Laser or ILCA Dinghy: Which One is Fastest?

A Mix of Lasers and ILCA Dinghies at the Laser 4.7 Worlds in Kingston
"There's no such thing as bad publicity." -- Phineas T. Barnum

The Laser is usually referred to as a single manufacturer one design boat (SMOD). But in reality, there are 3 builders (assuming LaserPerformance will be reinstated) and possibly more to come.

The ILCA Dinghies are actual PSA Lasers, rebranded to circumvent the Laser trademarks. Boats from the third, Japanese, builder are much less common, except in Japan and South Korea.

So, are the PSA and LaserPerformance boats the same?

As indicated earlier, only one supplier of charter boats - PSA - was promoted by the Laser class at the Youth Worlds, so that many sailors did not sail by choice on the Aussie ILCA Dinghies.

The fact that many of the top competitors used ILCA Dinghies for those championships is not necessarily an indicator that these are better boats. Most of the top international competitors were sailing the ILCA Dinghies because those were the only ones advertised by the Laser class.

But what had some coaches to say about the performance of the two types of boats? A few of them accepted to share their thoughts in confidence, on the parking lot.

Two aspects were raised: the performance of the hulls, and the tolerances at the level of the centerboard case.

Regarding the latter point, it was generally said that the daggerboards were held tighter in the Aussie boats, which can represent an advantage upwind, especially in light wind and also avoids the daggerboard from going up during tacks.

As for the performance of the hulls, several aspects can be at play, including rigidity, weight distribution and the overall hull weight.

Supposedly, since the episode of the non-compliant Lasers produced by PSA, both LP and PSA use the same methods and materials to manufacture their hulls.

The additional layer of approximately 300g/m2 chopped strand mat included in the hull laminate forward of the centerboard case to the bow of the boats, which PSA included in its boats for several years, is now part of the Laser Construction Manual. This CSM extra layer is now used by LaserPerformance in their « ice blue » Lasers.

Better weight distribution, which could in theory lower the center of gravity of the boat, is an aspect that has been mentioned as a possible way to improve performance, but it’s just suspicion as it would require a detailed investigation to prove.

As far as overall hull weight is concerned, and possible differences among boats, it’s worth comparing to what is going on in most classes.

For example, if you purchase an Optimist, there will be a Measurement Book attached by the builder, with the weight of the hull being indicated and signed by the builder.

And when one competes in the Optimist at a major national or international event, the hull will be weighted at measurement. This takes just a few seconds.

So, with the Optimist, people know the weight of the hull at the time of purchase, there is a certification of the hull weight by the builder, and there are regular verifications of the hull weight at regattas.

For the Laser, it’s all different. There is no measurement book. There is no document by the builder certifying the hull weight. And the hulls are not weighted at regattas, including at World Championships such as those that took place in Kingston.

Apparently, the last time weighting of hulls occurred was in Santander, when the « fast Aussie Lasers » saga started to unfold.

At the youth worlds in Kingston this year, the Sailing Instructions were actually preventing competitors to protest another boat for suspicion of non-compliant equipment.

So even if someone had a suspicion of a boat being too light, there was no way to protest and to find out.

« Trust - Don’t Verify » seems to be the modus operandi of the Laser class.

But can those guys be trusted?

Not so long ago, the Australian builder was caught producing non-compliant boats - some of them having participated in major international events.

And the UK builder was not inspected for a duration of about 3 years, and was even « terminated » by the international Laser class for having refused the inspection of its building facilities.

And the Laser class does not weight hulls, as a matter of class policy. Too complicated, too time consuming, etc. are the usually advanced reasons for the hulls not to be weighted.

So the sailors are left with a bitter pill to swallow: they engage in massive training and financial spending for attending events, and they can’t even know for sure if the charter boats they use are compliant or just as good as the other boats, or if other sailors may use non-compliant / faster hulls.

Remember the Recommendations of World Sailing's Equipment Committee...

In the context of the evaluation of single-handed dinghies for the 2024 Olympics, where the RS Aero was found to be superior to the Laser, the issues of too lax tolerances and controls with the Laser were emphasized.

