail then kept going right under the board and up the other side. So I managed to barrel roll my RS D2 on its first outing. The second time was much less exciting and didn’t even involve swimming. Once I stopped trying to load the fin so much (formula reflexes again), beam and close reaching was very controllable and felt fast. That chine gives a surprising amount of grip.
My second outing was in 5-12 knots, badly underpowered on the 9.0. This time I took my GPS. Again trim was hard to judge with that sail, but the board was much easier in the flatter water. Upwind I was hooking along in the gusts at 8-9 knots board speed, and it railed nicely at that speed. In the lulls it’d drop back to 6-7 knots, but the wake separated cleanly at the stern at that speed (and in fact right down to about 4 knots boat speed). At the lower speeds the foil didn’t really generate enough lift to overcome the considerable lateral stability of the shape, so I’d stand on the centreline and try to rail it – with mixed success.
The board tacked *very* slowly – although again, a bit of grunt in the sail would help.
Interestingly the board hardly accelerated at all when bearing away. I think 8-10 knots board speed in that wind with that sail was pretty much top speed. Without the extra apparent wind gained from heading into the wind the sail was pretty lifeless, so stay tuned – the story might change when I get a more suitable sail. Still, quite a strange feeling after the cat-with-a-firecracker acceleration of the formula board (although if I was out on my formula board that day I would have spent 75% of my time slogging).
Downwind the board slipped along beautifully. Dead square was easy, much more stable than a Div II. 3/4 reaching was surprisingly difficult to keep steering straight in the small chop, especially in a board that turns so sluggishly tacking and gybing. The nose can tend to steer the board if it hits a wave at an angle with the board heeled, and the same shifting CLR effects I saw upwind in the heavier air came into play when surfing down a wave. Add to that the almost negligible rig steering, and it was quite a winding path I took. There was no question of using the harness lines with needing to retrim so much, but with the board sliding along so easily there wasn’t much rig pressure in the hands anyway.
Finally, some comparisons. The RS D2 isn’t really competing against Formula in the market, but it is competing for my riding time, so a few thoughts.
It’s a bit of a myth that Formula is a light wind format. Notwithstanding the ability of the pros to get around in vanishingly small amounts of breeze, Formula is at its best in around 15 knots of breeze. Below 10 knots for my skill and fitness level planing ranges from difficult to impossible. In this wind the formula board is exhausting work, with its big heavy rig and gigantic planing hump to pump past. Actually, the formula board is exhausting in any wind, but in light wind the effort/reward ratio gets a bit on the thin side. The RS D2 was a far more pleasant experience. I got to windward a lot quicker, and without the risk of a long slow slog home.
In the stronger breeze, there’s no doubt the Formula board is much quicker. No surprise there – around a race course a Formula board in the groove is about the fastest sailing craft there is, up there with foiler moths, 18 ft skiffs and America’s Cup class yachts. However, the RS D2 wins on several counts. Firstly, it’s a lot less aerobically tiring. I put in a solid two and a half hours on the RS D2 on the windy day, even with all the falls. The formula is such high intensity all the time that I get winded before I’ve really worked my muscles fully, and I rarely last more than an hour. Combine that with less time on the water due to the sheer unattractiveness of light wind formula, and there’s a fitness hump I’ve been struggling to get over. I’m not a gym kind of guy, so the RS D2 actually represents a (fun) way for me to build fitness which in turn will benefit my formula sailing.
Secondly, the RS D2 is a smoother ride. With high speeds and that huge flat surface, sailing formula in any serious chop is like being beaten on the soles of the feet, and is a serious workout for legs and knees – and at my age the knees aren’t always up for it. Thirdly, fewer gear decisions. Again, fitness plays a part. With pro pumping skills and gorilla-like strength, the top formula guys can make an 11.0 sail work from 5 to 25 knots. For me, that same sail works from 10 (ideally 12) to 18 knots, meaning every session starts with agonizing over the forecast. The RS D2 offers a simpler life. Insane wind? Take the flat 9.0 (or just jump on a wave board 🙂 ). Anything else? Take the raceboard 9.5. Easy.
Finally, is this the new Div II? Not quite. The Div II was sheer elegance upwind, and actually very easy to sail on the breeze, and the RS D2 doesn’t really match that. In heavy wind, though, Div II’s suffer from not being able to keep the power on, whereas a heavy guy on a flat-bottomed board can just keep the hammer down. Div II’s were very quick off the breeze as well, even in planing conditions (another myth), but insanely unstable running square. There’s no doubt the RS D2 is easier off the breeze, even with its submarine tendencies. Right up to the point where I was running downwind on the light wind day I was sort of wishing the RS D2 was more Div II-like. A couple of wobbles in the chop, though, and it all came flooding back to me. That one point of sailing, in those specific conditions (moderate wind with chop), is so horrible on a Div II that if it came down to it I’d take the RS D2.
In conclusion – so far the RS D2 is looking just the ticket. If it turns out to be fast on the racecourse as well, that will be just an added bonus.
I have a Demon 9.5 raceboard sail on the way. I’ll post some more when that arrives.