In my more rational moments I am sometimes prepared to admit that all kinds of sailboats can be fun in the right circumstances, that we are all different and have a right to make different choices in the boats we sail, and that we should respect each others' choices of sailcraft. (And stand united in our common hatred of jetskiers, of course.)
I used to sail a Sunfish for reasons I have discussed here before. I sold my Sunfish over a year ago and don't miss it (much). I still feel that for me, given my height, weight, location, interests, ambitions, fitness etc. etc., the Laser is the best boat. For me.
But the Sunfish is an excellent little boat too. So, for all the times I went on what SoulSailor calls one of my "big up the Laser rants", as a kind of penance, here is my list of the top ten reasons why the Sunfish is better than the Laser.
- It's cheaper. A new race-rigged Laser will set you back around $5345 right now; but the equivalent Sunfish is "only" $3995.
- It's faster to rig. For the Sunfish all you need to do is step the mast, hoist up the upper spar with the halyard, cleat it off and you're about done. (If you have controls for outhaul and downhaul they stay rigged on the spars when you pack the sails and spars away.) On a Laser you have to put both halves of the mast together, put the sail on the mast, put the battens in the sail, step the mast in the boat, and then depending on how you derigged you will have some more work to do to set up your outhaul, clew tie-down or strap, cunningham and vang.
- It's easier to rig. Stepping the Laser rig in the boat can be a challenge for smaller, less strong people especially in a blow. And catching the clew of the Laser sail and attaching it to the boom isn't exactly easy either in a strong wind until you get the knack.
- In some places, like northern New Jersey where I used to live, the Sunfish is the dominant single-handed class in that area. In my book, that makes it the best boat to sail there. Better be racing against forty other boats in a competitive fleet of Sunfish than be tooling around in a Laser on your own.
- The Sunfish depowers better in gusty winds. The thin upper spar of the Sunfish bends and spills winds more readily than a Laser rig does. For the puffy conditions we used to have sailing on small lakes in New Jersey, the Sunfish was a much easier beast to handle than the Laser in one of those unstable north-westerlies with gusts coming over the hills.
- The Sunfish rig can easily be depowered even more for lighter sailors in a strong wind using a Jens rig, which basically just involves tying the upper spar to the mast in a different way. Skilled sailors can even switch to a Jens rig while out on the water. In the Laser if you want a less powerful rig you basically have to buy a different bottom mast section and sail.
- Sunfish sailors are more diverse and it is more of a family friendly class.
Because the Sunfish has an inherently less efficient sail than the Laser (even though it is roughly the same area) and because of the last two points, the Sunfish can be sailed by lighter sailors over a wider body-weight range than the Laser; and it is not as physically challenging.
As a result the Sunfish appeals to a much more diverse group of folk than the Laser. Younger, lighter, smaller people as well as biggish guys like me. That means more kids and more women find the Sunfish a boat that suits them. Yes, a lot of fit young women are now sailing the Laser Radial but the sight of a woman over 40 at a Laser regatta is a real rarity. Not so at Sunfish regattas.
The attractiveness of the Sunfish to such a broad range of ages, weights, fitness levels and both genders gives Sunfish events more of a family atmosphere than Laser regattas. You do find the occasional father-son combination at Laser events. But family combinations sailing in the same races are much more common in the Sunfish world.
- The Sunfish has a neat little cubby-hole at the back of the cockpit where you can store extra clothes, lunch, drinks, a paddle, a sponge, a camera, all kinds of stuff. There is no equivalent on the Laser unless you want to add an inspection hatch and a bag and store stuff inside the hull.
- Even a doofus like me can get invited to sail on the US team at the Sunfish Worlds. Don't get me wrong, the standard of sailing at the top of a Sunfish Worlds fleet is as high as in any class. But it seems the talent pool of people interested in traveling to sail in a Sunfish World Championship is maybe not as deep as it is in other classes. In theory you need to qualify for the Worlds but in most years they are practically begging people to fill out the numbers in what has traditionally been a 100 boat fleet.
- I hope some of my hotshot Sunfish racing friends won't take offence at this final comment because it is meant in a positive way... Sunfish sailors are generally more "laid-back" than those ultra-competitive, type A personality, Laser chaps. If you don't believe me, just look at the picture at the top of this post again. If that's not laid-back sailing, what is? When did you ever see a guy sailing a Laser with a cushion?
Hunterdon Sailing Club
Sunfish Fleet 17
Wednesday Night Racing