Weaver Wins US Women’s Championship!

Weaver Wins US Women’s Championship!

Let’s see, Abbie Carlson wins the Leiter Cup (just like Hanne Weaver did a couple years ago) and now Weaver wins the US Singlehanded Women’s Championship! Go PNW! This just came out. I’ll try to get Hanne to give us the lowdown and find some really good photos. In the meantime let us all congratulate our amazing young women sailors!

Please share this, not just with your sailing friends, but your non-sailing friends. The Pacific Northwest remains a hotbed of outstanding dinghy sailors, both men and women. Any young people who are into racing can gain some motivation from these recent successes, and any young person thinking about an exciting and challenging life-long sport should take note! –KMH

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (July 24, 2017) – Following four days of exciting racing in the sparkling waters of Lake Tahoe, Marek Zaleski (Norwalk, Conn.) became the 2017 U.S. Singlehanded Men’s Champion and Hanne Weaver (Seattle, Wash.) became the 2017 U.S. Singlehanded Women’s Champion on Sunday. Held in conjunction with the Laser Class U.S. National Championships and hosted by the Tahoe Yacht Club, the fleets were comprised of experienced and proven singlehanded sailors and an influx of new talented young men and women.

Zaleski’s performance was good enough to claim the overall title out of 43 boats in the Full Rig fleet for the Laser Class U.S. National Championship. Although Jake Vickers was a game competitor all week, Zaleski won five of the seven races and was the clear-cut top performer.

U.S. Singlehanded Men’s Championship: Final Results – Top 5

1. Marek Zaleski, Noroton Yacht Club, 1-5-1-1-1-1-[7]- ; 10

2. Jake Vickers, Severn Sailing Association, 3-[6]-4-2-3-3-1- ; 16

3. Caleb Robinson, Sail Maine, 2-[22]-5-13-5-7-5- ; 37

4. Cameron Feves, Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club, 6-9-8-9-[16]-4-13- ; 49

5. Peter Phelan, Santa Cruz Yacht Club, 7-11-7-6-7-14-[44/DSQ]- ; 52

Complete Standings

“The altitude and the water quality are two things that are different about this venue,” explained Zaleski. “I’m glad I got here early, because I was struggling when working out on my bike and the water is so clear, the Lasers float a little lower in the water, not a huge difference, but it’s noticeable.”

“I am campaigning for the 2020 Olympics non-stop,” said Zaleski. “I have over 200 days on the water since I graduated last year and a lot of time in the gym working on my fitness. So, it’s nice to see good results and that my work  is paying off.”

Weaver won the U.S. Singlehanded Women’s Championship by a 16 point margin over Charlotte Rose. She placed second overall to Chase Carraway out of 55 boats in the Laser Radial fleet.

U.S. Singlehanded Women’s Championship: Final Results – Top 5

1. Hanne Weaver, RVYC, SYC, 3-12-4-2-10-[18]- ; 31

2. Charlotte Rose, Houston Yacht Club / GCYSA, [23]-14-2-4-14-13- ; 47T

3. Kelly Cole, OCBC, 7-13-5-14-[56/OCS]-8- ; 47T

4. Lillian Myers, GCYSP, [18]-11-17-6-6-9- ; 49

5. Annika Fedde, Ventura Yacht Club, 13-26-16-27-9-[39]- ; 91

Complete Standings

“The wind and how it comes off the mountains and spreads out over the lake is the most challenging part of this sailing venue,” explained Weaver. “You really have to keep your head out of the boat.”

The race committee completed three races for the Lasers on Thursday and Friday and three races for the Laser Radials on Thursday and two on Friday. The conditions were similar both days with winds in the 6-10 knot range, primarily from 225° with violent shifts making it difficult to maintain “squareness’ on the inside-outside trapezoid course.

 

Lack of any breeze on Saturday forced the race committee to abandon all racing. Sunday looked like a repeat of Saturday, with a slightly better, yet inconsistent, forecast model. A 10 knot westerly burst through the racing area later in the afternoon. The shifts became radical and inconsistent resulting in a postponement and general recall before getting off the Lasers just seven minutes before the warning signal deadline. The wind was brisk resulting in a shorter than expected race duration for both fleets. They completed an important sixth race for the Radials (allowing for their discard) and a seventh race for the Lasers.

