Saturday, March 25, 2017

Laser Dinghy And The One Design Dilemma

The dilemma for all sailing classes is how to stay relevant with new modern materials and design. One design classes are particularly caught in a bind.

This is ILCA Executive Secretary, Eric Faust explaining the International Laser Class Association policy.

“ILCA’s policy regarding the introduction of new equipment is that it should always have the same characteristics as the existing equipment and that the new equipment should not give a performance advantage when raced alongside existing equipment,”

In reality this is impossible to achieve. It is a pretence and indeed an absurd idea that one can use new materials and design and make them perform the same (as badly) as the old materials and design. One can only imagine the internal politics at the ILCA and the process to resolve this impossible situation and this is reflected in the time taken, around 10 years, for the ILCA to introduce a better full rig sail.

The old full rig sail was made from a 1970's cloth that distorted out of shape after one regatta and a dozen or so practice sessions. The sails short life span was made worse by contemporary super vang/cunningham techniques. So in the real world we have had a classic arms race. The one design principle gone with cashed up sailors gaining the advantage as only they could afford the necessary supply of new sails. 

With new sail cloth and new design, the new sail was always going to be better than the old sail. Straight out of the bag better, and as a more durable sail it was going to stay better for longer. So it was impossible for it to "have the same characteristics as the existing equipment and ..... not give a performance advantage when raced alongside existing equipment,”

Nonetheless the ILCA stuck to its policy. Clive Humphris, the ILCA Technical Officer.
"The main objective of the design project for the Mark II was to create a sail with equal performance to the existing sail, but with better durability. We worked very hard to ensure that the Mark II was not a faster sail and wouldn't make all the existing sails obsolete overnight.'

Notwithstanding their efforts to make a slower sail, the new MK II sail turned out to be noticeable better than the old sail, upwind faster and higher. Boats with the old sail were simply pinched off in the first 100 metres. At my Laser club, we all converted to the new sail within three months of its introduction. There was no point even using the old sail as a training sail, it felt and performed differently.

Single handed dinghy sailing is a close competition, loosing just a half a dozen boat lengths on the first beat can be the difference to being in to the leading group or the last group for the rest of the race. It would have been better for the ILCA to design the best MK II sail it could, because we were all going to buy it anyway.

The introduction of the composite carbon top section is a similar story. Years in development, delayed by internal ILCA politics and legal cases, the new top section has just become available. The old aluminium top section was ok in 1970 but it bent easily and broke after a few seasons. The new top section has again been designed to have the same characteristics as the old aluminium sections, but hopefully it won't break or bend. So for just for safety reasons alone everyone should buy one. Of course they are not really comparable because if they don't have permanent bends like the old one, if they are as stiff as the good aluminium sections, they are not, for most sailors, the same.

For me there was inevitable conclusion, observing the introduction of the new MK II sail and carbon top section, the process, the delays and design compromises. It simply demonstrated that the Laser would always be stuck in the past, there were too many issues to fix and even the simple ones would not be fixed properly. It was time to take the big leap solve all the design and materials issues in one hit and go to a new modern class. Laser dinghy farewell.

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