The Laser's My Other Boat

/SW/ editor at large Gary Jobson has been sailing Lasers since they were called Weekenders. "Jobson Report" from our April issue

Jobson Sailing

I've sailed many boats, both casually and competitively, big and small, but the Laser is the only boat I've always considered to be "my other boat." Over the past four decades, it's been my one constant; it's always kept at the ready, hanging in the garage. ¶ My Laser career actually got off to a rocky start. In 1970, the Laser's designer, Bruce Kirby, gave a lecture at the New York Maritime College. After the talk he invited me to Rowayton, Conn., to try out a new dinghy he had designed. At the time, it was known as the Weekender, but it was renamed the Laser, after a new technology that would provide huge scientific advances. A few days later, I found my way to Rowayton and launched Kirby's flat-decked dinghy off the float. The boat had the number 100 on the sail, which designated that it was the first one built. My 6-foot 2-inch, 180-pound frame seemed to fit the boat perfectly, and how fast I could get it to go was directly related to how hard I hiked. Handling the mainsheet and tiller simultaneously was a little tricky at first, but the boat was simple and fast, and gave me a sensation I'd never before felt on dinghy. I could have sailed it all day long.On the way back to the dock I could see a stake in the water with an arrow on it; I couldn't decide whether the arrow pointed toward a rock or a channel. As it turned out, it was warning me about a rock, but I went inside the stake and promptly ran aground, taking a chunk out of the Weekender's centerboard.Kirby wasn't worried at all about the bruised centerboard. He really wanted to know how I liked the boat. "It's great," I told him. If he asked me the same question now, 37 years later, I'd give him the exact same answer.Thinking back to that first sail helps me recall a few memorable moments in the boat. One of my favorites was in the summer of 1972. That year I qualified for the O'Day Singlehanded Championships by winning the College Nationals. The O'Day was sailed out of the Richmond YC on San Francisco Bay on the infamous Berkeley Circle. The afternoon thermal winds blew hard at 30 knots or more and I will never forget one incident during a race when all 16 boats were screaming toward the reach mark. Jibing seemed out of the question, but tacking to round the mark was an absurd alternative. At that moment, I was in third place and went for the jibe. The vang was too tight and after it whipped across, the end of the boom caught the water and I promptly capsized. I remember being incredibly upset, but then I noticed that every other boat in the fleet had also capsized. This race would be won by the guy who could right his boat the fastest.In the middle of the mess, Craig Thomas, a Seattle sailor, finally arrived at the mark, having capsized earlier, and shouted to all of us in the water. "I'll show you how to do it!" And with that bit of bravado he pitch-poled. It was classic. We all cheered.A few years later, the first official Laser World Championship was to be held in Bermuda; there were 120 spots available to those who qualified. That year, in August, I was one of 188 competitors that descended on the Royal Canadian YC in Toronto for the North Americans; from here the top four would go to the Worlds. The competition was intense and the series came down to the last race with 10 of us mathematically in the running for one of the coveted four spots.During the pre-race tune-up I noticed that boats coming out of the port side of the course were always gaining and crossing ahead of the boats on starboard. I figured out that a strange wave pattern made steering difficult on starboard tack. About three minutes before the start, I broke away from most of the fleet that was clearly maneuvering to start near the starboard end. At the gun, I flipped over to port tack and crossed the entire fleet by six lengths. It was one of the most thrilling moments in my sailing career. I went on to Bermuda and finished 11th. Peter Commette won the event.And speaking of Commette, I'll never forget one early regatta on Barnegat Bay, when Commette, young at the time, tacked under my lee bow. I worked hard and was able to roll over the top of him. Many years later he told me the incident still bothered him. I'm glad it wasn't the other way around. But that's the beauty of the Laser-it truly rewards effort. The harder you sail, the flatter you keep the boat, the faster you go. Half-hearted hiking just isn't enough.The Laser has given me many moments that still make me smile with satisfaction. At one of my early Laser regattas, I remember watching Art Ellis, a Princeton football player, unload his Laser, put it on his shoulder, and carry the boat down to the beach while smoking a pipe. It was an intimidating act. Ellis won that day in heavy wind.There was one regatta where all the boats were provided, and one competitor took every centerboard out of its box to see which one fit his centerboard trunk best. It was an audacious move. When he found the board he like best he wrote his name on the side and left it in the boat. The following day, all the sailors arrived at the beach where the boats were sitting; every boat had a centerboard in the trunk with the name of the guy who had written his name on every board in the fleet. I bet he got the point.I recently entered a Laser Master's Regatta-I'm a Grand Master. It had been a few years since I last raced and I learned that there are many new, cool ways to rig the boat. I picked up a tuning guide to help me figure it all out. With my boat on the dolly, I laid out the printed instructions before me and started leading the lines through the assorted blocks. I noticed a competitor video recording my procedure. I asked what him, "What are you up to?""I just thought it would be fun to show my fleet how you need instructions to rig a Laser," he replied. Ouch!No matter where you sail there is likely a Laser fleet nearby. Many of the competitors don't sail any boat other than a Laser, but they are very competitive. Today I enjoy day sailing my Laser as much as racing it. When I push away from the dock and trim in that main I still get the same thrill I experienced when Kirby let me take his Weekender for a spin. Leaning out against the hiking straps gives me a sense of power, strength, and freedom. Lasers are forever.