crossed up

Part two of the Laser at the Crossroads by Jean-Pierre Kiekens. Part one is here.

– New Radial Composite Bottom Mast Section;  Top Composite Section & Video

As I mentioned in the webcast, the top composite/carbon section seems to be a good patch, but it came late (seems first trials were in 1999), and at a pretty high cost for what it is (625 euros in France for example). I now hear in the grapevine that these top sections may not all be the same, in terms of flexibility. I hope this is not true, because that would bring us back to the situation where the top sailors will be testing 20 or 30 top sections before selecting one fitting their requirements. This is not one design sailing any longer. Actually, variable degrees of flexibility of the top section may be a way to accommodate wider weight ranges, but then it should be a stated goal, and not a byproduct of inconsistent production.  In windsurfing, you have many types of mast flexibility to choose from. In the Optimist, typically sailors have several sprits and select the one to use according to the expected conditions. Maybe that’s a model that the Laser could embrace. I insist: maybe; it would need to be analyzed in depth. And yes, there is a new Radial bottom mast section that is coming, but again pretty late and at a pretty high cost, as announced in Australia, adding to the price of the boat, while the competitors – D-Zero, M-14, RS Aero – don’t need these upgrades, as they are all already full composite for their rigs (2 parts of the mast, plus the boom – which stays aluminum in the Laser). As for the Sarah Douglas video, which was not part of my slideshow, and on which I was asked to comment, I think she posted it on her Instagram for the fun. I was not suggesting she was using an aluminum top section for racing. Just that it was an aluminum section in the video. What I understand is that many youth sailors still use aluminum top sections in Europe. The price difference between the two types of section is substantial. It seems that at least for the 4.7, where much less boom vang is typically applied, if there was better quality aluminum and and more consistent manufacturing involved, a top aluminum section would be fully sufficient. The last thing youth sailing needs is for the Laser to be even more expensive.

– Universality

I address the question of universality in my May 31 2018 article « Singlehanded Dinghies for the 2024 Olympics: Selection Criteria and Potential Contenders » — see https://optimist-openbic-sailing.blogspot.com/2018/05/singlehanded-dinghies-for-2024-olympics.html  Key aspects of universality are that equipment is widely accessible around the world; that success is more related to athletic superiority and tactical understanding than technical knowledge of the specific equipment; and that equipment is simple, standardized and no option is given for development, optimization or customization under its Class Rules. Of course, today, the Laser is dominant around the world, following its nearly 50 years of existence and its Olympic status for over 20 years, since 1996. But what’s stressed by World Sailing is accessibility of the boat worldwide. That’s what will need to be determined. None of today’s Lasers will compete at the 2024 Olympics. None of today’s Lasers will even serve for the Olympic campaigns of the top sailors in anticipation of the 2024 Olympics. As mentioned in the webcast, the top sailors regularly change hulls, typically every one or two years. Many sailors have several hulls. So buying a new boat from another brand is not a big step from buying a new boat from the Laser brand, as long as the boat is actually available worldwide for purchase. And for the sailors who are not those eying the Olympics, in particular youth sailors, I have made abundantly clear that I think that the Laser should be kept as the preferred single-handed youth dinghy, for a substantial period of time, of say at least 4 years. Indeed, for those sailors, sailing a new hull is much less important and there is a strong case for continuing to use the large fleets of Lasers that are say between 2 and 10 years old. What is not desirable obviously is to create a new monopoly, something that would actually be scrutinized by the European Commission and possibly various national authorities. If things are managed properly, the replacement boat for the Laser can become as universal as the Laser, i.e. that boats will be readily available for purchase in all the countries desiring to compete internationally. And the Laser can remain at the same time central to single-handed youth sailing. That’s in principle feasible. I think that World Sailing will not interpret universality as being the most abundant single-handed boat today in the world. If they do, then why did they even bother starting a process to possibly replace the Laser in the first place?

