Here's a clue. There's not much you can do within class rules to upgrade the equipment on a Laser but one item that is almost unrestricted is the tiller.
Yes my friend, today's mystery object is the Acme Carbon Black Diamond Laser Tiller, apparently the weapon of choice for all serious Laser sailors, at least in North America. There she is. What a jewel!
So, you may well ask, what's the big deal about having an "ultra-low profile" tiller? I couldn't explain it better than to quote the words of one of Acme's competitors, Rooster Sailing who also sell a carbon tiller for Lasers...
The big problem for Laser Sailors is - to get the maximum power out of the rig in medium winds, they need to get maximum leach tension on the sail. This is achieved by using the mainsheet to tension the leach alone. Kicker tension simply reduces the leach tension as the boom is also a pusher into the mast (bending it) as well as a puller down.The other more obvious advantage of a very low profile tiller is that with minimal friction from the traveler line, you have a much better feel for the helm in light winds. Having used the Black Diamond tiller for some time now I have nothing but praise for it. It certainly keeps all the promises that are made for it and it is superior to any other tiller I have used.
So the obvious answer is to use the mainsheet. However, in marginal hiking conditions the mainsheet keeps pulling the boom into the middle of the boat, due to its action from the ratchet block and traveler system which encourages the boom into the centre of the boat (the natural highest place). Some sailors find it easier to just use kicker to keep the boom on the corner, but unfortunately they loose pointing ability and speed due to the lack of leach tension. In an ideal world the traveler should be higher at the edges thus allowing the boom to want to stay outboard. Unfortunately the Laser tiller gets in the way. The higher the tiller the higher the traveler in the middle. So that is why top Laser sailors spend silly amounts of money on a carbon tiller so that it can be as low as possible and still stiff enough not to bang on the traveler cleat.
The area I still want to experiment with is tiller extensions. Acme make two carbon tiller extensions, the Fatso and Fatso Junior. (What marketing genius came up with those terms?) They are both all carbon construction with a surface that gives excellent grip and both have a comfortable oval cross-section. The only difference is that the Fatso is, well, fatter than the Fatso Junior. Duh.
I'm not sure which one will suit me best. On the one hand I feel that the larger cross-section version may be more comfortable for long days on the water. I did have a tendency in the past to suffer from cramps in my hands when Lasering and thought that one of the causes might be holding a very slim tiller extension. On the other hand, a smaller cross-section extension should be somewhat easier when trying to use the tiller hand with the sheet hand for rapid sheeting such as at leeward mark roundings.
Thanks to the generosity of Alex Maas at Acme Inc. I now have samples of both extensions as well as the tiller so will be able to try them both during the frostbite season. I'll write another post on my experiences later in the winter.