Sailors eligible for the U.S. Singlehanded Sailing Championships in the men’s Laser Full Rig and women’s Laser Radial Fleets must be U.S. citizens and at least turn 17 in the calendar year of 2017. These eligible sailors raced in their respective fleets as part of the Laser Nationals competition.

Prizes were awarded to competitors meeting the eligibility rules for the U.S. Singlehanded Championship:

  • George D. O’Day Trophy to the overall highest placing eligible male in the Laser Full Rig for the U.S. Singlehanded Men’s Championship.
  • Helen Willis Hanley Trophy to the overall highest placing eligible female in the Laser Radial for the U.S. Singlehanded Women’s Championship.
  • US Sailing medals were awarded to the top three positions in each fleet.
  • Peter J. Barrett Sportsmanship Trophy will be awarded and posted by Monday morning.

For complete results and standings and more information about the 2017 U.S. Singlehanded Sailing Championships, please visit the event website.

The 2017 U.S. Singlehanded Championships is sponsored by Gill North America and Hobie Polarized. This US Sailing National Championship is participating in the Sailors for the Sea’s Clean Regattas program.

2017 Lasers Masters US Championships – One for the Ages

2017 Lasers Masters US Championships – One for the Ages

“Someday, when we talk about windy regattas in the Gorge, this may not be the windiest one ever but it will definitely be in the conversation.” That assessment alone makes the Lasers Masters US Championships one for the ages.

That’s saying a lot when it comes from Bill Symes, who has sailed and organized as many Columbia River Gorge Association (CGRA) events as anyone. Symes also said it was the windiest conditions he had ever sailed in. Kaighn Smith, who made the trip from Portland, Maine, explained that in his neck of the woods “in those winds it’s just survival. Here guys are racing.”

The event was the Laser Masters U.S. Championship, so it wasn’t a bunch of strapping kids out there. Masters events start at age 35 and end at, well, who knows. In this event there were a large number of Great Grand Masters (65-74) and a “Legend” (75+).

Fleets were divided into the Standard (aka full) rig and the smaller Radial rig. There were 18 full rigs and 28 Radials, with serious international contenders in both fleets.

If anyone was on the fence as to which fleet to sail in, the choice was obvious. The wind looked to be in the 20s already when registration closed. After the usual Gorge warnings (“there’s no shame in coming in if it’s too much” and “don’t get in the way of commercial traffic, you may die”) about three quarters of the boats headed to the starting line. Over the course of the day boats limped in, some with shell-shocked skippers, others with broken parts. Nick Pullen, for instance, came in with what he thought was a broken rudder. It turned out to be a broken gudgeon. When does that happen? By the end of the third race there were only 8 full rigs and 10 Radials on the course.

All photos by Christy Usher of Christine Robin Photography. You can see all of them here. Thanks, Christy!

The leaders at the end of the first day carnage were no surprises, Charlie Buckingham in the full rigs and Bill Symes in the Radials.

The second day started much more sedately, in the low teens, which allowed several sailors to get back their Laser mojo. Just as things started to look like a normal regatta with just about everybody finishing and a good mix of finish places, the Gorge started “nukin’” again. The fourth and final race of the day was on a par with the day before, and once again the DNSs and DNFs started mounting. Epic stories abound. Bill Symes, after having an up and down day, was enjoying a great race when he broke his aluminum top mast section just yards from the finish.

At this point the races at the top were clear. Ernesto Rodriguez was giving Buckingham everything he could handle in the full rig fleet, and Jorge Luis Yanez del Castillo of Vancouver, BC and Andrew Holdsworth of San Francisco were duking it out atop the Radials.

On Sunday the wind then decided two days weren’t enough. From the moment boats left the beach to that final push to the finish, the wind was the 20s and gusting into the 30s. It always seems windier in a Laser, but they were truly epic conditions, and it’s a testimony to the quality of the Lasers master sailors (and fitness) that they could compete in those conditions.

