20 Reasons to Choose the Laser 4.7 (part 2)

This is the second part of our article on the Laser 4.7 and the many reasons for youth sailors to choose it. If you have not yet read the first part, please do so by clicking here.

XI. Role Models for the Youth Sailors

A key element for youth sailors to pursue their career in racing is to be motivated, to be inspired. Often neglected, but critical in this process, are role models. And the Laser has several of them. Here is an anecdote for the purpose of illustrating this. About a year ago, at a big and amazing Optimist regatta on lake Garda, the Ora Cup Ora, after the racing, there was this concentration of young sailors at the club. It was a kind of line up, while there was no official event at that particular time. What was happening? These were youth sailors, from all over the world, waiting for their turn to get an autograph, from no-one else than Robert Scheidt, who was so kind to spend time with all those young sailors.  There was real electricity in the air. Those sailors may have spent just a few seconds or a few minutes with Robert Scheidt, gotten an autograph, gotten a selfie with him, but this may actually make a difference for their whole life, and at the minimum for their whole sailing career. Robert Scheidt is widely seen as the most recognized Laser sailor ever, and the fact that he is still sailing the boat at the top level, while he is now in his forties, adds to his tremendous appeal as a role model. For sure, Ben Ainslie is also seen by many as a role model for youth sailors, particularly in the UK. Yet there are others, maybe less known ones. An example is Tonci Stipanovic from Croatia, who is the first male sailor to win a world championship in the Laser 4.7, in 2002. He actually won the world youth title the next year in the Radial, and participated at two Olympic games in the Laser standard, winning the silver in Rio in 2016.

XII. A Boat Attractive to the Best Athletes

It’s not yet happening everywhere, but in many clubs throughout the world, the Laser 4.7 is presented to sailors out of the Optimist and similar youth boats as one of the best choices when it’s time to change boat. As we discussed previously, in some countries, there are single-handed alternatives to the 4.7, such as the Splash in the Netherlands, or the Starling in New Zealand. But overall, there are not many real alternatives. And of course, there are double-handed alternatives, such as the 420 and the 29er. Don’t forget, you not only need a boat, but also fleets of sailors using it, for the boat to be seriously considered. Where things are well organized for youth sailing, sailors decide with the involvement of their coach and parents on which boat they want to continue sailing. A rule of thumb is that about 50% of the sailors will be interested in continuing single-handed, and for those, the Laser 4.7 becomes, in most circumstances, the most logical option. And this means that some of the very best athletes will transition towards the Laser 4.7. There was a time, in many clubs in North America, that the better sailors were directed towards the Laser Radial, and the not so good ones towards the Laser 4.7. As we discussed elsewhere, this has been detrimental to youth sailing development in North America. In the past few years, it is now increasingly understood that to transition a sailor from the Optimist to the Laser Radial is a big mistake. One has fortunately seen recently, in both the US and Canada, the growing participation at leading 4.7 regattas of some of the top sailors graduating from the Optimist class. This is the way it should be.

XIII. Great International Racing Opportunities

As previously mentioned, the Laser 4.7 is one of the most successful youth classes in the world, and offers amazing international racing opportunities. The most active region for youth sailing is of course Europe, and the Laser 4.7 is very active there. Over the past years, the European championships, organized by EurILCA - the European branch of the international Laser class - have attracted about 400 sailors. This is huge, when compared for example to the Optimist and other youth classes. While it’s one world championship, there are actually 4 titles, as boys and girls sail separately, and there are titles for both the U18 and U16 age groups. When organized in Europe, the 4.7 Worlds, which are organized by the international Laser class ILCA, attract a similar level of participation, with of course many sailors from outside Europe, including Oceania and South America. There are many other available world class regattas. EurILCA organizes 10 Europa Cup events each year, all open to the 4.7, in various regions of Europe. And then there are regattas in various countries, such as the Dutch Youth Regatta in the Netherlands and Nieuwpoort Week in Belgium, with amazing racing opportunities in the Laser 4.7. Outside Europe, there is also substantial participation in some countries, such as Brazil, Chile, Peru and Australia. For sure, the majority of the action takes place in Europe, but the 4.7 is present and largely successful on a global basis.

XIV. Growing North American Racing Opportunities

While the Laser 4.7 has been much neglected in North America, there are now good racing opportunities.  This year, while there were 3 well attended regattas in the 4.7 in Nova Scotia, the most substantial event was the Canadian Youth Nationals, which attracted over 60 4.7s. The event took place just prior to the 4.7 Worlds, in Kingston, Ontario, which explains in part this unprecedented level of participation in the 4.7 in North America. There was also a good level of participation at the fall Kingston regatta, and it’s anticipated that next year’s youth events in CORK, both in August and September, will also attract a good level of participation. In the US, unfortunately, US Sailing is not opening its Youth Championship to the Laser 4.7. Yet, there are other regatta opportunities. The main one is actually the Orange Bowl International Youth Regatta, organized by Coral Reef Yacht Club in Miami. For the 2019 edition, to take place on December 26-30, there are already 35 registrations in the Laser 4.7! This is an unprecedented number of participants. There is actually a huge potential for growth in the USA, and US Sailing may want to seek inspiration from the successful European experience to further the 4.7 in the country. In the mean time, nearby events such as CORK in Kingston, Ontario, or the 2020 Canadian Youth Championships to take place in Montreal, offer a great opportunity for USA sailors to participate in quality 4.7 regattas, with decent levels of participation.

