Evaluation of Singlehanders by World Sailing: Analysis and Recommendations (Part 2)

Part 2: Recommendations.

This is the second part of our article on the evaluation of single-handed dinghies by World Sailing. It presents a detailed rationale for the recommended solution.

See also this Executive Summary Powerpoint in .pdf.

Note also that RS Sailing has released on May 17 information about their development of an Aero 6 rig.

World Sailing has a difficult decision to make this year. It is to decide on the boats for single-handed sailing for male and female athletes at the 2024 Olympics.

The decision is a tough one for many reasons. The Laser is by far the most popular single-handed boat today, with some 14,000 class members. Yet, its ability to operate in the next months and years, in terms of boat building, distribution of boats and parts, national associations, international class, trademark compliance, etc. is highly uncertain - to the point that the Laser name may not be allowed to be used beyond August of this year.

The evaluation panel put together by World Sailing to provide a recommendation for single-handed equipment for the 2024 Olympics submitted its report and found two suitable boats: the Laser and the RS Aero.  The latter receives a higher score of 80%, versus 69% for the Laser, yet both are found suitable for the 2024 Olympics.

Analyzing the report uncovered however many flaws. Questionable scorings are found for each of the 7 leading criteria against which the boats were assessed. If you are in a decision making position and have to use that report for a honest objective decision: good luck! The report is not a good guide for decision making. Some parts maybe, but not the overall report. Harsh judgement maybe, but refer to the analysis if you need to be convinced.

Ideally, a second opinion, a new evaluation, should be sought by World Sailing. Key aspects, such as standardization, should be further assessed, with significant samples of equipment tested for each of the 4 boats. On the water trials, in a location like Garda, should take place, for a period of say 2 weeks, to provide more time for the sailors to get used to boats they are not familiar with, and to ensure there is a variety of wind conditions, including strong breeze.

New trials should only involve top level sailors, including former Olympians. Top level coaches / experts should also be involved. The evaluation should be transparent, and the comments and scoring by those involved should be made public. Extensive video footage should also be made public. The perspectives of each of the builders should also appear in the report, so that misconceived criticisms can be responded to prior to publication of the new evaluation.

Reality is that such new evaluation is unlikely to happen, and decision making will need to rely on the existing report and available knowledge.

The findings of the World Sailing evaluation report are pretty convenient, as analyzed by the Italian online magazine saily.it   Here is the scenario. The RS Aero wins the evaluation, yet the Laser wins the selection for Paris 2024. Why? Simply because the report does not present a truly compelling reason for a change. Indeed, it’s not just the boats at the Olympics that are at stake, but those used for single-handed youth and senior sailing globally.

Why replacing thousands and thousands of boats if the Laser can do the job, as it has done over the past 20 years or so? There may be around 2,000 RS Aeros around, yet the boat is pretty recent and has not been tested as much as the Laser. In addition, the price of an Aero is higher and there is just one builder so far. It’s unlikely that official representatives at World Sailing will be enthused by that.  World Sailing will probably need to postpone its decision to November, given the uncertainties surrounding the Laser. But then, if the Laser gets its house in order, the decision in favor of the Laser should be an easy one, even if unfair to the RS Aero, which secured a higher score.

Now, is this a good scenario for the sport of sailing to keep the status quo and to continue with the Laser for both men and women at the 2024 Olympics? The answer is no. And here is why.

The Laser Radial Promotes a Larger Sailor Weight and Height than Desirable

The Laser standard and the Laser radial became Olympic respectively in 1996 and 2008. They were Olympic at the same time for 3 Olympiads only: Being 2008; London 2012 and Rio 2016. There are no rules that require the same boat to be Olympic for both men and women.

The Evaluation Panel report comparing the Laser, the Aero, the d-Zero and the Melges 14 contains some valid and highly relevant points. One of them is that the Laser Radial is too powerful for most women.

The report indeed states that the Radial « promotes a larger weight and height than desirable for worldwide average women » with an ideal weight range identified in the report of 68 to 73 kg (150 to 160 lbs).

But the report also reveals that the ideal weight ranges for the 3 contenders are even higher: 68 to 73 kg for the Aero, 71 to 75 kg for the Melges 14 and 70 to 75 kg for the d-Zero.

For sure, these weight ranges may not be fully accurate, yet there is a major problem here: none of the four boats, with the presented rigs, is suitable for most female athletes.

It’s wrong for the report to claim that the Laser and the Aero are athletically suitable for women, while they are not. The Laser Radial and the RS Aero 7 are not athletically suitable for most female sailors.