As in most masters regatta there were plenty of awards to go around. Rodriguez topped Buckingham by just a point for the full rig win. Del Castillo and Holdsworth traded firsts and seconds the entire second half of the regatta, but del Castillo had a clear victory in the end. There were awards for the various divisions in each fleet including apprentice (35-44), masters 45-54), grand masters (55-64) and great grandmasters (65-74) and the new category “Legend” (75+, won by Jay Winberg).

Upon being awarded the championship trophy, Rodrigeuz said “I came here hoping for a lot of wind, and I got more than I even really wanted!) It’s interesting that Rodriguez and del Castillo sailed together on the Cuban national team in years past.

 

Nick Pullen gave a moving speech about the origins of the Tony Dahlman Memorial Trophy (named after a most enthusiastic Laser sailor who passed away years ago doing what he loved – Laser sailing. For many of us, this sportsmanship award embodies what Laser sailing is about), after which it was awarded to mid-fleet finisher Simon Bell.

Any coverage of a Lasers Masters event would be incomplete without talking about the camaraderie. First of all, even in a national championship it’s an international event. With sailors from the Dominican Republic, Australia, England Canada and Israel, it felt a bit like a tiny Worlds. And from the moment one arrives at the site, through the racing and meals and while packing up the boats to leave, the mutual respect and support is superlative. Masters sailors know what skills and perseverance to sail the Laser. In conditions like there were for the 2017 Masters US Championships, that respect and fondness grow exponentially.

Ed. Note: You can read my more personal account of the event, and what I think I know about sailing on the Gorge, here. Whew.

 

–Kurt Hoehne

Abbie Carlson Wins Close Leiter Cup/Junior Women’s Singlehanded Champs

Abbie Carlson Wins Close Leiter Cup/Junior Women’s Singlehanded Champs

Some press releases are just a lot more fun than others to repost. Seattle Yacht Club Sailing Director Brian Ledbetter clued us into this one. His Seattle Yacht Club race team, and Seattle sailors, continue to establish themselves as a force on the national scene. Brian’s quick to point out that this is the third time SYC women have won the Leiter Cup in recent years, including Hanne Weaver in 2012 and Talia Toland last year. Congratulations Abbie and the support network we know you have!

2017 U.S. Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championship Comes Down to Final Race

us-junior-womens-single-champ-logo-w-leiter/SHOREACRES, Texas (July 11, 2017) – The 2017 U.S. Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championship finished as one of most closely contested US Sailing National Championships in recent history on Tuesday. In the end, it was Abbie Carlson (Bellevue, Wash.) who earned first place honors and the Nancy Leiter Clagett Memorial Trophy following a strong showing over three days on Galveston Bay in the Laser Radial. She placed third at last year’s championship in Seattle. For the second straight year, a sailor representing the Seattle Yacht Club has won the Leiter Trophy.

Carlson trailed leader Grace Austin (Greenwich, Conn) by seven points through five races in a very competitive fleet. The first five races of the series were dominated by light wind, but just before the sixth race the seabreeze filled from the Southeast at 8 to 10 knots, providing the best sailing conditions of the week.

Abbie Carlson winning race 1.

Carlson placed fourth in the final race, ahead of her rivals for the overall title. This, combined with the dropped score that came into effect upon the completion of six races, gave Carlson an 11-point turnaround and a four point win over Austin. Marianna Shand (Chula Vista, Calif.) finished third overall and posted the top results in Tuesday’s three races.

The top five sailors on the leaderboard at the conclusion of the championships were separated by only seven points. There were also six different race winners in six races. Due to insufficient wind and stormy conditions, only one race was conducted on Sunday and two races on Monday.

Final Standings – Top 5
1. Abbie Carlson, Seattle Yacht Club, 1-[15]-5-2-8-4- ; 20
2. Grace Austin, Belle Haven Club / LYC, 5-2-2-10-5-[15]- ; 24
3. Marianna Shand, Mission Bay Yacht Club, 9-[27]-9-1-3-3- ; 25
4. AnaLucia Clarkson, Seattle Yacht Club, 13-1-3-3-[20]-6- ; 26
5. Anika Boicheff, St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 3-4-[13]-11-7-2- ; 27
Full Results

“Honestly, I was kind of surprised because everybody was so close in points, so I didn’t find out until I came in,” said Carlson. “It was hard to stay positive during all the postponements, but I stayed focused. It was really shifty today and it wasn’t what I was expecting. Overall, I thought my speed was pretty good on the upwinds and downwinds.”