– The Case for Taking a Pause

I argue in my article « The Laser at the Crossroads » that there are two very distinct scenarios. Either the Laser remains Olympic for 2024, or it doesn’t. I will not repeat the arguments here, but what’s essential, in case the Laser loses its Olympic status, is to save youth sailing in the Laser 4.7 and the Radial, and even make it better. So lots of work would need to be done with the youth sailing authorities in the key countries where the Laser is strong, in Europe in particular. Any changes to the Laser will need to be agreed upon with all these authorities along with the builders, and the general membership. Meaningful changes, including to the rig, that will make the Laser a better youth boat, while at the same time not unnecessarily increasing its cost, will likely have a good chance to pass. If the Laser keeps its Olympic status, there will still be a case to reconnect with the membership and figure out what to do to improve the boat and avoid the confusion of the 8 different rigs. So yes, I maintain, there is a case for taking a pause, and this is a very constructive recommendation indeed.

Andy Roy’s Comments can be found here https://www.facebook.com/SailingIllustratedBlog/videos/813275225705785/ and are copied below. Andy Roy is not only an amazing Laser sailor but also the North American Chairman of the Laser Class.

Comments about the January 21 announcement by the Laser class

Here are ten comments about the January 21 announcement by the Laser class “Information for ILCA Members About New Rig Development”

  1. The Laser class announcement is not in line with the vision of the class president, who clearly states in a June 2018 video that white sails and aluminium rigs don’t belong to the future of the Laser. Now we are told that the 4.7, Radial and Standard, with their white sails and at least partly aluminum rigs, will stay. But also that the c5 will still be deployed to be further tested, and that the selection of the other rigs will be sorted out by the market. This is vastly different.
  1. The justification of the c5 rig is the lack of adoption of the 4.7 in some countries. But is it the fault of the rig? The 4.7 is in fact hugely successful in many countries. What happened in countries such as Canada and the USA is that there was no real effort to promote the 4.7. The manufacturers also have disseminated for years misleading information regarding the optimum sailor weights for each rig – suggesting that it’s ok to sail the Radial from 121 lbs / 55 kg, which is actually the minimum realistic weight for the 4.7. And the usual explanation is: well it’s usually not windy, so why sail a slow 4.7, especially in a joint fleet with the Radial, where it has no chance to win. Recently, some clubs have been successful in 2018 in building 4.7 fleets, for example in Halifax. The sell is pretty easy: buy a secondhand radial, get a 4.7 bottom section and a sail, and use the 4.7 after the Opti, for one or two years. For non-class equipment, this is a total purchase of US$250 (150 for the bottom section, 100 for the sail). With class equipment, it’s more expensive, with a total of US$800: $200 for the bottom section, and $600 for the sail. You may want to read the article I co-authored about Jumpstarting the Laser 4.7 in North America.
  1. Will people really go for a much more expensive fancy colored rig, sailed by very few initially, instead of going for the 4.7? Don’t forget, most of the sailors are out of the Optimist, and they have been used to an old design with white sail for years. Moving to the Laser is a relief, as there is no bailing involved any longer. But the 4.7 is a tough enough rig out of the Optimist, for the sailors between say 110 and 140 lbs. Why change something as simple and that works so well in the many places where the right efforts have been done. This involves separate 4.7 and Radial fleets; and coaches advising to go to the 4.7 out of the Opti rather than offering the choice between the 4.7 and the Radial. Here is a suggestion however: it would be interesting to test some new designs of the 4.7 sails, as there may be significant improvements to achieve. That should be done under the auspices of ILCA. And the idea would be to phase out the 4.7 sail and replace it with a better design, in a similar way it was done to phase in the MKII sail for the Laser Standard.
  1. The c5 rig has been tested for 4 years according to the release, yet the class considers it’s now right to deploy it « as a test to see how they perform in racing conditions in active fleets. » This is suggesting not only that the rig may not be fully ready, but also that ILCA may be backing the c5 rig for regattas, which will be a cause of concern, as this has not gone through the membership. This rig is in direct competition with the 4.7, and will undoubtedly weaken the 4.7 in those places where it is released. And the transition from the c5 to the Radial will not be that obvious either, as these are very different rigs, with different types of tuning. Anyway, why would a competitive sailor use a rig for which there are no regional or world championships? There will be confusion, and fragmentation of the fleets. And it’s just the beginning, as the c7 and c8 rigs are next, and next May, there will be also the ARC Standard and Radial by Laser Performance too.
