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July 06, 2024 4 min read

Fresh back from the 2024 D-Zero Europeans and National Championships Ben Flower was kind enough to write this article for us based on his experience of the D-Zero, RS Aero and ILCA.

D-Zero vs RS Aero vs ILCA

Devoti D-Zero sailing in the UK

The RS Aero & Devoti D-Zero have now been sailing & competing on the water for a decade now, both with a similar concept: single handed with a single sail and an un-stayed rig. The immediate comparison is the Laser or the rebranded ILCA, with the original design in 1969 with little changes over the following 45 years meant it was rather outdated by the time Devoti & RS saw a gap in the market for a modern version of the Laser. 

The joy and attraction for many with the Laser is its basicness and accessibility for all. I sail at Paignton in Devon and in the club there is a talented sailor called Paul Proctor, he will rock up to the boat park with about 20 minutes before the start of the club racing and still have enough time to get changed, rig his Laser and sail to the starting area. However the outdated spars and sails needed renewing, anybody who sailed the old Mk.1 sails with aluminium top sections will know the pain of every time you went sailing you would have to unbend the top section. The top section became composite from 2017 and the Mk.2 sail came in 2016, a couple years after the Aero & D-Zero came onto the market and it makes you wonder whether these innovations would’ve come into the Laser/ILCA without strong competition from two top manufacturers.

RS Aero

I first got to sail the RS Aero in 2016, Peter Barton approached myself after the Starcross Steamer earlier that year to see if I had interest in doing the Nationals in Torbay later that summer. This in my opinion is why the Aero fleet has really taken off and maintained its popularity with a driven individual in Pete. In terms of the boat I remember sailing it for the first time and noticing how everything I disliked about the Laser was fixed. The foils of were super light when sailing with no weather helm, the mast had a halyard hoist, the control lines came to the side of each deck, the cockpit didn’t fill up with water in a nosedive, the spars were carbon and even the halyard had a pocket in the side of the sail. I sailed the Aero at a few more events over the coming years with the fleet being super helpful in finding a boat that would be available for myself to use.

Devoti D-Zero

However I always have wanted and enjoyed sailing in other classes, learning about them and improving my all round sailing knowledge and experiences. The opportunity to sail a D-Zero first came in 2018 at the Inland Nationals where Steve Bolland was kind enough to lend me his boat. I have to say the D-Zero in my opinion is fantastically designed. Some differences compared with the Aero is the foils are slightly heavier in the water giving abit of weather helm which in turn gives abit more feedback to the sailor if you hike hard and keep the boat flat. The sail is laminate rather than Dacron and the control lines are centrally rather than on the side of the deck, more similar to a laser.

Ben Flower sailing the D-Zero

Ben's Preference Around The Race Course

All three boats have their uniqueness about them and both the Aero & D-Zero classes are super friendly and encouraging. Since both the Aero & D-Zero European championships have just concluded where I was fortunate to race in both, here are my personal preferences for each boat all the way around the course.

Let’s start before we even launch: anybody that’s sailed a laser on a windy winter’s day in a boat park or field will understand the pain of rigging the sail, lying it down on the floor & having to lift the whole rig into the mast step. Both the Aero & D-Zero are superior in this regard both having a halyard hoist but I’m going to edge it to the D-Zero due to its cleating mechanism at the head of the mast. Now sometimes with the Aero cleat it slips slightly which caused the sail to come down an inch or two, Peter Barton has done a fantastic video of how to prevent this happening so if this problem has happened to you then definitely go check it out. The D-Zero this never happens though even to the inexperienced due to its system of using a bevel to keep the halyard in place.

Start line & manoeuvrability in the Laser I still believe is the best but this might be more down to the amount of hours slogged away trying to perfect the techniques. What I really found at the recent D-Zero Europeans was the difficulty to tack and combined with a low boom there was times where I got stuck head to wind.

Upwind what the D-Zero lacks in manoeuvrability it makes up for in the ability to be the only boat I’ve ever sailed where its more enjoyable to hike hard and low. Dropping the bow in a laser you don’t notice much of a difference but by sitting slightly aft in a D-Zero and dropping the shoulders to swing the bow low is so satisfying.

Downwind and on the reaches however the D-Zero doesn’t feel as rewarding especially with the bow constantly digging into the wave in front. On a loose windy reach there’s nothing more satisfying in single handed, single sailed sailing than sailing an Aero 9, when the boat is at full speed but in so much control with the chime on the hull deflecting water away from the sailor leads to some fantastic photos and massive smiles! The downwind legs are super challenging in an Aero 9 but also great fun, with the boat being so light you’ve got to be on your toes the whole time.

The Summary

For me the Aero & D-Zero are both fantastic boats and when picking between them it comes down to personal preference. But with both fleets being super friendly & helpful along with great social time off the water it will be great to see both fleets grow over the next decade.