High-level coaching and skill development is a key component of this championship. Prior to racing, teams took part in a two-day clinic on Friday and Saturday led by a collection of top coaches from around the country.

“One of the things that sets the Leiter Trophy apart from other regattas is the clinic and the US Sailing provided coaches for all competitors,” said John Pearce, Youth Director of US Sailing. “It creates an atmosphere of collaboration and pushes the sailors to focus on building their skills while also striving for a great result in the Championship.”

“Our coaching staff comprised of Head Coach, Richard Feeny, and coaches Elizabeth Kratzig, Scott Ikle, Beka Schiff, and Hannah Tuson-Turner have worked with all of the sailors as a group throughout the event. During the on-shore postponement Monday, Elizabeth presented to the sailors about her career as a sailor, including her current work with the Magenta Project, and other opportunities for women in sailing. It really inspired the sailors to seek out big challenges and leadership roles within the sport.”

“I was really impressed with all the girls and the close racing, especially on the last day,” said Kratzig. “It’s an honor to be here as a coach, especially having participated in this event growing up and now to give something back towards women’s sailing and helping grow the knowledge and enthusiasm of the young female sailors is really exciting. This is a broad spectrum of sailors with varying experience. By bringing them all together it shows everybody that we have a strong contingency of women in sailing and we need to continue to build on that. This event is critical to their development as a sailor.”

The 2017 U.S. Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championship for the Nancy Leiter Clagett Memorial Trophy was hosted by the Houston Yacht Club.

Clinic Coaches

  • Richard Feeny – US Sailing Junior/Youth National Championships Head Coach
  • Elizabeth Kratzig – Seven-time US Sailing Team member
  • Scott Ikle – Head Coach, Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
  • Hannah Tuson-Turner – Sailing Director, Sail Orcas
  • Beka Schiff – San Diego Yacht Club

Results & Coverage

  • For Twitter updates from the racecourse, results and standings, photos (to come later in the week), final report, and more information from the 2017 U.S. Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championship, please visit the event website.
  • Take part in the conversation on social media using #Leiter17.

Championship Notes

  • Support of the U.S. Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championship as well as the clinics associated with the event is made possible by funds provided by the late C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. to perpetuate his unwavering dedication to junior women’s sailing. This support is intended to encourage young American women to enhance their sailing ability, with emphasis on sportsmanship, by providing the opportunity to compete in national-level competition with guidance from high-level coaching. Tom Clagett’s family continues to assist in fulfilling his vision
  • The U.S. Junior Women’s Championships Committee annually hosts two events: a Singlehanded and a Doublehanded championship. Both championships are open events.
  • The U.S. Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championship started in 1980.

Prizes

  • The Nancy Leiter Clagett Memorial Trophy is the perpetual trophy presented to the winning sailor.
  • US Sailing Championship medals were awarded to competitors who finish first through fifth.
  • Trophies were awarded to competitors finishing in the top three places.
  • The C. Thomas Clagett Jr. Sportsmanship Prize was awarded to a sailor based on the results of the competitors’ ballots. *To be announced at awards ceremony Tuesday night.

Ed. Note: We’ll try to get the story straight from the winner’s mouth, plus hopefully some good photos. 

Laser Masters Nationals and the Gorge at its Best

Laser Masters Nationals and the Gorge at its Best

The Columbia River Gorge is treating the Laser Masters Radial and Standard fleets to some epic conditions this weekend. On Friday winds were in the mid 20-knots with gusts in the 30s from the outset. It sent more than a few of us off the water early that day. Yesterday’s conditions started in the low teens and didn’t top 30 until the last race.

On the water in the 18-boat Standard rig class Ernesto Rodriguez and Charlie Buckingham are several points clear of Andrew Halliburton and there promises to be a good battle today in a building breeze. In the Radial class Jorge Luis Yanez del Castillo is leading Bill Symes, who broke his top mast section just yards from the finish in yesterday’s final race. Bill is fetching his carbon top section for today…..

