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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

May 25, 2010
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Sailing World

Laser

Change to a two-piece carbon mast Develop a radial-cut full-rig sail Lighten th hull with modern building techniques Stuart Streuli

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.

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Laser
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.

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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.

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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.

A project is underway to replace the foam-and-steel-cored centerboard with one made of fiberglass. This would be a good move. The new board would be more durable, but not lighter.

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Finally there is the hull, which has become sturdier with added reinforcement over the years. But this has come at a performance cost. Perhaps it’s time to cut the hull weight back to 125 pounds and use higher tech methods—hull core—to strengthen problem areas.
In the end, it will still be a Laser. But it will be faster.

Farr 30
By Stuart Streuli

Performance has never been a problem for the Farr 30. Even 16 years after it was first drawn up by Bruce Farr, the nimble 30-footer can produce grins like few boats ever have. It combines all the technical elements of big-boat racing—sail selection, rig tune, and precise teamwork—with dinghy-like maneuverability and speed. The problem is the Melges 32 now occupies the same real estate in terms of size, cost, and annual operating budget. It’s 10 years younger and the class is growing rapidly. So does this leave the Farr 30 on the scrap heap? Hardly, the class must recast itself as a bargain DIY thrill ride rather than the grand-prix E-ticket adventure it once was.

Used Farr 30s run from $50,000 to $90,000. And with the Tour de France á la Voile transitioning to a new design in 2011, there should be more used boats hitting the market this year. But the key to rebuilding interest in the United States and elsewhere is reducing the annual campaign costs.

The 2009 class rules allowed two professional sailors and one “industry professional” per crew—normally the boat sails with six or seven. For a class regatta, teams can carry three jibs and four spinnakers. One of the spinnaker slots is for an asymmetric kite, which necessitates extra hardware and cordage.
Reducing the professional sailor quota to one, paring down the inventory to one full-size jib and one heavy-air jib, and allowing only symmetric spinnakers will make it less expensive to compete at the highest level.

The boat will be nominally slower around the course with the all-purpose sails, and the tactics and boathandling won’t be as crisp without as much paid help. But will anyone complain if the class returns to the point where 15- and 20-boat fleets are the norm?

The class now controls its own fate as longtime class administrator Geoff Stagg has stepped aside.

The 2010 Worlds in Hyères, France, which will be run under the existing class rules, offers a perfect opportunity to give this great, middle-aged girl some new legs.

J/24
By Tim Healy

The first step to modernizing the archetypal one-design keelboat would be to lower the crewweight limit from 882 to 725 pounds. This would give teams the option of sailing with, on average, either four 180-pounders or five 145-pounders. Currently, most teams sail five-up, with women’s teams usually consisting of six sailors. With less weight on the rail, the boat will be faster and livelier upwind in less than 10 knots, and faster in all conditions downwind. It will also allow more room for each crewmember to perform their respective jobs. Sailing with one less crew will make it easier to field a full crew, and the boat will be less expensive to campaign.

With less weight on the rail, the switch from the genoa to the blade should take place at around 12 to 14 knots. Currently, the top teams sail with the genoa in all but the windiest conditions. Going to the blade earlier will make the genoas—the most expensive sail in a J/24 inventory—last longer. While smoothly cross-sheeting the J/24 genoa through a tack in 18 knots is a badge of honor among class stalwarts, making the small-jib sail plan competitive above 15 knots will enable a pick-up sailor of any size to perform much closer to the top trimmers. Without the genoa in breezy conditions, the tactician and helmsman will have a much larger field of view to leeward, which should reduce collisions and fouls.

Both sails would be most durable if made of an aramid fiber such as Kevlar or Technora, which is currently class legal for only the genoa.
A full-length top batten in the main would prolong life of that sail; an existing mainsail could be retrofitted for approximately $100.

Eliminating the outboard motor and simplifying the list of required equipment will reduce the weight of the boat by up to 140 pounds. Do we really need a fire extinguisher on a boat with no motor and no wired electronics?

The total weight savings between the reduction in crew weight and the required gear represents an 8-percent savings over the previous sailing weight.
The class could look at eliminated the genoa once teams have had time to get accustomed to sailing in the lighter configuration. More power could be found by slightly increasing the roach on the main. Replacing the wire backstay with aramid and installing a flicker—as on a Melges 24—would allow a further increase in sail area.

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