I wrote last week about a problem in our Laser fleet. A member of the fleet had been persuaded by a sailmaker, also a club member, to buy two knockoff Laser sails that are illegal for club racing. (Two sails because he had two kids with Lasers too.) The sailmaker was trying to make a case that such sails are OK in "friendly, local fleet racing".
Should I be a hardass and tell the guy he just can't use the sails? Would that be unfriendly? Can he just return the (custom made) sails to the sailmaker? Or will the sailmaker just refuse to take them back? After all he made what was ordered.
I polled all the members of the Laser fleet by email as to how they wanted to handle this. Some were angry at the sailmaker. All had sympathy for the purchaser's quandary. Some felt that we should stick to strict one-design rules. Others were more open to relaxing the rules for friendly fleet racing. In the end, all the members of the fleet, some more reluctantly than others, agreed that our friend could use his knockoff sails. But no more exceptions.
When I communicated the fleet's feelings to the owner of the sails he was touched that everyone was prepared to help him out, even when this meant going against strongly held views of what one-design sailing is all about. But now he understands Laser class rules better and how all of us feel, he is not so sure he wants to take advantage of our friendliness to him by actually using his new sails. He wondered if it might be better if only his kids used the sails because they don't finish as high in the fleet as he does; on the other hand they will develop and will start winning races soon. We wondered how future new members of the fleet will feel if they join us and see a couple of boats with illegal sails. The more we talk, the more I can see his discomfort with the sails increase.
We laid out one of the new sails over another legal sail. Then we realized. This is not a knockoff at all. The curve of luff and leech are different. The panels are in different places. The window is in a different place. The battens are in different places. It has a tack grommet as well as a cunningham grommet. The sail cloth is heavier. This is not an imitation Laser sail. It is simply a sail that will fit on a Laser.
The unfortunate purchaser pondered what to do. Should he return the sails to the sailmaker? Should he try and sell them privately as practice sails? In any case, he is now very reluctant to use them. He went across to talk to the sailmaker. I only overheard snatches of the conversation. Later in the day the sailmaker tried to tell me all the reasons he had made the sails differently from legal Laser sails. The main gist of his argument seemed to be that he can't buy sailcloth that is as "crappy" as that used for real Laser sails, so he "has to use" better quality cloth and that forces him to build the sails differently. So they are "better" than real Laser sails? He is only digging a deeper hole.
My fellow Laser fleet founder S. has written an article for our club newsletter reaffirming the principles of one-design sailing and stressing the importance of following class rules. I felt it would be good if the article came out over the names of all the fleet captains. So, without going into too much detail of the original issue, I forwarded it to them for comment. If anything they were even more extreme than I and S. were. No variations, no allowances, no flexibility.
I will be interested to see how my friend, the purchaser of the sails, decides to proceed. The only good thing to come out of this is that it has not caused division and bad feelings among our fleet members. But the whole affair leaves a bad taste in my mouth.