When you think of it, everyone out there is a winner. Everyone’s over 35 by definition, and some are in their 70s! Lasers Masters sailing is some of the best racing anywhere. The skills to get a Laser around the course in those kinds of winds is remarkable and to be able to do it in one’s “mature” ages is a major accomplishment. The camaraderie ashore is exceptional.

More to report in a couple days. Thanks to Christy Robin for these photos. Visit her web site and see many more at https://christinerobinphotography.com/the-glorious-gorge/.

Midwinter Kids

Midwinter Kids

There may be some things that are more fun than packing up and heading across the country to race against a bunch of really skilled strangers, but not many. And if you get to do this when you’re young, it’s even better.

That’s what a bunch of Seattle area Laser sailors did this past month when they travelled to Clearwater, Florida for the Laser Midwinters East. The story is best told in pictures. What you don’t see is the moms who made it happen. As Erin Timms explains, “I will tell you that the kids had a ball! And Kara (Carlson) and I are exhausted after feeding 5 teenagers for 6 days!!!!!”

I’m hoping to follow the exploits of all our young sailors (and get their reports too) as they pursue championships, new friendships and fun. Not pictured here, but definitely representing Seattle, were Talia Toland and Hanne Weaver who both finished in the top ten in the Radial class. Results here.

Moms are great.

Youth Sailing Heats Up at Frigid Digit

Youth Sailing Heats Up at Frigid Digit

I was headed downwind passing about 10-15 boatlengths from the Opti’s weather when I heard the jawing. Two Opti kids, one was Dieter Creitz and the other I assume was Jack Carroll, rounded it nearly overlapped, and there were words. Oh oh, I thought, the plague of my racing generation’s yelling has infected the kids. But something different was going on. As they eased off onto the run, I’m pretty sure I heard singing coming from both boys. Singing. How great is that?

There was a distinctive youth movement at this year’s Frigid Digit Regatta. Seven Optis sailed their own course, and as Matt Wood noted, “They were great. After every race they thanked the committee, and they had a great time!” I asked one kid, swishing up the dock bundled up in a drysuit and seemingly carrying more gear than his own body weight, “Did you have fun out there?” Bright eyed, he looked at me and said “Yes! Did you?” How great is that? If I hadn’t had fun (which I did), seeing his enthusiasm would have made the whole weekend for me.

But it wasn’t just the Optis. Ten Laser Radials were out as well, with kids from Portand to West Vancouver coming to Seattle for a weekend of great camaraderie – err – competition. Grant Gridley of Portland managed to beat locals Owen Timms and Abbie Carlson. As the beautiful hat-trophies were handed out, the tightness of this group of Radial sailors was evident.

Of course it was pretty hard not to have a good time out there. On Saturday the wind was light but the air was warm, and on Sunday a good breeze, building to hiking conditions in the last few races, definitely cleared some of  those winter blues from our sailing psyches. Ten races were sailed, except for the Aero class which got an extra race in.

Here’s a sampling of photos from the event. I’m going to try to get some videos up as well. Thanks to Cameron Hoard, Eric Arneson and Erin Timm for taking photos and making this happen.

 

 

This was a sea change for Frigid Digit. It’s been a Seattle Laser Fleet event for 40 some years, managed by the Laser sailors. It’s been held several different places, from Union Bay at UW to Shilshole Bay on the Sound to Sail Sand Point to Leschi. Its history is profound, from the days of 60 boat fleets to barely surviving the down cycles. This year, the fleet decided to give up much of the race and food management of the event to Corinthian YC. Laser sailor Mark Ross worked with Matt Wood of CYC to produce a spectacularly successful event, helped no doubt by the sailing conditions. PRO Geoff Pease took our pleas for lots of races, little downtime, to heart and races got reeled off one after another even  through 55 degree windshifts.

The RS Aeros have certainly taken root in Seattle, and drawn in many top sailors. Carl Buchan managed the win over Jay Renehan in final race. Third in the 13 boat fleet was the mightily-bearded Dan Falk, but only one point ahead of Derek Bottles, who had recently placed third in the Aero Midwinters. Libby McKee is back on the water in her new Aero, and was fourth after the first day but had to miss day two.