XV. A Boat and a Rig Convenient for Regular Training

Competitive sailing is like any sport. It requires substantial amount of training to succeed. For youth sailors beyond the Optimist or similar boats, this means sailing several times per week, including after-school sessions, except for those who have opted for home-schooling — a small yet growing trend in a class such as the Optimist. Sailing after school is fantastic as long as not too much time is wasted for transportation or rigging the boat. One needs of course training partners and the right coaching for optimizing training. What is great with the Laser, compared to say the Optimist, is that rigging can take place in just a few minutes. This means that a sailor can be « rigged and ready » just say 30 min after having arrived at the club. This easiness in rigging the Laser helps making regular training sessions possible, which is key for any serious sailor. Another aspect is the number of boats. As the Laser 4.7 is single-handed, this means that just say 8 sailors can make a very good group for training and doing short practice races. Such number of sailors is much less satisfactory for double-handed boats such as the 420 or the 29er, as it means only 4 boats, which is insufficient to mimic normal racing conditions.

XVI. Low Breakage, Low Maintenance

The 4.7 rig is the least powerful of the 3 rigs available for the Laser. And especially unlike with the Radial, breakage of equipment is much less common in the 4.7. In the Laser Radial, especially in the breeze and with light sailors (say below 68 kg / 145 lbs), there is a need to exert huge tension on the boom vang and on the cunningham. This leads to regular breakages and other equipment failures, especially at regattas. The most common breakage is with the top section of the mast. The manufacturing quality of the aluminum top sections has varied with time and manufacturer. Bending of the aluminum top sections is a common feature of the Laser, especially in the Radial. This had led to the emergence of composite top sections, which are more reliable, but more expensive too. But for the Laser 4.7, there is much less tension exerted on the rig, and bending or breakage of the top section is much less frequent than with the Radial or the Standard. In fact, some coaches recommend to keep an aluminum section on the 4.7, especially for light sailors for whom more flexibility in the mast is needed.  Overall, the Laser is a low maintenance boat, as long as it is well taken care of. This applies of course to the Laser 4.7. So overall, there won’t be that many parts to change once you acquire a Laser 4.7, and maintenance is expected to be minimal.

XVII. Reasonable Acquisition Cost

When the Laser was launched 50 years ago, it was a US$1,000 boat. Today, things have changed, and a new boat is not that cheap.  A boat with a composite top section is currently listed at US$7,350 in the US, and one needs to add on top of that the covers, the dolly, other possible accessories and of course the sales taxes. With the Laser being Olympic, the top sailors tend to sail only new or very recent boats, which are usually considered somewhat faster, with the hull being stiffer. This usually means that second-hand boats, even pretty recent ones, are available on the market. The price of second-hand boats is usually markedly lower than the new boats. It’s possible to find a quality second-hand boat that is say 5 to 10 years old, for about US3,000 to US$5,000. Most second-hand boats will not come with the 4.7 bottom section, which will need to be purchased separately, either new or second-hand. Overall, the acquisition cost of a second-hand Laser is actually equivalent to that of a new Optimist, when one of the top Opti brands (Winner, McLaughlin, etc.) is used. Is a quality second hand boat sufficient to practice and race in the 4.7? The answer is a clear yes, unless maybe you are in the top 50 in the world. For the vast majority of youth sailors, a quality second-boat will be perfectly sufficient, which makes the acquisition cost reasonable. If the operation is to sell a race level Optimist and acquire a quality second-hand Laser, the price differential is actually not that significant. If the transition is from a boat like the O’Pen Skiff, the price difference will be higher, yet reasonable, as long as a second-hand Laser is bought. As long as you maintain your boat well, it is expected to keep its value very well, and when it will be time to sell it, you may still get a very decent price for it.

