Laser North American Grand Prix - Issues and Solutions for Youth Sailors

Here is a blog post about the Laser North American « Grand Prix » with the hope that it would start a reflection about possible improvements for future years.

This Grand Prix is aimed at selecting North American sailors to events organized by the Laser class, such as the Laser 4.7 Youth Worlds (U18), Laser Radial Youth Worlds (U19) and the Laser U21 Worlds, taking place both in the Laser Standard for men and Radial for women.

The Grand Prix web page, maintained by the North American class, can be found at this link. 

Note: we will discuss the question of the Grand Prix at our upcoming webinar - make sure to register on Facebook and share with all those who might be interested.

KEY ISSUES

1. Very Long Distances and High Costs

Canada and the US are very large countries. The distances between events are huge. At the same time, the number of youth sailors is really low, compared to Europe for example. This is an impediment to youth sailing development in the Laser. It’s ok to travel for big events that are truly worth to be attended, but is it worth it to do such travel for minor events with low participation? Also to be noted is that, at most events, there are no charter boats, and when there are some, they are pretty expensive (about double than with the Optimist).

2. Very Low Attendance in the Laser 4.7 at Most Grand Prix Regattas

The most important event in the Grand Prix, the North American championship, attracted just 16 Lasers 4.7 in 2019.  In 2018, there were 11 boats only in attendance. At the Canadian championships, there were just 4 4.7s. At the US Laser championships in Fort Lauderdale, there were just 8 boats in the 4.7 fleet.

Such levels of attendance are lower than those reached at local regattas in a province like Nova Scotia this summer. They are obviously ridiculously low compared to 4.7 events in Europe, which attract hundreds of participants.

Note that this issue is less serious with the Radial and the Standard, not only because these rigs are more widely used, but also because youth and senior sailors sail together - which is not the case for the 4.7.

3. Regatta Calendar Can Conflict with School

The Grand Prix includes events such as the Mid-Winters East, which took place in Florida this year on Feb 21-24, i.e. during the school year. This was during school year for most youth sailors. Again, it’s was a pretty low attendance with 17 sailors only in the Laser 4.7.

4. Major US 4.7 Regatta Not Included

A major youth regatta in North America is the Orange Bowl Youth Regatta, organized by the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Miami. This year, there are some 35 registrations in the 4.7 for this event, which takes place on December 26-30, i.e. during vacation time. This is going to be the largest 4.7 regatta in the U.S. Yet, this event is not included in the Grand Prix.

5. District Regattas Not Taking Place Everywhere

The Laser class divides territories into districts. Yet there are several districts where regattas don’t take place, or are simply not worth attending because of very low participation. So the sailors living in the few districts where well-attended regattas are organized have an unfair advantage.

6. Questionable System for an Orderly Rig / Boat Transition by Youth Sailors

A serious issue relates to boat / rig transition. Normally, a youth sailor will complete a season in one boat / rig, and then move to the next one for the next season. For example, the sailor completes a season in the Optimist, then moves to the Laser 4.7 in the Fall or Spring, and competes the next season in the Laser 4.7. Same thing when it comes to transitioning from the Laser 4.7 to the Radial.

With the current Grand Prix system, a sailor must compete in two boats / rigs during the same season, to qualify for the worlds the next year. For example, the sailor is still competing in the Optimist at a high level, but must already participate in Grand Prix regattas in the Laser 4.7 to stand a chance to be qualified for the worlds the next year (except when there is ample room available, like it was the case in Kingston this year).  This is detrimental to both the athlete and the development of the 4.7 fleets in North America.

7. Long Time Period Between Grand Prix and Youth Worlds Regattas

With the Grand Prix events running from January 1 to December 31, and with most regattas taking place in the summer, this means that the qualifications take place about one year prior to the actual world championship. This is a way too long time period, and this may prevent sailors transitioning from one boat (Optimist, or 4.7) to participate in the Worlds of the next year. This is detrimental to the Laser 4.7 class, in which most sailors may stay just one or two years.

To be also stressed is that, for the 4.7, with the athletes growing, they can't usually know a year in advance if they will compete the next year in the 4.7 or the Radial. This is a major flaw of the current system.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION ELEMENTS

Here are a few solution elements to address the shortcomings of the current Grand Prix system. There may be others. Your input / feedback is obviously most welcome.

A. Reduce from 5 to Say 2 or 3 the Number of Grand Prix Events to be Attended

With the current system, sailors can have 5 events to count for their selection process. A sailor who participates in fewer regattas is disadvantaged, not because he/she is not such a good sailor, but simply because he/she did not attend a sufficient number of events. To reduce the massive travelling and to have a selection system that is more realistic, one approach is to reduce to 2 or 3 the number of events to attend for the purpose of collecting Grand Prix points.

B. For the Laser 4.7, Develop a Limited Regatta Calendar to Ensure Higher Participation

While participation in the Laser Radial is much higher, as Laser class regattas are for both youth and senior sailors, for the 4.7, it would much better to concentrate on a smaller number of regattas, to promote higher participation at those events.

Events that should be included, on the basis of current levels of participation, include Orange Bowl (35 participants expected in December), the Canadian Youth Nationals (66 participants in 2019) and CORK (about 20 participants at Fall CORK, more participants at CORK International next year).

For the purpose of a geographic balance, a fourth event could be in a place like California.

C. Consider Separate Canadian and US Selection Processes for the 4.7

While Canada and the US are very large countries, these are also the only ones to be merged, in the context of the Laser class. This makes distances even longer, but provides of course winter sailing opportunities for Canadians. Yet, especially for the Laser 4.7, having a Canadian program and selection process may be preferable, rather than being merged with the US.

In Canada, there is currently interest in having 4.7 fleets not only in Nova Scotia, where it is now pretty well established, but also in Quebec, Ontario, BC and Alberta. Such trend would be reinforced with a Canada based Grand Prix for the 4.7. In the U.S. it’s unclear if there is any real progress with the 4.7 beyond Florida, especially with US Sailing, unlike Sail Canada, not (yet?) recognizing the Laser 4.7 as a youth boat.

D. Alternatively, Organize Qualifiers for the 4.7, Radial and U21 Youth Worlds (and Drop the Grand Prix)

A practical approach would be to have say two qualifiers for those world championships. If two qualifiers are decided upon, these could be Orange Bowl in Miami and a regatta early in the season, for example in early June, in Canada, that could be organized in a location such as Toronto, which is easily accessible by air.

A Toronto club such as the RCYC or the PCYC could take the lead on this. And ideally, this should be a stable arrangement, so that the selection system gets well established and understood by sailors and their parents from one year to the next.

Note that the qualifiers for the U21 Worlds could differ from those for the 4.7 and Radial Youth Worlds, as we are talking about sailors of very different ages, and being at different stages of their academic education.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

In recent years, there has been limited interest by North American sailors to attend the Laser youth worlds, in the Radial, and especially in the 4.7. North American participation at the U21 Worlds is also usually low. So, until now, good scoring with the Grand Prix system has not really been a necessity to attend these youth worlds.

But with the growing interest in attending Laser youth worlds by North American sailors, especially in the 4.7 and the Radial, it may be a good time to reflect on reforming the current system and to come up with something that will better serve youth sailors and ultimately ensure a higher interest and participation in youth sailing.
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