Depending on who you believe, the Radial is the right option for sailors under 170 lbs (Ryan Minth), 165 lbs (RYA) or 155 lbs (International Laser Class). Whatever. I guess it all depends on what kind of wind conditions you are talking about and how advanced your skills are.
The real point is that the Laser Radial is a better option than the standard rig for smaller sailors. As such it has become popular among women (it is the women's Olympic singlehanded class) and for junior sailing. It ought to be more popular among smaller adult men who fall in the target weight range but, at least in the USA, there is some reluctance among that group to sail Radials. It's a bit of a macho thing; some of them don't want to sail a boat that they perceive as more suited for kids and women.
There are major international championships for Radials. And at some of the larger Laser regattas there are often large Laser fleets that have separate starts from the full rig fleets.
But there's a problem at the club level and at smaller regattas. One of those classic chicken and egg problems. Usually at this level there are only a small number of Radial sailors so they typically start and race with the standard rig fleets. Of course, with a smaller sail area, Radials are generally slower than standard rigs. Although it is interesting to see how a skilled Radial sailor can usually beat a less skilled full rig sailor, especially in heavier winds and when the full rig guy doesn't have the ability to sail the boat flat in those conditions.
So, at these events the Radial sailors usually finish somewhere down the fleet. Sure, there is often a cup or a plaque for First Radial. But everyone knows that this doesn't count as much as the "real" First Place trophy. It's a bit like those consolation prizes for "Second Old Geezer Between 55 and 65" that (on my better days) I sometimes win.
And here's the chicken and egg problem. More Laser Radial sailors would probably show up to these club and local events if there were a separate start and the Radials could race in a fleet of their own. But the race committee doesn't usually want to bother with the hassle of another fleet if there are only two or three Radials racing.
So I was pleased to see that my old frostbite fleet at Cedar Point Yacht Club has "bitten the bullet" on this one and has decided to offer a separate start for Laser Radials in their racing this winter.
Here is their press release...
Cedar Point Yacht Club in Westport, CT, already home to one of the largest Laser fleets in the country, is pleased to announce that they are expanding their successful frostbite program to include a separate Radial Fleet start. Seeking to capitalize on the enormous popularity of the Radial rig in junior sailing and also to provide a competitive outlet for juniors deeper into the season, the Radials will start several minutes behind the full rigs.Good for them.
Fleet Captain Steve Fisk pointed out that Radials aren’t just for juniors and that many adults who aren’t big enough or physically able to hang onto a full rig on a breezy day should also find the option attractive. “With over 100 boats in our fleet, we have the critical mass and organizational skills to make this a huge success. The club is behind it 100%."
10 weeks of racing begins October 12, 2008. NOR.
Of course Cedar Point is not the only frostbite fleet in New England. I wrote a couple of years ago about other fleets in Something Special Happening in New England. I think the information in that post is still correct. I certainly plan to be sailing this winter with the Newport Laser Fleet, assuming I don't pull some risky and dangerous move to injure myself again as I did last year this month.
By they way, a lot of the people who sail in these Laser frostbite fleets in the winter are folk who sail other classes in the summer, and who want to keep their skills sharp during the winter for when they return to their "other boat" next summer. I've seen sailors of other single-handed classes, two-man dinghies, keelboats, even serious ocean going racers in these frostbite fleets. So even if you're not a Laser sailor, you should give it a shot.