A dozen Lasers raced, and it was Dalton Bergan showing that even after Moth sailing and fatherhood, he still knows how to make a Laser go ridiculously fast. Second, but always big in Dalton’s rearview mirror, was David Brink. Blake Bentzen won a race and finished third overall. Carlos Abisambra, who just announced he was leaving Seattle for a new job in Colorado, was fourth and left us all a reminder about just how on it he always is by being the only one to sail the correct course in the last race. (btw, the results at CYC have it as race 8 when it should really be race 10)

Rumor has it that a number of our young Radial sailors are headed to Laser Radials Midwinter East, and that should be yet another milestone in their development. I’ll track what they’re up to there and ask for on-the-scene reporting. I understand that youth no longer do emails. Maybe I can get them to text some reports.

Yeah, I hope they tear up the fleets back east. But mostly, I want them to keep having fun.

Miami Wrapup: Seattle Sailors and Lessons Learned

When last we checked, our four teams at the Sailing World Cup Miami (aka Miami Olympic Classes Regatta) had finished the first day. Derick Vranizan was the top US Laser sailor and Hanne Weaver was battling in the midst of a really competitive Radial fleet. Talia Toland and Ian Andrewes were learning their way around a Nacra 17 cat, and Kate Shaner and Caroline Atwood faced tough competition and a learning curve in the 49erFX class. Results here.

Thanks to the Sailing World Cup press officer Stuart Streuli  for helping get these photos. All photos are ©Jesus Renedo/Sailing Energy/World Sailing.

When all was said and done, Derick was the third US sailor, and reports lessons learned and more sailing plans to come. We’re going to hear more from him in a few days. I’ll try to get Talia to give us another report on her foray into the cat class, and who knows, we might even hear from Kate.

Hanne Weaver

For Hanne Weaver, this is another important step in her sailing career. Her positive attitude and enduring focus on learning have made her a great sailor (and a great fellow competitor). Here’s her regatta diary, borrowed with her permission from weaversailing.com. She’s headed back down to Miami for a US Sailing team clinic, and has plans to train harder in the coming months and has more clinics planned. Go Hanne!!

Miami OCR

Day 1

Moderate winds from the NW. The waves were about 1-2 feet tall. I started the day off pretty good. Had a decent start and then went left. This was the way to go for the whole day. I got stuck in bad air which pushed me back. My downwind sailing was good though and I caught a few boats. But I couldn’t make them back for that race. The next race had three general recalls. Started at the boat and had a good start. But the wind went more right than I and I couldn’t keep up with the fleet. Ended that day in the 30’s.

Day 2

Having had a tough day the day before, my goal was to keep pushing through. I knew I still had nothing to lose. But I over-thought today. My head wasn’t out of the boat and I kept second guessing myself. We also only had two races today. It was one of my harder days.

Day 3

Today was one of the tricky days. The wind was coming south, south-west. This made the chop at an angle and harder to carve. I didn’t have great starts and rounded the top mark in last.

But I didn’t give up. I passed boats and made it back into the 40’s. I wasn’t pleased on what I got but was better on how I worked the boat.

Day 4

Today I worked on keeping up my boat speed. I was sailing against world class sailors. We had one start that had 10 boats over early. I was happy to know that I was not one of them. This was one of my better days. I worked the boat hard with winds about 5-10 knots. I was keeping up with the other girls. Moved up a few spots and was ready for anything.

Day 5

Today was the last day. They started us later about 1:30pm. The boys went first and had light wind but when we came out the wind was about 10-15 knots. I started at the pin end every single race and nailed each start. I even won a start. Was around the top mark in the to 10 and finished in the top of the fleet.

Even though I started the event not on a good foot, I still ended it on a good one. I have some things I need to work on. I will be back in Florida in about a week! I can’t wait to better my sailing.

