Monday, December 21, 2009

Classic Laser

I must be old school. Or, maybe just old. As a result of my recent trip to see the fat virgin, I've become all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic for the good old days of Laser sailing.

To explain why I will have to give you a history lesson. You see, there have been three eras in the evolution of Laser sail controls...

In the current "Modern Era" we racing Laser sailors are allowed to put pulleys and blocks and purchases in our vang and outhaul and cunningham so that we can adjust any of the controls at any time with a mere tweak of the line with our fingertips. We can constantly adjust the sail shape to optimize the boatspeed for every little change in wind or wave conditions. In fact we can spend so much time tweaking the sail controls that it is entirely possible to overlook a huge wind shift or, for that matter, a starboard tacker barreling down on us. Oops.

Prior to the Modern Era there was the "Silly Rope Tricks and Macrame Era". You were allowed to put some extra purchases in the control lines but the powers-that-be had ordained that you couldn't use any blocks for those purchases because that would be against the "Strict One-Design Principle of the Laser Class as Envisaged by the Original Designer", or something. So you bought slippery line and tied little bowlines in the control lines and looped the lines through the bowlines to achieve the necessary mechanical advantage and then had to replace the lines about every three weeks when the lines wore out. It was really very silly. Very silly indeed.

But in the beginning, when I raced my first Laser in the early 80's, it was still the "Classic Laser Era". 3:1 vang. Outhaul led to a cleat on the boom. Minimal purchase in the downhaul. It was pretty much a set-the-controls-and-go boat. It was very hard to adjust any of the controls while sailing, though we old-timers did eventually work out one or two tricks to help us....

You couldn't adjust the outhaul on any point of sail except close-hauled (couldn't reach that damn cleat on the boom); but sailing upwind if you used both hands, one either side of the cleat, you could just about tighten the outhaul. Likewise with the vang; there was a technique for standing up, bouncing your whole body weight on the middle of the boom with one hand and snugging up the vang line with the other hand. It was quite possible to capsize during either of these maneuvers but that was all part of the fun.

I was somewhat surprised to discover that the Lasers at the Bitter End Yacht Club (where I spent my recent vacation) were still essentially Classic Lasers. (I guess this is what is sold for recreational use even these days.) They also had un-battened sails with no windows made by UK-Halsey which presumably are more durable than the class-legal sails which are made from some material rejected as too flimsy by Victoria's Secret.

At first I was mildly perturbed by this. How would I be able to sail the boat without my 15:1 vang and 9:1 outhaul and 12:1 downhaul? (I have no idea if those are the actual numbers so please don't abuse me for being a weakling if you only have a 10:1 downhaul.)

But then I rationalized it. What the hell? I'm only on vacation. And if I race a Laser in the Sunday regatta it's just the same for everyone.

Then I went through the masochism stage. It's harder when I can't depower the sail in a big gust, but it's good for me to have to hike more. It's annoying that I can't put on enough vang for upwind sailing in heavy winds but what doesn't kill me makes me stronger.

And then after a few days I accepted it. It took me back to my youth. (Or comparative youth as I didn't start sailing a Laser until I was in my early 30's.) This was how the Laser was created by the Great Designer in the Sky. Never mind tweaking the control lines every few minutes, just sail the boat. Watch for the gusts and deal with them. Less is more. Simplicity is a virtue. I learned (again) to love the Classic Laser. I found myself tuning into the wind and the waves and hugely enjoying the experience of sailing the best little boat in the world in one of the best places to sail in the world. I recaptured my enthusiasm for Laser sailing that I almost lost this year.

I must be old school. Or, maybe just old.


O Docker said...

Tillerman, this is one of the most brilliant posts I've ever read!

How do you do it?

tillerman said...


Andrew said...

Maybe a 'Classic Laser' class at Masters events?

Pat said...

Wouldn't a Sunfish give you even more of the classic primitive simple experience? I know where you could get one really cheap. Or two. Or three, for that matter. Or even more! Some assembly required.

Verification word: potion.

Do some people need a potion or a lotion to improve the motion of the ocean?

tillerman said...

Thanks for the suggestion Pat. I sailed Sunfish for many years and was on the US team at the Sunfish Worlds several times. But sailing that boat never gave me the same thrill as sailing the Laser does.

Oh, and there is a reason why old Sunfish are very cheap.

Dan Gurney said...

As one who started sailing Lasers in 1974 and took a 25 year long hiatus till a couple of years ago, I can really relate to your nostalgia for the classic Laser.

As much as I like the new sail controls, they distract me from the simple and pure pleasure of simply steering, ooching, and hiking like hell.

Well said.

Antolin on CHEESECAKE said...

geez boss...I AM a whimp...I sailed my 155456 laser this weekend...both days 15 to 20 with higher gusts...I hanked down on that cunningham as if it was the last hope for peace in the world....I had so much outhaul that the foot of the sail looked inverted...and had enough vang to make it very hard to scramble under the boom every tack...can't really imagine sailing the laser without all the modern mechanical the to learn have I master...glad you enjoyed your time....happy you are back on the air

Anonymous said...

Incredible post Tillerman. I get stoked for sailing just reading your words. Very well written !!

James White, Tallahassee

Post a Comment