With the biggest national championship fleets of any doublehanded class - only ever really being knocked off that top spot in recent years by classes having special anniversary championships - the RS200 is without doubt one of the leading dinghy classes in the UK.
Designed by Phil Morrison, the RS200 was launched in 1996 following in the footsteps of the larger RS400 back in 1994. They were among the first of the new one-design generation of asymmetric spinnaker boats that kick started a mini revolution in dinghy sailing in the UK in the early 1990s – first with the ISO in 1992, followed by the RS400, Laser 4000 and RS200.
As well as being smaller than the 400, the 200 featured a number of refinements, perhaps most notably a single-line launch and retrieval system for the spinnaker.
Constructed from polyester GRP with Coremat, the hull is strong, stiff and light and the boats seem to last well, while the foils are GRP sandwich. The spars are aluminium by Selden and the Hyde-built Mylar mainsail has ultra-soft full-length battens which reduce "ragging" with the aim of extending the life of the sail, while still allowing you to de-power. The small Dacron jib is easy to read in light winds and its low sheet loads are ideal for smaller crews.
Being an RS, there are a number of optional extras, which are generally worth having - unless, that is, you are an eternal boat-bimbler and enjoy doing the extra tweaks yourself (continuous kicker, spectra mainsheet strop etc).
Rigging and launching
Rigging is straightforward, although you’ll need someone to help hold the mast whilst you attach the shrouds and forestay. If the boat’s been left with the mast up, then it’s an easy enough job for one. The pivoting centreboard and rudder also help make launching and recovery easy as well as making the boat mudbank friendly. This is just one of the reasons why the design is so popular as a club sailing boat.
While the RS200 is sailed by a wide range of weights, there’s no doubt that it’s ideally suited to smaller, lighter adults. If you’re over 6ft tall you’re likely to find it feels more than a little cramped, and it definitely favours a small crew at the front where there’s not much room for big people.
When I first stepped into the boat, my 59kg frame felt right at home, whether helming or crewing. It attracts a fair number of all-female teams, as well as youths, couples and parent-child pairings. At the top of the fleet you’ll find a lot of mixed sex teams, which all amounts to a nicely balanced fleet when it comes to the social side, as well as on the water.
Upwind the RS200's narrow sidedecks make this a slightly painful boat to hike if you're not used to it, especially compared with the larger, wider-decked 400. It’s the crew that suffers most - a good pair of hiking pants is well worth the investment. The jib sheet is led forward of the crew, unlike the 400 where, slightly annoyingly, it’s behind you. The route across in the tack is straightforward and rapidly feels very natural. The controls are led to the centre thwart and are easily reachable by both the crew and helm.
In a short chop, the crew weight needs to be a fair bit aft to avoid shipping too much water. The boat is a real delight to handle in light airs as the hull is very responsive to weight transfer – although crouching to leeward the crew doesn’t have such a nice time of it!
When you turn the corner to sail downhill, the single-line system makes the hoist very straightforward. The spinnaker might appear small, but you can really get the boat flying in the puffs, and its size ensures that weaker crews can cope well. This is also one of the beauties of an asymmetric spinnaker, where there will be little weight as the helm bears away in the puffs – it’s only club racing when reaching with the spinnaker that things get tougher and heavier crews will be able to carry the spinnaker on some legs where the lighter-weight sailors may opt to leave it in the bag.
The RS200 is actually a little more challenging to helm than the RS400. Its slightly narrower (proportionally) hull makes it trickier to gybe – in fact over-steering out of the gybe is the most common mistake, easy enough to fix once you’re aware of it.
However, if things do go wrong, with a bit of practice you can ensure righting the boat is relatively quick and smooth – righting lines are ideal to assist you with this when you are getting to grips with the boat.
This design might have been around for a while, but it shows no signs of losing its grip on the UK dinghy sailing scene. While it’s by no means the right boat for everyone, it is a really enjoyable design to sail and with healthy fleets at local and national level, it offers a good challenge for a wide range of abilities. For a first boat, you’d probably go for something a little more forgiving like a Laser 2000, Wayfarer or RS Vision, but you certainly don’t need to be an expert to enjoy sailing and racing the 200. On the other hand, many top level sailors and Olympians dip their toes into the class attracted by the top level competition. The lack of a trapeze means it’s an easy boat to find a crew for, and although you need to be very fit to sail at the highest level, the design is a good steed for all ages and abilities. A cracking little boat!
For more details on the 200 and the rest of the RS range, see RS Sailing
Gael Pawson is the founder of Creating Waves, she was editor of Yachts & Yachting magazine for over 10 years. A keen racer, she has sailed all her life, and started writing about the subject whilst studying journalism at university. Dinghies and small keelboats are her first loves, but she has cruised and raced a huge variety of boats in locations across the world.