Hugh Watson had never sailed the RS21 until the UK National Championships at the RS Games 2022. Then his team only went and won it! We couldn’t miss the opportunity to learn more about his experience chartering the RS21 at the RS Games 2022. After a successful experience, Watson and his team will be representing Team GBR at the RS21 World Championship. Here’s what he has to say.
How did you get into sailing?
I got into sailing through my family, my father was a very passionate sailor, so I wasn’t given much choice in the early days other than to go out on the water. You could say it’s in the blood. Initially, we started on motorboats and cruising, but we began learning to sail on small dinghies and Optimists. Racing became a more significant part of my life during my teenage years, going from the Topper fleet to the 420s for a while. The main thrust of my sailing was in Fireballs, leading me to the Laser 4000. So, there was quite an array of boats before I discovered the RS800, which is awesome! I tried the RS200 but soon realised I was not too fond of hiking. So, I moved to the RS500 because of the giant spinnaker and trapeze. Through all of that, I’ve also dabbled in big boat sailing.
What keeps you sailing?
When I look back on my sailing career, now that I’m a bit older, what I’ve got from it is why I’m still doing it. The best part about sailing is meeting new people, seeing long-time friends, the interest and excitement of the racing, the ambience surrounding the sport, and the people participating. That’s what I get from it, and it keeps me in it.
How did you find the charter process? If someone else were to charter an RS21, what could they expect?
The beauty of it was that we turned up the night before the event. The boat was already rigged, and all the sails were there. Someone there told us how to tune the rig, how it handles, and if there were problems, how to fix them. At the end of sailing, we just walked away and didn’t have to worry about moving it to the following location. Having it on a plate for you feels like a luxury. If you think about bringing your boat, you pay for mileage, crane fee, berthing, spend time derigging and rigging, then storing it – there is a lot of benefit in chartering and having those matters solved for you.
What did you think of the RS21?
It was my first time sailing the RS21, and I loved it. The first day was about 7-8 knots, so it gave us an excellent chance to figure out what everything did and how to get the spinnaker up and down. The next day, the forecast showed more wind, so we thought it could be much more interesting. Overall, the RS21 was incredibly well balanced. Going upwind never felt like it was going to stall or spin out. You could ride the waves and handle the boat downwind with the spinnaker. It wasn’t nearly as wet as I expected; it was remarkably dry for the crew, or at least it was for me. The most challenging thing about sailing the boat was getting the spinnaker down and keeping it in the bag, but with more practise, I think we’ll have it nailed.
What did you think of the RS Games 2022?
I wouldn’t have considered taking part if I hadn’t bumped into Jack talking me into sailing the RS21 at the UK Nationals. He made it super and easy for us to be there, and it was so special to be part of such a massive event; it’s like the equivalent of Glastonbury, a festival and celebration of sailing. I also did the RS500 Worlds. It was extraordinary; I feel fortunate to be able to take part in two events. Secondly, to stand on the podium and spray the champagne was a privilege, I am proud to have been a part of it. The organisation of it was incredible; Lucy deserves a medal. I’m looking forward to joining the RS21 Worlds in Croatia this November!
What advice would you give to other people who want to get involved in sailing?
It depends on your age; there are so many opportunities for young people. For example, in the UK, we have the Andrew Simpson centre, a cost-effective way of seeing if you like it. It is hard to get into if it’s not in your family, so find people who sail regularly and go with them. People are always looking for an enthusiastic crew to go sailing with them. That’s the best way to get into it.
The other thing I would say is how quickly you can get up to speed and become competitive when you charter a boat. We won the first race we sailed; the nature of the RS21 meant there wasn’t a big learning curve to get up to pace. The boat lends itself to just jumping in and pulling the sails. It was such a good feeling!
The RS21 Worlds are an opportunity to visit beautiful Croatia and sail with my friends again. We have no expectations on the results and are looking to see what we can learn from the other international teams who have more experience in the boat that we do. The thought of 30-40 RS21 on the start line sounds like the basis of an exciting event with close tactical racing. Sailing a great boat with my friends in a beautiful country against top opposition – sounds like perfection to me!