« Since 2014, ILCA has increased efforts to monitor the standardization of equipment, but the introduction of upgrades and cooperation with all builders remains a challenge. The class presented results, although compliant with their construction manuals and quality controls, the presented tolerances were considered by the Evaluation Panel as too high. The supply of equipment for Olympic events and other major events mitigates the poor standardization, however tighter tolerances and higher controls are deemed required. »

And remember, the boats inspected in the context of the World Sailing Valencia sea trials were boats by LaserPerformance, which already had been « terminated » by the Laser class.

PSA boats / ILCA Dinghies did not participate at the sea trials and were not inspected or measured by the World Sailing Equipment Committee.

The World Sailing report was particularly critical of the Laser when it comes to quality evaluation. While the RS Aero received a 5 for equipment standardization, the Laser received a 3 - same as the Melges 14 and the d-Zero.

The World Sailing report acknowledges regarding the Laser that « there has been a long history of variations among different builders. »

The report also mentions that this inconsistency among boats produced by the different builders « led to the supply of equipment at major events. »

This means that, given the inconsistency among boats produced by the various builders, the only way to provide some form of level playing field is with a mandatory supply of equipment at major events by the same builder.

Of course, the youth worlds are not the Olympics, but the suspicions of some coaches regarding the possible superiority of some equipment in Kingston is consistent with the findings of the Equipment Committee of World Sailing.

In the Laser class constitution, the Laser is referred to as the « epitome » of one design sailing.  The reality seems different, and things may get worse with more builders competing in the same geographical territories, as it's contemplated by the Laser class and World Sailing.

When it comes to competitive sailing, who wants to sail with a slower boat? Nobody of course.

There seems already to be an equipment consistency issue with the two builders that were present in Kingston. If more actors get into the business of building Lasers, it’s possible that things will get worse and that there will be a global race to get the best boat.

It’s probably long overdue, but World Sailing should consider the Laser / ILCA Dinghy etc class as a measurement class, and should accordingly mandate much more in depth measurement and inspection both at the building facilities and at regattas.

World Sailing, both at the Board and the Council level, should also listen to its Equipment Committee, and acknowledge that the tolerances in the Laser Construction Manual are too high, and that tighter tolerances and higher controls are required.

Accordingly, World Sailing should impose a thorough revision of the Laser Construction Manual, to achieve tighter tolerances and much higher standardization in the building of Lasers, so that this « long history of variations among different builders » comes to an end.

Otherwise, it may just the beginning of a global arms race for the fastest Laser / ILCA Dinghy or whatever brand name other builders may have in store.

There are additional elements to include in a revision of the specifications of the Laser - one of them would be to mandate construction materials and methods that will make the hulls last much longer at the top competitive level. The Laser hull is heavy enough to make such changes without increasing the hull weight.

Top competitors typically change hull once or twice a year, in addition to using charter boats where it is mandated or when the venue is far away. This does not make much sense and there is plenty of room to increase the longevity of the hulls - which would be an amazingly positive contribution, especially for those countries and teams that can’t afford to constantly renew their fleets.

For individuals, a higher longevity of the hulls would keep a higher value of the boats overtime and make sailing more affordable. It would also be much more responsible from a sustainability viewpoint.

For sure, the future of the Laser trademark and the related potential litigation that is expected, are major issues being faced by World Sailing when it comes to deciding on the Olympic future of the Laser / ILCA Dinghy / whatever other name may emerge.

But the issue of consistency of the boats is of paramount importance and should not be overlooked. A global equipment arms race for the fastest boats may already have started.

Prototype Aussie C8 Rig
Which one is better built? Which one is faster? The UK one? The Aussie one? The Italian one? The Chinese one? etc etc.

And by the way, if you really want a faster boat, you can sail a RS Aero, a Melges 14 or a D-Zero - they were all much faster than the Laser at the Valencia sea trials, and none of these boats seems prone to be plagued with Laser-like sempiternal issues!

And we have not even arrived at the question of the rigs and the hopes of the top guys from the Laser class to replace the existing Standard, Radial and 4.7 rigs with the Aussie C5, C6, C8 rigs.

That will be the next chapter, once the ILCA Dinghy - oups sorry the Laser - is approved by World Sailing for the 2024 Olympics!

Stay tuned.

(note: this article has been slightly revised and expanded on August 30)

Make sure to also read Part 1 of this article: ILCA Dinghies Dominate Laser Youth Worlds in Kingston; Then Get Sold in Canada

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