  1. As for the suggestion that the new rig may attract new sailors, it’s certainly worth testing, even though this is coming real late in the game. Remember, in the UK, there has been for a long time a non-class Rooster 8.1 rig, for heavier sailors, which has never caught up worldwide. But for light weight female athletes, the weight of the hull is also an issue. And it’s why the RS Aero 5, with both a light hull and a small sail (even if white), seems appealing to these sailors. Maybe a solution for the Laser class is to restrict access to the c5 rig to adult sailors – and to attempt bringing new such adult sailors to the class – to avoid disrupting the 4.7.
  1. The market is unlikely to resolve this multitude of rigs. People are not going to buy 2 or 3 rigs to find out which one is better, and also figure out which one to use, depending on who is sailing it locally. Clubs will be in a similarly awkward situation. People sailing one-design single-handed boats are really not interested into this. It’s a turnoff more than anything else. Actually, with the advance in technology, it would probably have been possible to reduce the number of rigs to 2, instead of 3, as the new rigs are supposed to support a wider sailor weight range.
  1. What the market is more likely to resolve is the choice between a Laser and one or several of its competitors. In the UK for example, there are growing fleets of RS Aeros and D-Zeros. In the USA, both the Melges 14 and RS Aero are growing. The multiplication of rigs with the Laser class is more likely to fragment and weaken the Laser fleets, while at the same time offering a compelling argument to opt for one of the competitors – something that many mostly master Laser sailors have already done.
  1. The assertion that the Laser provides a low cost boat is not really true any longer. The 3 competitors to the Laser, as selected by World Sailing, offer what is generally seen as higher quality boats, at comparable or just somewhat higher prices. One of those new designs is even cheaper than the Laser, on the European market. And we know that non-class equipment (spars, sails, etc.) are way cheaper than class-legal equipment, with mostly similar quality. There are big mark-ups involved. The Laser sails are particularly onerous for what they are, especially the 4.7 and Radial – as the MKII for the Standard brought some improvement and is said to last longer.
  1. The lack of knowledge by ILCA of what Laser Performance does is a bit surprising. Why such a close relationship with the Australian class and the Australian manufacturer, and apparently no clue what Laser Performance – by far the dominant producer of Lasers – is doing in terms of rig development? It seems that there was a missed opportunity to get everybody to work together for the future of the Laser. Instead, there are disparate, competing initiatives, which may actually not bring about the desired outcomes.
  1. And then maybe the most critical aspect from the statement. The Laser class now confirms that it will only show up at the World Sailing Sea Trials, part of the decision process for the 2024 single-handed Olympic dinghy, with their Radial and Standard (white sails, partly carbon, partly aluminum) rigs. The three competing new designs – M14, D-Zero, RS Aero – are expected to be significantly faster. Using 2018 Portsmouth Yardstick numbers, one can estimate that, for a one hour race, the Laser would arrive around 4 minutes after the RS Aero 9 or the D-Zero, and the Radial about 4 minutes after the RS Aero 7. Of course, it will all depend on the wind and the abilities of the various athletes. But this provides an idea about what may happen at sea trials if the boats compete against each other. Such lower speed may impact the decision making, although it’s not an explicit criteria. There are also indications that the sailor weight range for at least some of these new designs is significantly wider than for the Laser, for which the weight range is notoriously narrow, both for the Radial and the Standard. Sailor weight range is one of the criteria set out by World Sailing. So, despite 4 years of new rig development, the Laser rigs to be  presented for 2024 will be the ones we all know. It will be a tough contest to win for the Laser, despite its present global dominance as a the largest single-handed dinghy class. And if the Laser is not Olympic in 2024, this has huge consequences for the future of the class – as discussed in my article — The Laser at the Crossroads.

Note: Portsmouth Yardstick numbers used in the UK in 2018: D-Zero: 1029; Laser Standard 1098; Laser Radial 1142; RS Aero 9: 1019; RS Aero 7: 1068.  For a one hour race, expect RS Aero 9 and D-Zero to arrive first, close to each other, and then about 2 minutes later, the RS Aero 7; 4 minutes later the Laser Standard, and 6 minutes later the Radial. There are no yardstick numbers for the Melges 14, it can be expected its speed will be about that of the D-Zero and the Aero – i.e. significantly faster than the Laser. So there is about a 4 min gap between the new and old designs. This is less than 10%, which actually shows how the Laser was really groundbreaking 50 years ago. But it’s a 2024 single-handed Olympic dinghy that needs to be decided upon of course.

Find the medial release at this link: http://www.laserinternational.org/blog/2019/01/21/information-for-ilca-members-about-new-rig-development/