Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ten Reasons Why Sunfish Are Better Than Lasers


Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm something of a Laser nut. I am so emotional about the Laser that, at the slightest provocation, I can be triggered into a rant on why the Laser is the best boat in the world and into heaping scorn on any other kind of sailboats be they keel boats (leadmines), multihulls (why do you need training wheels?), or Force 5's (Laser wannabees for old farts).

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.

  1. It's cheaper. A new race-rigged Laser will set you back around $5345 right now; but the equivalent Sunfish is "only" $3995.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?
Update 2 Feb 2008: the picture at the top of the post shows one of my friends from Hunterdon Sailing Club in New Jersey. Here are some links to more stories about sailing at HSC.


Related posts
Hunterdon Sailing Club
Sunfish Fleet 17
Wednesday Night Racing
Sold


37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post ... I enjoyed all ten points. (BTW, I'm a 'laid-back' sailor and over 40)

Derek said...

I sail both boats and think they each have their merits.

#1a The Sunfish used boat market makes it relatively easy to find an old sailable boat for less than $1000. In many cases these boats can be competitively raced. In fact, the 2006 North American Championship was won in a 30 year old boat. When is the last time someone won a major Laser regatta in a boat even half that age?

PeconicPuffin said...

As a 14 year old at camp I was put into a Sunfish in a lake in upstate New York. When the counselor had me sheet in the sail for the first time, and I felt the wind and the water and the boat all working together...that was the moment I fell in love with sailing.

That's got nothing to do with Lasers, I know.

Brian said...

To quote the bard (Niedermayer), "You're all worthless and weak!".

Lots of fudge in some of these points. If I left everything on my Laser rig, I'd have it up in a jiffy, too. Apples to apples?

Shocking self-realization: I might meet the over-competitive description in point 10. Looks like I gotta add finding a self-help program and add 12 steps to my to-do list. I guess I'll have to push back lunch and squeeze in re-orienting my life from 13:35-14:00 this afternoon.

topper159 (now Laser167718) said...

Tiller on the rigging of a laser you shouldn't really take the battens out the batten pocktes as it stretches them giving less stifnes and power to leech also if you have trouble attaching clew try the old rig it all on the ground method (it also keeps the sail fresh as it does not flog around)

Hate to sound a know it all but i went to laser training at the weekend and found these things out and i love to share

Anonymous said...

Rigging a laser sail on the ground by putting it on the boom and mast makes it REALLY, REALLY difficult to lift and manage in a breeze when it comes time to step the mast. I have seen Olympic Campaigners struggle with that.

Anonymous said...

Well said Tillerman. I am certainly on the same page as you, although (at least) ten years older.

Anonymous said...

I just moved from Dallas to Seattle. If there was a reasonably competitive Sunfish fleet here I'd join it in a minute. Same comment for something more "modern" like a MegaByte (I'm a bit on the "heavy side" I'm afraid)....

In Dallas I used to race Butterflies - not only does the Butterfly share some of the advantages (cheaper, halyard), but in Dallas when I moved there there were only two fleets of single-handed adult programs - Butterfly, and MC Scow. The MC costs about five times as much as a Butterfly, and the club where the MC are raced is significantly more expensive then the one where the Butterfly were, and less convenient to where I lived and worked - so it was a no brainer.

Bottom line - if you want to race - you sort of "stuck" with the historical choices made in the area where you happen to live.

Bummer - but that's life...

Cheers,
Gery O.

fomer seattlight said...

Hey Gary,

Your in Seattle, you have the opportunity to build then sail the ultimate single hander, the International Swift Solo, and get help from the creator of the beast himself.
A big guy like you might like having 3 sails instead of one.

Bruce said...

I raced the Laser for 20 years and then switched to the Sunfish. If everyone is sailing bath tubs and bed sheets - get one of those. However, I found that the sailors in the Sunfish Class are more friendly, more helpful and a heck of a lot more fun.

Pat said...

The folks in the Arizona YC discussion list (on Yahoo) stole Tillerman's list and are discussing it semi-seriously.

Tillerman said...

How dare they? Semi-seriously? Who do they think they are?

I demand to be taken seriously or not at all.

Tillerman said...

FWIW the 1,200th visitor to the blog today arrived at 8:30pm looked at 6 pages and stayed for 5 mins and 3 secs.

They use Windows XP and have a monitor resolution of 1280x800.

No wait, they must be still here. They have now looked at 6 pages and been here 6 minutes and 47 seconds.

They use Firefox 2.0.0.11 and entered via the main page of the blog.

They are at latitude 41.6092N and longitude -71.1744W which is...

Hmmm. Tiverton, Rhode Island.

Hmmm. Must be me.

Goodnight.

Willie Waw said...

It's not too late for you to get another Sunfish -- gotta get ready for another 'Round Jamestown regatta!

Willie

Anonymous said...

I've sailed both. I believe you may be delusional. Quantity may have a quality of its own, but the former does not trump the latter.

Boat-wise, that is.