Laser vs Aero vs Melges? That’s Not the Question

Laser vs Aero vs Melges? That’s Not the Question
img_7497
The Gorge. Jan Anderson photo

Ever since the RS Aero first appeared, everyone seems focused on the question “Which is the better boat, the Aero or the Laser?” As the Melges 14 gains steam, the question will be which is best of the three. That’s not the important question. At all. Both the new boats are surely better than the Laser. They’re 40 years newer and have the advantage of current materials and construction techniques. If they’re not better, RS and Melges have really screwed up. Which they have not. Both companies are clearly committed to making a great product.

No, the real question is, what’s the future of the Laser class? Most of the 210,000 boats built are still around. There are active fleets worldwide and an extremely well-established class association. And you know what? It’s still a great sailing boat. Thanks Bruce, Bruce and Hans.

My LTR with the Laser and Fleet Demise

For me personally, it’s painful. I pined for the boat when it was new and I was too small. I fussed over my first used lime green Laser to no end as a teenager. Since then I’ve sailed a succession of Lasers, dragged them all over the Midwest and Northwest to regattas I would never win. I’ve been beaten up by the boat more often than I can remember. Many times my extremities have required hours to get back proper circulation and my muscles days to relieve soreness. I’ve been sunburned and bruised to the extreme.

Yet, I love her so.

Last year's District 22 Championship in Belligham
Last year’s District 22 Championship in Belligham

The Seattle Laser Fleet (SLF) is giving all appearances of dying. As ground zero for the RS Aero movement in North America, the new boat has lured away most SLF stalwarts. And through attrition and lack of promotion recently, the fleet has dwindled. To make things interesting in our weekly racing, we (~5 Lasers) start on the (~7) Aero’s preparatory signal (one minute ahead on a three minute sequence) and try to hold them off to the finish. It’s not as satisfying as, say, 12 boats of the same kind.

Admittedly, I’m an SLF evangelist. I’m also currently the District 22 secretary. Many of my strongest friendships can trace their source to Laser sailing.

So, yes, it’s painful to watch the dwindling fleets. And I’ve gotten a bit grumpy about it.

But sailors have voted with their booties and have either quit sailing or made the move to the younger, sexier Aero.

Maybe it’s even time for the Laser and SLF to die.

Maybe not.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s not time for the Laser or my dear SLF to die, but to adapt.

A Quick Word about the Quick Aero

The Aero is certainly a very good boat. I’ve only sailed one for about 30 seconds, but I’ve watched them sail past me and better sailors than I think they’re great. Its rigging is far superior to a Laser’s. It’s a planing machine and has a beautiful carbon rig. Oh yeah, and it’s way lighter, which makes a managing on shore a lot easier. With the “9” rig it’s just plain fast in light air. There have been some teething problems, but not many and RS is very responsive.

Talia Toland winning the Leiter Cup this year on Lake Washington. Jan Anderson photo.
Talia Toland winning the Leiter Cup this year on Lake Washington. Jan Anderson photo.

Best of all, the RS Aero appears to be drawing sailors who, for one reason or another, aren’t interested in sailing a Laser. A couple weeks ago, champion sailor Libby McKee and my mini transat friend Craig, came out in loaner RS Aeros and both are thinking about jumping back into the singlehanded dinghy world. With the Aero’s “9” rigs, sailing in light air, they ended up first and second and appeared to enjoy themselves enormously.

When the RS Aero first came out, I recognized it as a viable Laser replacement, giving the local Aero (and Laser!) dealer George Yioulos (West Coast Sailing) a forum for promoting the boat in the post Laser Killer? way back in June 2014. I’ve referred plenty of people to the Aero fleet here.

I don’t know much about the Melges, but I know the family and they’ll make a great boat and provide superlative support to fleet building.

The future of high-end, simple singlehanded sailing is probably in good hands with either the Aero or the Melges. May the best boat win.

Laser Problems

The Laser has always had its problems. So, for all you haters out there, here’s my list of top Laser “issues,” to which I’m sure you can add.

LaserPerformance continues to do its best to kill the class. When Dave Reed of Sailing World points out that a potential advertiser is screwing up so badly, then it’s common knowledge.

