Laser SB3: (Sportboat) Drivers Wanted
Laser SB3: (Sportboat) Drivers Wanted
The Laser SB3 is the talk of the European small-boat scene, and in advance of its U.S. arrival, we headed to Skandia Cowes Week to find out whether it was a hit or hype. From our October 2007 issue.
Many of the SB3 sailors I gradually met over pints of Magners Cider at the SB3 compound on Shepards Wharf-a temporary regatta village with the essentials: Laser Sailing's service center, an expansive bar tent, grill truck, massage service, chandlery, and late-night disco-couldn't explain why their beloved fiberglass boat had taken off so quickly. Even the SB3's designer, Tony Castro, who watched the first race while hovering ahead at the controls of his private helicopter, admitted he was surprised. Castro's design portfolio over three decades covers the gamut, from IOR on up to IRC, and a lot in between, but nothing has ever caught on quite like his SB3 ("SB" for sportboat, "3" for the number of crew).
"We had no idea it would be this big," he says, "I suppose we came up with something everyone was wanting all along. It's not quite a dinghy and it's not quite keelboat. It's both."
James Lund-Lack, of Performance Sailcraft Europe, says the boat's success is right there in the design brief given to Castro back in 2002. It had to be fast, stiff, stable, simple, and sailed by three or four people, legs-inboard style-none of that spleen-crushing, over-the-lifeline hiking of some classes. It had to be priced to move in Europe's competitive small-boat market, and like the singlehanded Laser itself, it had to be a strictly controlled, builder-supplied one-design class; this includes sails, which are built by Hyde. Most importantly, it had to be easy to trailer. This last stipulation led to a fortuitous partnership early on. "Our first year [in Cowes] I took one of the top guys from Volkswagon out for a race," says Bedell. "I was just supposed to go out, show him a good time, and not be too competitive. But then we were doing really well and my competitiveness really kicked in. I was yelling at the guy the entire time, and I remember thinking, 'Oh God, what have I done?'" As it turns out, the guest later admitted to being a bit of a screamer himself on his own boat, and was enthralled with his turn on the SB3. He accepted PSE's proposal to have Volkswagon sponsor the class. Volkswagon, in turn, would use the partnership to promote its mid-sized tow-friendly SUV, the Touareg (pronounced by the sailors as "tow-rag"). The SB3 is just shy of 2,000 pounds, but for the record, I'm told, a new Touareg laden with ballast set some sort of world record by towing a Boeing 747.
So with an injection of startup funds (neither side would release how much) and a four-year sponsorship package, the SB3 class was off and running with a slick, sponsored circuit with stops throughout Europe. And the gravy train kept rolling. For Cowes Week this year (and years previous), the entry fee included a dry bag full of high-priced goodies, including one $1,500 VW Toureg-branded class spinnaker that competitors were allowed to keep, so long as they sailed the entire regatta-or at least most of it.
My SB3 tutorial took all but five minutes on the first morning, and that's about all I needed. On the foredeck and on the mast there are halyards and control lines for the pole and spinnaker tack line. At the forward edge of the cockpit is the spinnaker bag, under which is a watertight hatch to access a "dry" compartment (there was always a sponge-worth of water in ours) with a shelf for a small outboard engine, and room for required equipment (anchor, chain, and safety gear).
The "Gnav" vang (an upside-down, reverse-thrust vang system built by Selden/Proctor) is on top of the boom so there's a wide-open workspace for the forward crew. The middle crew deals with the traveler, backstay, and mainsheet if necessary.
"The boat looks very simple," says Bedell, "but that's only because there's was a lot of development that went into it. With the exception of a few bits of hardware, we haven't changed anything from Day One." The mast is a sturdy, but infinitely tunable, 30-foot, double-spreader aluminum rig with vertical and diagonal shrouds. The sail-control systems-from the backstay on up to the jib-halyard fine-tune, ran perfectly smooth under load.