Among the many helpful and supportive comments to my self-pitying post Half a World about how I had only managed to sail half the races in the recent Laser Masters World Championships on account of my general unfitness and overall wimpiness, not to mention also being a crap sailor, was one from Tony...
I feel a little dirty for suggesting this, but have you thought about swapping to a Radial for the next Worlds? San Fran then Fremantle, both will be a battle in the full rig but much more fun with a smaller sail. Might be a good way to rediscover the fun.
I need to go and wash my mouth out now.
Hmmm. What is a Radial, some of my readers may be asking themselves? And why does Tony feel dirty for suggesting this?
The Laser Radial is just a Laser with a slightly smaller rig. It has a shorter mast bottom section than a standard Laser and a radially cut sail with an area of 5.76 square meters as opposed to the 7.06 square meters of the standard rig. I've never sailed a Radial but I suspect Tony is suggesting it because the Radial would likely to be somewhat easier to handle than the standard rig in heavy weather. I wouldn't need to hike as hard to keep the boat flat upwind and it's reputed to be somewhat more stable downwind. I guess. But what do I know? I've never sailed one.
But why does Tony feel dirty for suggesting that I sail a Radial?
I'm only guessing because Tony comes from Australia and I'm more familiar with American and European attitudes to the Radial. You see the Radial is really intended for sailors in the 130-165 lbs weight range. Not surprisingly it's very popular with youth sailors and women sailors. It is, after all, the women's singlehanded class at the Olympics. As a result, there's a bit of a macho attitude, at least in America, that "Real Men Don't Sail Radials." However not every adult male weighs over 165 lbs. One of my English sailing friends, who has also lived in the USA, tells me that there isn't the same negative macho attitude to Radials in Europe; if you are a smaller adult man you will quite sensibly sail a Laser Radial there instead of beating yourself up trying to handle a full rig in heavy weather.
So I will try not to feel dirty like Tony and ask myself honestly, should I be sailing a Radial? Well, one factor is that I'm not a little guy by any means. I'm 6'2" tall and usually in the 195-200 lb range, in spite of my constant efforts to get closer to the optimum 180 lbs for full rig Laser sailors. Aren't I way too heavy for a Radial?
Maybe not. You see, there is another factor. Age. At the Laser Master Worlds competitors sail in age group divisions and you can choose to sail in Radials or Standards (full rigs). So there are Radial Rig fleets for the age groups 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, and 65+, and Standard Rig fleets for age groups 35-44, 45-54, and 55-64.
See anything strange about this arrangement?
Yup. The International Laser Class in all its wisdom assumes that the top Laser sailors in the world, those aspiring to win or who may already have won masters world championships, will all sail Laser Radials as soon as they turn 65. There is no division at the Master Worlds for full rig sailors over 65.
Why should this be? Why would they want fat old dudes like me (who may well be even fatter after another three years of my wife's superb cooking) weighing over 200 lbs perhaps, to sail a boat designed for people 40 to 70 lbs lighter? Do they assume that we will all be so weak and decrepit by the time we turn 65 that we won't be able to handle a full rig in 25+ knots in big waves on the open ocean? I'm shocked.
But wait. Isn't this where we came in? Didn't this 62-year-old sailor demonstrate a few weeks ago at Hayling Island that age does matter and that sooner or later, perhaps around the mid 60's for the average bloke, you're better off trading down to a Radial? Maybe. Maybe not.
Not everyone agrees with the ILCA's assumption that you should be sailing a Radial once you turn 65. Some macho dudes want to keep sailing full rigs at the Masters Worlds after they turn 65. And, in truth, they still can. There's actually nothing to stop some old geezer of 80 sailing in the Laser Grandmasters Standard fleet. It's intended for sailors aged 55-64 but, as long as you are over 55, they seem to let anyone sail there. There was at least one sailor over 65 sailing in the Grandmasters Standard fleet at Hayling Island. He may have regretted it though. On that first windy day, he even finished behind me in the first race in spite of my many capsizes (what a disgrace) and he also (like me) chose not to compete in the second race. Would he have been happier sailing against his contemporaries in the Great Grandmasters Radial fleet? I don't know. Only he can say.
(I warned you this would be a random ramble... And it's not finished yet. This might be a good time to take a pee break if you need one.)
It is also true that some sailors under 65 like me who normally sail full rig Lasers on the local circuit, do chose to enter in the appropriate Radial fleet at the Masters Worlds, especially if it is a location rumored to have strong winds (like most of the locations chosen for the Worlds, it seems.) I guess they reason that they will have more fun sailing every race in a Radial than thrashing about, struggling to complete even half the races in a full rig like proud, stubborn idiots like me. But, to be fair, the guys I know who do this are not 6'2" and 200 lbs like me either.
At the Masters Worlds, it's all or nothing. You either sail in a Radial fleet all week, or in a Standard fleet all week. But at Masters regattas in North America they allow a practice called "rig-swapping." (Tony would probably think this is very dirty!) On any given day of the regatta you can choose to sail in a Radial or a Standard Rig (assuming you have both.) Some folk think this is unfair because supposedly it gives lighter sailors an advantage. But the powers-that-be like the policy because it maximizes participation. On very windy days when some sailors might stay ashore, they will still race if they are allowed to use the smaller Radial rig.
The same is true in many local fleets for sailors of all ages, my local Laser frostbite fleet for example. Many of the sailors there (albeit not usually ones that are 6'2" tall and who weigh 200 lbs) will sail full rigs on light wind days and Radials on heavy wind days. Like rig-swapping at Masters events, it maximizes participation.
So am I at the point where I too should become a rig-swapper? That is the question.
Should I assume that I will still want to be sailing in Masters Worlds Championships after I am 65 and at that point I will choose do the sensible thing and sail in the Great Grandmasters Radial fleet with my contemporaries, rather than do the macho thing and sail in the Grandmasters Standard Fleet against mere kids of 55? And, if so, should I buy a Radial rig now and start getting used to the different sail? Should I become a rig-swapper at North American Masters events and when frostbiting, and follow Tony's suggestion of sailing a Radial in San Francisco in 2011 and Fremantle in 2012? That is the question.
Will I be ridiculed by my American friends for sailing a Radial when I weigh 200 lbs (plus any subsequent increments caused by my wife's superb cooking)? Would I feel less guilty about sailing a Radial if I actually lost some weight so I was somewhat closer to the ideal range for a Radial sailor? Or should I just work harder on becoming fitter, fit enough to sail a full rig Laser properly in heavy air without getting exhausted after one race? That is the question. Actually that's another question. Really several questions. But they are related to to the first question.
Should I stop this post now or just keep rambling on? That is the question. No, wait, that really is a different question.