Tuesday, January 18, 2011

We The People...

There's always a lot of discussion in the United States about the Constitution. What did the Founding Fathers intend? Is this law constitutional? Why can't we make this sensible reform? Things can get quite heated at times.

The Laser Class has a Constitution too. There are 2807 words in the Laser Class Constitution. There are 4400 words in the US Constitution. Make of that what you will.

My post about Fairness generated a number of questions in the comments that are really questions about the Laser Class Constitution. Many readers wondered why we members of the Laser class can't solve the current sail issues that I outlined in Fairness by simply approving alternative sails from makers who have proved that they can deliver sails that are more durable and considerably cheaper than the current official sails. Indeed my post ended with a speculation of what would happen if we the class (we the people) simply made Intensity sails the new official sails of the Laser Class.

Ah, if only it were that simple. But there is that little obstacle of a Constitution.

So this is how it works (I think.)

The Constitution establishes a World Council. This consists mainly of representatives elected (indirectly) by the members, the Executive Secretary of the class (an employee of the class), and two representatives of the manufacturers. Currently there are six representatives of members on the World Council.

The constitution gives the World Council the right to make the rules of the class.

The World Council may make By-Laws for the purpose of carrying out the objects of this Constitution and of the Association and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, may make By-Laws amending the Rules of the Laser Class, hereby established as By-Law 1 of the Association, as provided in paragraph 29 thereof....

The most important rule they made, and the one that currently defines our policy on sails is this one...

The Laser shall be raced in accordance with these rules, with only the hull, equipment, fittings, spars, sail and battens manufactured by a licensed builder.

Ah, you say. Why doesn't the class just change the rule about sails? Well, in theory we could. Rule 30 actually says how we would go about this...

Amendments to these Rules shall be approved by each
(a) the World Council,
(b) the Advisory Council,
(c) at least two thirds of the membership replying in writing to the International Office of the Class in response to a postal ballot published by the International Office of the Class. Only those postal votes returned to the International Office within 6 months from the date of publication of the rule change shall be valid, and
(d) the ISAF.

(Slight oddity here. The constitution refers to the "rule changing rule" as Rule 29. But it's actually Rule 30. Whatever.)

Well that's not easy for sure. You have to ballot the members and get a two thirds majority, and after that get ISAF approval too. So it takes a while. But we do it all the time. The most significant change in recent years was the approval of totally new sail control systems - vang, outhaul, cunningham etc.

Wait. What's that about an "Advisory Council". Who are they? And if they are only there to be "advisory" why do they have to approve rule changes? The answer my friend is, of course, to be found in the Constitution...

15. The President and Vice President of the World Council and two persons nominated by those builders who are also Trademark owners shall constitute the Advisory Council and shall assist and co-operate with the World Council in the carrying out of their responsibilities, and shall have the responsibilities as set forth in paragraph 17 hereof and the paragraph entitled “Amendments” of the Rules.

Huh? Four people. Two of them are appointed by the builders? So does that mean that it's impossible to pass a rule change if the builders don't like it?

Sure does.

So, you say, my helpful friend, just change the Constitution to change the rule about how to change rules.

Let's see how we would do that...

17. Amendments to this Constitution shall be approved by each of:
(a) the World Council
(b) the Advisory Council
(c) at least two thirds of the membership replying in writing to the International Office of the Class in response to a postal ballot published by the International Office. Only those postal votes returned to the International Office within 6 months from the date of publication of the proposed change shall be valid.

Aaaghhh. That pesky Advisory Council again, with those two veto votes.

We are screwed. You can't get there from here.


O Docker said...

So, eventually, there's going to be a big protest by Laser sailors complaining about taxation without representation, dumping their sails in the water, and marching around the harbor with a lot of protest signs?

I have no problem with any of that but, if you do - please, please, get a spell checker first.

Tom J - Laser 1743413 said...

Prudence will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.

Joe said...

"dumping their sails in the water.." My god, are they insane? That would be the last thing any sensible sailor would do! (Oh yeah, we're talking about Laser sailors. Raucous bunch of rabble-rousers. I've heard them belittle Force 5, Mega Byte and even Cat sailors. Just read the SA sailing forums if you don't believe me.)

I'm just teasing....or am I?

Tillerman said...

We won't dump our sails in the water. We will make a mass donation of our sails to Victoria's Secret as the material used in the legal sails is far flimsier than anything VS currently uses to make ...ummm... well... their flimsies.

O Docker said...

I'm impressed with the revealing background research you've done to stay abreast of current trends in sail design.

An ordinary blogger would have taken someone else's word for it, but you kept looking until the appropriate figures were in your hands.

The work of a dedicated sail blogger is never done.

Tillerman said...

Thank you O Docker. Your sarcasm is always well deserved and certainly under-appreciated.

Mojo said...

Tillerman, you are now decoding the inscrutable "class" governance to find the answer to your question...

... or should I say, the explanation for its circumstance?

Deep Throat to Bob Woodward (in All The President's Men): "Just... follow the money."

Pandabonium said...

