Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Laser Sails

Alan McNab asked a question about Laser sails in the comments of one of my posts yesterday...

Just curious if your new sail was Laser standard issue from Sri Lanka or the upgraded version from the UK (I think). You can feel the difference in the material.

I had to smile. Lasers are of course strict one-design boats so an official Laser sail is an official Laser sail. Right? Well, maybe not. In the search for that elusive edge over the competition who are all sailing (almost) identical boats, Laser sailors will pursue almost any (legal) stratagem. Their quest is, to some extent, provoked by the fact that hulls, spars and sails are manufactured at different factories in different parts of the world so it's natural to assume that minor differences in manufacturing methods or sourcing of materials might mean there are differences in performance. Are European spars stiffer? Are Australian hulls lighter? Maybe it's worth finding out. Or maybe you just need to have faith.

The Laser class try very hard to maintain consistency of equipment between different manufacturers. Apparently there's a very detailed comprehensive (but secret) builder's manual that defines exactly what materials and methods to use for every component of the Laser. And I understand that the class has a technical manager who visits and inspects the factories and sail manufacturers to make sure that everything is being done to spec.

So why does Mr McNab think that there is such a thing as an "upgraded" sail from the UK? Here's the scoop...

Laser sails are made by North Sails (for the North American and Australian markets) and Hyde Sails (for Europe). You can buy a Hyde sail in the USA but it is more expensive than the North sail. But is it better?

This issue has been debated ad infinitum on the Laser forum and the general consensus seems to be that unless you are in the Ben Ainslie/ Robert Scheidt stratosphere the difference in performance (if any) between North and Hyde sails is so minuscule as to be irrelevant to the average weekend warrior.

And before the comments develop into a rant about outsourcing and third-world manufacturing standards and slave labor, let me just point out that both North and Hyde have their Laser sails made in Asia, in Sri Lanka and the Philippines respectively (I think).

So is MrMcab right in saying that you can "feel the difference in the material" between the Hyde and North Laser sails? I dunno. Never had the two side by side. But it did seem to me that the new North sail that I just acquired does not feel as stiff as the last one I bought. No idea whether this matters. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm just going to go sailing and concentrate on hiking hard, sailing flat and trying to be first to the next shift.

See you on the water.


Fred said...

Tillerman, it´s good that you >>concentrate on hiking hard, sailing flat and trying to be first to the next shift.<<, that is mostly what our sport is about.
But we are working with equipment and there are naturally some funny things happening. Not that I say with your beloved Laser sail. No, and not with different mast tops. For example it can be in the cloth. My personnel experience with some 6,5oz H & Bainbridge cloth some years ago as following: I normally used long lasting, fast jibs for my H-Boat with this cloth, manufactured in USA and used by a (blue white) Danish sailmaker. Changing the sailmaker (red/white) one season, who produced in Finland and supposed to use the same cloth we were fast one race and got hammered afterwards. Long story, short: We figured out later that the 6.5oz cloth had been produced under license in Holland with different environmental laws. The finishing (high tempered) product seemed to make the difference. The cloth got stretched in various directions unforeseen from the sailmaker and thus made the sail slow.
But, most of our sailing is taking place in the mindset. I wish everyone to overcome any doubts and just go out and do what Tillerman describes as above.

Anonymous said...

Used to sail with (against) Robert Scheidt, back in the early 90's in Florianopolis and Buzios, (Brasil) (of course he always kicked my ass!). At that time boats from Argentina, Brazil and Chile were all different, but the biggest difference was in the masts and sails. The brazilians were the first (at least in South America) to sail with three ot four different tops, and a couple of bases. Depending on each day's condition, they switched them, and believe me, it makes a lot of difference. Try sailing on 25 Knts with a light base and intermediate top, and you'll be a torpedo upwind!

Val said...

I was looking at buying a sail for Laser by a manufacturer that sells for much less than the ones made by Laser. It says they are not "class legal" since it's not made by Laser. Do you think that matters? It says it's "Made with high performance 3.9 oz. Dacron."
Does it sound like a good bet for a recreational sailor?
Here's a link. What do you think?

Thank you!

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