Signed,
a gaff rigged wooden boat guy.

EVK4 said...

I have sailed a sunfish and have photoshopped myself into a laser. I have to admit I have no preference.

They are both small and don't appear to have a noteworthy amount of lead keeping them toxic-paint-side down.

Litoralis said...

The amount of lead keeping both Sunfish and Lasers right side up is dependent entirely on the composition of the nut attached to the tiller.

Pat said...

Both boats do an admirable job of staying right-side-up when strapped properly to a trailer, which is hitched correctly to a vehicle, and driven at appropriate velocities and in a lawful, prudent manner.

Most of the attitudinal problems I've seen occur when the boats are sailed. Remember, 1001 support boat operators can't be wrong.

eagle said...

Rita, a sunfish sailor, just bought a Laser. I just wanted to see for myself how complicated it is to set up...my son finally came home from college and set it up for me. The Laser has come a long way since I sailed it in the 80's.
I love sunfish sailing.

Anonymous said...

If you like to go swimming buy a Laser.If you want a little kick around boat buy a Sunfish.If you want a world class singlehander buy a Finn or an International OK Dinghy.If you want to race find a local fleet and sail what they sail.

bwanapete said...

I'm 63, raced a Sunfish from 1962-1976, and Lasers since then. (Just got my fourth Laser.) People used to race Sunfish rigged so the boom was parallel to the water, but now rig so the front end of the boom is just off the deck, and now there is no headroom. Maybe this is faster but it spoils the Sunfish for being pleasant to sail.

I prefer Lasers because they go faster. I concede that with the new vang controls, we do reduce our headroom too, but not as much, and we can still see under the boom mostly.

As for rigging, next time you step the mast on a Laser, try this: top hand high on the mast, bottom hand holding on to your vang rigging at the end which you will later hook onto your boom. This is way easier than grabbing the mast with both hands.

Anonymous said...

Sailors are some of the best, most appreciative, people in the world. This post is proof of that.

Anonymous said...

Re: rigging a Laser in strong breeze. Start out having the masthead to *windward* of the boat. Place the mast butt at the top of the mast step tube, start raising the mast and the wind does most of the rest!

Just be ready to swiftly push the mast all the way in the step when the mast is vertical (before the wind continues taking the masthead to leeward, resulting in possible puncturing of the mast step tube).

Heymatey (y'all know who)

Tillerman said...

Absolutely right Heymatey. That's always the way I do it. But it's amazing how many Laser sailors don't know that trick. I always tell people this when I see them struggling to get the mast in the step in a blow, and they think I'm a genius!

Mary Anne Byrne said...

Great article! I am in the process of deciding Laser Radial or Sunfish. I have been crewing Lightnings and Santana 20's for years and now wish to "drive." I came away thinking I am going to practice on both designs, but perhaps the Sunfish would be a better choice for racing. My club doesn't have a Radial fleet so I'd have to start with the regular Lasers. i'm 60, female, and on the small side. I enjoyed your article and your remarks were helpful.

bonnie said...

Ha! This is funny, but not surprising. The sailing report for the weekend was "Fast and furious, all Sunfish went with Jens rigs". I wondered what that was and look where Mr. Google brought me!

life_is_good said...

What camp?!? My camp in upstate New York uses sun fish!!

Khangoroo said...

I recently got the chance to sail a sunfish and it was great fun. So this weekend in Seattle I have the chance to purchase either a sunfish or laser. I have read tons of articles and forums and am still tossed between the two. It sounds like the laser will be more difficult to rig and has a steeper learning curve than the sunfish, but in the longer run I might be rewarded with more skills acquired from sailing a laser that I could potentially use on bigger sail boats. Is this an accurate assessment? Which one should I purchase?

MYCSunfish Fleet said...

Ah Tillerman, your first step back from the dark side. Welcome back!

Tillerman said...

It is what it is MYCSF. I will probably sail a Sunfish again when I am too old to sail a Laser.

MYCSunfish Fleet said...

That's the good thing, you're never too old for a Sunfish.

Anonymous said...

Well, Sunfish was designed in 1953 vs. Laser in 1969. There is a difference there...

Anonymous said...

Sadly not many Sunfish in the UK but they are a lovely looking thing. I am a 50yr old Laser Sailor liking the look of the more laid back Sunfish. I wonder if Mrs Laser would be up for a move to the States?

Tillerman said...

Well , that's what I did. I sailed a Laser in the UK, moved to the US and started sailing Sunfish because that's what they did in the area of the US where I lived, kept sailing a Laser too, moved to a different area and sold the Sunfish, and now I'm getting nostalgic about Sunfish sailing again.

Anonymous said...

At our lake, someone started "Sunfish Sundays". Now there's a small group that go for a pleasant sail together each week.

Soundbelter said...

Dude, your picture is in a new rock video..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=773RLR5-FgY

Baan-Sawan Villa said...

I would like to export/ship some good quality second hand Sunfish boats to Thailand. Can anyone help?

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