Friday, September 14, 2012

Should I Buy a Sunfish or a Laser?

Someone called Khangaroo recently left a comment on my 2007 post Ten Reasons Why Sunfish Are Better Than Lasers.

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?


I have noticed that that post still gets quite a lot of hits. I think several Sunfish sites have linked to it. So let me say first of all that the post was written with my tongue firmly in my cheek. Everything in the post is true. (Well, no less true than most of the nonsense on this blog.)  And many of the virtues of the Sunfish that I praised will be why some people prefer it. But personally I still prefer the Laser.

As to the specific questions raised by Khangaroo.

1. The Laser really isn't difficult to rig. But it perhaps does take a few minutes more than a Sunfish. Personally I don't consider that a huge reason for choosing one boat or the other.

2. Does the Laser have a steeper learning curve? Maybe. If you are a total beginner you will probably capsize more in a Laser initially than you would in a Sunfish. Especially downwind in heavy air. If that bothers you then you might prefer the Sunfish.

3. Will you be rewarded with more skills from sailing a Laser that you could potentially use on larger boats? I doubt it.  The Laser is a bit more physical to sail but the actual sailing skills required to master both boats are pretty similar.

So should you buy a Laser or a Sunfish?

One factor that could be very important if you want to race is whether there are established racing fleets for each boat in your area and whether there is an established regatta circuit for that boat. When I moved to northern inland New Jersey in 1989, for example, I discovered that that area was a hotbed of Sunfish racing but that there was hardly any organized Laser racing close to home. So, although I already owned a Laser, I took up Sunfish sailing too. And I see that an earlier commenter from Seattle on the 10 Reasons post was already bemoaning the fact that there was no reasonably competitive Sunfish fleet in that area.

Another factor is what I might loosely term "respect." If you are a young person looking to catch the eye of college sailing coaches, for example, you will probably have more success by chalking up some impressive results sailing the Laser. Sadly, and mistakenly in my view, a lot of coaches still look down on the Sunfish as not a "real" racing boat.

On the other hand, if you don't want to race (or even if you do) then try both boats and see which one you find to be more fun.

At the end of the day, we do this crazy sport for fun, don't we?


my2fish said...

Laser sails are just so plain white and boring. the new 60th anniversary Sunfish sails are so cheerful and full of color!

Tillerman said...

Good point. If you like pretty sails, buy a Sunfish.

Actually you used to be able to buy colored Laser sails. My first Laser had a sail with orange and red and yellow stripes. And you used to get colored Laser hulls. I've had orange and teal and blue Lasers. But modern Laser hulls and sails are very boring.

Sam Chapin said...

The two big differences that I think of right away is the Laser controls of outhaul, Cunningham, and vang all work. The Sunfish has all that, but not as effective. But on the Sunfish you can lower the sail when ever. The hard chine makes the Sunfish more stable at high speeds. The Laser is faster. The Sunfish was there first and made the Laser guys want a better boat at that size. Well that is more than two.

Tillerman said...

The other two factors to consider are height and weight. I'm a pretty big guy and I find the Laser suits my size better, although I had a lot of fun racing the Sunfish for over 10 years and some of the top sailors in my class are about my size.

John in PDX said...

Buy a daysailer for the grandkids. Something that you can sleep on. It makes campouts fun. Find a boat that has a one design fleet.
Buy a sunfish too!

George A said...

Don't worry about boring sails or sail shape controls. Just get with the program--this works with either hull:

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