XVIII. Reasonable Running Costs

With a boat that requires little maintenance, and with the mast and boom being much less vulnerable to breakage than with the Radial and the Standard, one of the main contributor to your running costs will be to get new sails. Yes, like for any boat, the 4.7 sails don’t last forever, and to compete, it’s important to have a quality sail, which means a new, or very little-used sail. We have analyzed previously in this blog how the pricing of the new Laser « class legal » sails was overly inflated. In the US, a new 4.7 sail is priced at US$575. But the equivalent non-class sail, of a similar quality and with the same cut, can be obtained at … US$99! This price differential is enormous and is not explained by the sail button, which only provides a modest fee for the Laser class. How to cope concretely with this situation of over-priced class-legal sails? The solution lies in the use, for training and local regattas, of non-class sails. For training, some brands of non-class sails provide a feel and speed that is mostly equivalent to that of the class-sails. Practicing with such non-class sails is a very practical and cost-effective way to proceed. Another way is to utilize used class-legal sails for training. This means using new or quasi-new class-legal sails for serious racing only. This reduces substantially the need to purchase the expensive new class-legal sails. Note that in comparison to the Laser Radial, there is much less tension exerted on the 4.7 sail, with the boom vang and the cunningham, meaning that the 4.7 sail typically lasts longer - some say about twice longer - for racing than a Radial sail. Other parts for the Laser can be expensive too, such as the blades. So it’s also important for the sailor to take excellent care of his/her blades, and of his/her equipment in general, to avoid having to incur costs to replace parts. To compute your budget, you will need also to include the insurance fees, club fees related to the boat. More substantial costs are typically incurred to be part of a race team, to travel to regattas and training camps etc, an aspect that we are not covering here but that must obviously be taken into consideration.

XIX. Easy Transportation and Storage

If you are already familiar with the Laser, its transportation and storage, you can skip this section. But for parents of youth sailors out of the Optimist and similar classes, there is often an information gap regarding the logistics of dealing with a Laser. Regarding road transportation, it must be kept in mind that the Laser was actually designed to be transported on the top of a car. It’s an easily « car toppable » boat, thanks to its flat deck. Car topping needs to be done safely, and you need to get good advice as to how to properly secure the boat. Don’t forget, if you drive say 100 km/hour and there is a strong wind, say of 50 km/hour, it’s an apparent speed of 150 km/hour. It’s really important to safely fasten the boat to your car. Of course, you may be lucky to have your sailor part of a club or a team with a shared trailer, and then you won’t need to get involved as much into logistics. Or you may seek to get a trailer, especially if you have several boats, but this is usually more complicated and costly, and a light trailer will typically be less appropriate for the hull, because of all the vibrations when driving. Regarding storage, inside storage is better, especially during the winter. It’s possible to have the boat in a garage, or to keep it stored at the club. It’s also possible to keep it on a rack outside. The possibilities are countless. Both transportation and storage are pretty easy for a Laser, and you will be able to find additional advice at the level of your club, or your local sail shop, about how best to proceed.

XX. Easy Transition Towards a Next Boat

To conclude, let’s emphasize again that the Laser 4.7 is essentially a youth transition boat. Compared to say the Optimist, it’s a much simpler boat because equipment is much more standardized. The transition from the Opti, the O’Pen Skiff or whatever other boat should be implemented smoothly, for example at the end of the sailing season in the fall, or at its beginning in the spring. The transition should however be discussed well in advance, to find out if the sailor goes towards a double-handed boat, a single-handed one, or maybe even towards something pretty different, such as windsurfing, and to find out which model of boat is best in the sailor’s particular circumstances. If the choice is towards the Laser 4.7, this does not mean necessarily committing numerous years in the Laser. Watching videos of Olympic level sailors is certainly instructive, but can also be intimidating. The Laser 4.7 is a transition boat, that enable a further development of the sailor, with like-minded youth athletes. The sailor will stay typically 1, 2 or 3 years in the Laser 4.7, before moving to either the Laser radial, or to another type of boat. In case of a transition to the Laser Radial, it’s really easy, as just a bottom mast section and a sail need to be acquired - and non-class training sails are also available with the Radial. In case it’s a transition towards another boat, then the boat can be sold, for example to one of the many youth sailors entering the class each year, and if the boat has been well maintained, the price you will get may not be that different from what you initially paid. So getting a Laser 4.7 for a youth sailor is not complicated, and it’s not a big risk. What’s important is for the youth sailor to have a good platform to continue his/her development, for a certain period of time. It’s also important to understand that new, more expensive, equipment is initially not needed, and that excellent performance can be achieved even if the hull has 5, 10 or even more years of age, as long as it has been well maintained. Get advice from coaches, parents of other sailors or from other knowledgeable individuals, and you will find out that the transitions both to the Laser 4.7 and afterwards to the Radial or to another boat, are pretty easy to implement and should not constitute a hurdle to sail the 4.7.


We will have a special webinar about the Laser 4.7 with coach Augustin Ferrario - see details at this link and make sure to share with all those who might be interested: https://www.facebook.com/events/610237869512177/

Further Reading

Fixing the Youth Sailing Pathway with the Laser 4.7 and the RS Feva
This article analyzes how important the 4.7 is for youth sailing, and looks at all the problems that exist when the 4.7 is skipped, like it has happened in North America until very recently.

Jumpstarting the Laser 4.7 in North America
This article was published in the Laser class magazine. It presented a plan to « jumpstart » the 4.7 in North America, where the rig has been unfortunately neglected over the years.

From Top Optimist Sailor to Laser 4.7 and Laser Radial World Champion
This is about an amazing youth athlete - Dimitris Papadimitriou - who became world champion in both the Laser 4.7 and the Laser Radial, after having placed third at his unique participation in the Optimist Worlds.

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Photo Credits / Source: https://eurilca.smugmug.com/

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