How to resolve this? Obviously, it’s by using less powerful rigs. And here, the Laser has a problem, because there is already a smaller rig, the 4.7. The rig is precisely suitable for sailors say in the range of 55 to 65 kg. But the 4.7 is only popular as a youth, transition, boat towards the Radial.  The 4.7 is underpowered for its hull weight and is not a good candidate for replacing the Radial at the Olympics.

For sure, the Laser class contemplates to have completely new rigs, with carbon spars and mylar sails, that may work, but those are still at the testing stage and have not yet been sailed on any significant scale. They have not been approved yet either by the class nor the membership. Today, the Laser does not have a readily available solution for replacing the Radial.

A Realistic Solution: a Partial Replacement of the Laser

There is, however, a realistic solution with the RS Aero, which has a much lighter hull than the Laser (30 kg. v. 58 kg). And it’s to have the boat with a slightly smaller sail than the RS Aero 7.  The RS Aero 5, not presented at the sea trials in Valencia, is a possibility, but is likely to be underpowered for the targeted sailor weight range.

While adopting a more flexible mast may be a possibility, the best solution is probably to develop a new sail, of approximately 6 square meters for the boat. This would be a RS Aero 6. And the boat, equipped with that sail, would have an ideal sailor weight range of about 60 to 65 kg (or about 130 to 145 lbs).

To be noted is that the d-Zero, equipped with the right sail size, would also provide a suitable platform for women in the 60 to 65 kg range. The hull weight of the d-Zero is indeed of 43 kg, which is substantially lighter than the Laser (58 kg). For the d-Zero, it would also require a sail of approx. 6 square meter for the boat to be athletically suitable for women. Here, we will assume it would be the RS Aero that World Sailing would choose, because it scored so high in the evaluation panel report. 

It is however clear that the d-Zero would also be pretty suitable for the task, even if was deemed unsuitable for the Olympics in the official evaluation report. An important positive of the d-Zero is its price, which is the lowest of the 4 tested boats: about US$2000 less than a RS Aero.  For the M14, the boat may be suitable, but it should be properly tested, as the hull weight is not that much lighter than that of a Laser. Keep in mind, both the d-Zero and the M14 may not be that unsuitable for the Olympics, as this is only the conclusion of a questionable report.

It’s important to stress that the Radial has never been naturally popular with female sailors, despite over 30 years of existence. Participation is mostly driven by its Olympic status.  A number of male athletes typically continue to sail the Laser once they don’t compete any longer in the senior fleets, by participating in the master fleets, from age 35. Others join master sailing later on. But for women, there has never been any signifiant participation in master sailing. And the reason is simple. The Radial is too powerful and simply inappropriate for most women.

Replacing the Radial by a RS Aero 6 is obviously a more manageable transition than completely replacing the Laser by the RS Aero. With a good implementation strategy, it would be very feasible, without inducing any significant disruption. The Laser 4.7 / Radial / Standard pathway would be continued for male sailors. And the 4.7 would still be expected to welcome many female sailors, as it presently does, for example out of the Optimist.

For sure some female sailors may opt for the RS Aero 5, and then upgrade to the RS Aero 6. But generally speaking, it would not be a disruption of youth sailing.  It would just be an evolution.

To be noted is that such a partial replacement of the Laser will also ensure that there remains an active market for second-hand Lasers, so that the existing Laser owners will not be unduly penalized.

In terms of hull production, the existing manufacturing facility for the RS Aeros would initially suffice. And the regatta planning and organization skills of the company, proven with boats like the RS Feva and events like the RS Games, would likely bring female single-handed sailing to a much higher degree of popularity than it presently is.

Instead of either keeping the Laser, or completely replacing it, this intermediate solution, of keeping the Laser Standard for men and replacing the Radial by an Aero 6, should be seriously looked at by World Sailing decision makers. It has the potential of broadening the appeal of single-handed sailing to female athletes. And it would bring into play a more modern, faster dinghy at the Olympics. At the same time, it would not induce any significant disruption. It would be a limited, careful, evolution of the Olympic equipment.

Now what to do with the Laser Standard for men? A final decision should only be taken in November. Assuming the Laser class and builders will have put their house in order by that time, it could be confirmed by WS for Marseille 2024.

And a new review could take place in 2022 / 2023 to figure out what’s the best equipment for Los Angeles 2028.

© Jean-Pierre Kiekens. 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Video by Farevela.

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