"Dumping their sails in the water"? Laser sailors do that on a regular basis when they capsize. How would anyone view that as a protest?

Unlike nations, sailboats have no geographical boundaries. Much easier to just start your own association and tell the builders to piss off.

Anonymous said...

Ah T-Man I love your blog and loathe the cost/longevity of the Laser sail thus I am very reluctant to defend it or the builder.

In essence the sail is overpriced rubbish but the boat is far and away the most popular single handed racer worldwide. Incidentally it is also the cheapest boat racing available at almost any level of competition. I am guessing that if you mounted a two year laser olympic campaign and bought a new sail every week you raced during the campaign you would still spend considerably less on equipment than a similarly serious Finn campaign over the same period.

At the end of the debate the builder owns the 'rights' to the laser and its class (racing) association and you pretty much accept that you like it or lump it - there are other (lesser) boats available!

Finally I am guessing that Beneteau would not allow other hull manufacturers in their races or Formula Renault allow you to compete in a Volkswagen.

AKA Poesje

Tillerman said...

Well said Brian. I must admit I am torn on this one. I have been a proud supporter of the Laser Class and the Laser racing concept for 30 years, and I still think it's the most fun kind of racing and one of the most economical ways to enjoy racing, in spite of some of the shortcomings I have highlighted on this blog recently.

Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating a widespread move to the use of replica sails, still less a break-up of the class. I'm just reporting what I see because I fear both of those things are going to happen over the next few years.

The post was mainly for my own benefit. I wanted to understand exactly how the Laser class works when it comes to rule changes and what the relative powers of the builders and members actually are. It was a bit excruciating but now I know!

Brass said...

OK, so you 'can't get there from here'.

What you really seem to be ticked off about is not unfairness between competitors, but unfairness in price-gouging by the monopolistic licensed manufacturers.

You can still try to prevail on local clubs and associations to run Laser-Like class races with everything Laser-Like except the sail.

You can also agitate the Laser Class Association to put pressure on the licensed manufacturers to drop their prices.

Someone previously mentioned the proposition that it worth a modest premium in price to achieve genuine one class racing. I am sure we would all agree with that. Your argument would be that the present premium over market prices is not modest, but is indeed exorbitant, and is hindering the growth of the class (and the growth of sales of sails).

Maybe you could discuss this with Fred (Gouvernail): his experience with the class administration might give you some ideas about leverage.

Give the system credit where it is due. As a result of the class 'selling its birthright' the class has achieved unprecedented size and stability over 40 years.

The exclusive deal with the manufacturers has a) 'walled-in' the class from pressures for 'development' and 'improvement' from outside designers; and b) removed all incentive to 'develop' the design by the chosen manufacturers.

There is a very fine balance between economic competition and stability.

If you free up competition among manufacturers, taking sails for example, it is only a matter of time before one of those manufacturers produces a better sail - a little bigger roach, a little better cut, a little more stable textile, then another manufacturer will produce a sail that is better again, next you won't know what is a 'Laser' sail anymore and you will have to start measuring sails, and before you know it, you will have all the overheads of class measurement, AND an arms-race for the 'best' sail.

I wish you joy of trying to improve your class, but go warily.

Tillerman said...

Brass, you are a very wise man. I agree with almost everything you say.

But it is not true to say that what I am most ticked off about is unfairness in price-gouging by the monopolistic licensed manufacturers, not unfairness between competitors.

First of all I don't think I have used words like "price-gouging." It's tough to make money in the sailing industry these days and I don't begrudge the guys in the industry doing what they need to do to make a decent living. I saw something on the Laser Forum today that said that the cost to a Laser dealer of a legal Laser sail is $315. If that's true, then most of the profit from the sail goes to the dealer. These guys are all local small businessmen doing everything they can to support the sport locally and I certainly would never accuse them of "price-gouging."

Secondly my main concern is to make the game of Laser racing as fair between competitors as it possibly can be.

The rest of your comments are right on the mark. I am not trying to destroy the class or to promote the use of replica parts. I am just reporting what I see happening and speculating about where it might lead.

The real solution is for the class and the builders to introduce a new one-design official class sail which is reasonably priced and, above all, durable.

I know work is well under way on the testing of the prototype of such a sail. Everything I hear suggests that such a new sail would be a huge step forwards for the class, creating a level playing ground for all sailors and not giving a major advantage to those who can afford new sails for every major regatta.

I also hear that there is a large obstacle to introducing that sail. I hope that the powers-that-be can find a way to overcome that hurdle ASAP.

Philip said...

So create a new "class".
College sailing did it.
Don't call it Laser.

Tillerman said...

Philip - you read my mind. Watch this space...

'nother Laser Dude said...

Thanks for figuring that out, Tillerman. I've been wondering who held ths class hostage ever since I joined. So really we the members are holding ourselves one another hostage by adhering to this strange rule.

Seems like the only way around it is to create a new class. We could call it the illegal class or outlaw racing and refer to the ILCA rules except the part about the sail and just have fun...

Hell, the Tunesian government just tumbled, why shouldn't the ILCA?

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