So, here goes with the bad:

  1. Crappy builder support, including parts availability
  2. Poor construction currently (including spars)
  3. Stupidly silly high cost for new models of such an ancient boat
  4. Painful to sail
  5. Difficult to sail well – with the result of widely spread fleets
  6. Limited competitive life of the equipment (hulls get soft and spars break)
  7. Questions in play about future of brand due to the Kirby lawsuit
  8. Ancient technology

Top 10 Laser Strengths

One of my Laser sailing friends, who’s been near the top of the Laser fleet nationally for several years, asked rhetorically, “If it’s not an Olympic boat, why would you sail a Laser?” He’s about done with the boat, and after the thousands of hours he’s put into it, I can’t blame him.

But I do see plenty of reasons to sail a Laser even if you’re not dreaming of the Olympics:

  1. The great feel
  2. Can sail in virtually any wind
  3. Great competition, especially internationally
  4. It develops fitness and toughness
  5. They’re ubiquitous (arguably the best regatta in the world is Laser Masters Worlds)
  6. They’re near indestructible for casual sailing/racing
  7. Cheap for used boats, good for kids coming up
  8. Best teaching boat ever
  9. The full, Radial and 4.7 rigs make the Laser a very flexible and effective platform for wide variety of sailors
  10. They’re just flat out good looking.

So Where Should the Laser Point?

Masters action
Jan Anderson photo.

Many classes have been “out-designed” and live happily on. The Star, Opti, 505, Thistle, Snipe, Daysailer, and Shields are some that come to mind. Several of these have a development aspect that keeps sailors engaged. Others are so ubiquitous and accessible that they just keep going. When the pressure of super-competitors has moved to other classes, some have even thrived more.

I hope that as some wealthier and more “serious” singlehanders move to the Melges or Aeros, and the Laser starts to get supplanted as “the” boat, profits will go down and LaserPerformance will sell the product line into more committed hands. And hopefully the class will lose its Olympic status. Everybody talks about Olympic status as a great thing. I’m not sure it is. I was sailing Lasers long before it was an Olympic class and it was just as fun and popular, if not more.

It is an experience to sail with those Olympic guys, maybe even round the first weather mark alongside them (if I go the right way and they go the wrong way). But otherwise, their presence doesn’t really mean much to my sailing. I’m more interested in beating my friends (you Scott and you Joe and you Carlos), who, like me, can’t keep up with the pros.

At the same time, the Laser Class will have to take a good hard look at itself and decide whether it wants to improve the boat or protect the fleet. IMHO, now that there is finally a new sail, the mast is the area of greatest need. A carbon top section (or entire set of spars) has been discussed ad infinitum. Creating a lighter, safer and more importantly, longer-lasting set of spars would make the boat so much better. If the Laser is no longer “the” boat, maybe it will be easier to get that done.

There are a lot of us of all ages who just like sailing the boat, and we’re going to be around for a long time to come. I’m guessing that with a shift in builder and Olympic status, Laser sailing could become more energized. While sometimes we take breaks from sailing, a lot of us tend to come back to Lasers. In my experience, we love to help newbies get to know the Laser’s quirks quickly and don’t mind it too much when we’re surpassed. We’ll still enjoy great racing and still have those awesome international events to attend.

Leiter Cup racing on Lake Washington. Jan Anderson photo.
Leiter Cup racing on Lake Washington. Jan Anderson photo.

The class could then refocus on getting young sailors into the boat. Basically, at the national and local levels we can reach out to high school sailors and others who can’t spend a lot of money on the new RS or Melges, but who would get just as much fun out of sailing a Laser. If it’s not an Olympic class, gone are the coach’s boats and the intimidation factor.

And maybe the broader thinkers among the Aero and Melges proponents will see that it will do them little good to decry the Laser as a has-been to potential sailors. Lasers have started many thousands of sailors down a path that ends up with them buying a lot of different boats.

In other words, don’t kill the Laser, it can still do the sport (and those builders) a lot of good by introducing folks to dinghy sailing. Just as it’s done for decades.

Basically, I see the Laser returning to its humble, non-ultra-competitive roots. I believe it can live happily there coexisting with the new boats while providing a good option for a lot of sailors, especially the crop of great high school sailors coming up.

Me enjoying Thursday night Corinthian YC sailing off Shilshole
Me enjoying Thursday night Corinthian YC sailing off Shilshole