Stuffing the Status Quo
Stuffing the Status Quo
For three successful one-design classes, a down economy is no time to rest on their laurels. Tech Review from our May 2010 issue
The popular proverb aside, there’s a lot to be said for fixing things before they break, especially in the sport of sailing. With this in mind, we took a hard, proactive look at three of the most popular one-design classes of the last quarter century—the Laser, Farr (née Mumm) 30, and J/24—and explored what each could do to further ensure its long-term viability.
Is this the right time for such a discussion? After all, shouldn’t classes big and small be looking to preserve what they have until the economy improves?
Actually, now is the time for aggressive action. Current owners insistent upon selling will likely do so for a bargain price, making it that much easier for new owners to get into the class. Sailors looking to join a one-design class—whether migrating from failing or shrinking classes or looking for a first boat—will give any class that updates itself a second look.
This isn’t change for change’s sake, it’s thinking hard about what will ensure a thriving class 10 years from now.
No change is painless, but in each of these cases, the end result will be a stronger class, one better prepared to succeed when the economy rebounds.
By Ed Adams
Change the Laser? Arguably the most strict and popular one-design in the world? Sounds crazy. It’s been nearly 40 years and 200,000 boats since the Laser was introduced, and, in fact, there have been plenty of changes during that time, all for the better. The modern Laser is a much faster boat than it was in 1971, but needs to be faster still if it’s to compete with more modern high-performance one-designs.
The original boat was introduced at a price of around $700. Today, a race-ready package with all accessories will set you back nearly 10 times that much. For that price, you get a heavier hull that lasts longer, a heavier rig with improved sail controls, and a heavier sail, still with a short competitive life.
The first Laser hulls were as light as 120 pounds. The average hull today is closer to 135 pounds. Masts were originally about 2 pounds lighter; they were upsized after the introduction of reinforced booms, and as sailors began putting more tension on the boom vang. The average world champion in the mid-’70s weighed about 165 pounds, nearly 20 pounds lighter than today.
Upwind, the modern Laser sails slightly lower, but significantly faster, than the original boat. Downwind, wave-riding technique has greatly improved, so it’s safe to say that a 21st Century Laser sailor would trounce his ’70s counterpart. But imagine how fast that modern sailor would go downwind with a ’70s boat-and-body combination weighing 40 pounds less.
Laser class management maintains that upgrades must be introduced carefully, so as not to obsolete existing boats and force expensive new equipment on owners. Yet the change to the 3.8-ounce sailcloth and introduction of the modern rigging package effectively forced every Laser owner to shell out $400 to $500 to be competitive. The spars were strengthened only after repeated failures. And spar failures are still a problem today.
The obvious place to start is the rig. The two-part aluminum mast should be made of carbon tubes. It can be made with the same stiffness as the existing rig. The spars would be more consistent, last indefinitely, and you wouldn’t have to inspect them every day for permanent bends. Plus, they would be much lighter.
The boom should be molded of carbon fiber. It should also be lighter.
The distribution and markup structure make the existing crosscut Dacron too expensive. Copycat, non-class-legal sails are available for $200, yet the class standard full rig sail costs upwards of $550. The Radial sail, which is a more modern radial design, is also made of Dacron and lasts much longer. The sail for the full-rig should be made the same way, by the same designers.