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Scuttlebutt News:

Laser class takes another step forward

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(May 20, 2009) While in Boston during the Volvo Ocean Race stopover, Harken USA CEO Bill Goggins was carrying special cargo - the prototype Laser mainsheet blocks that Harken would soon be supplying exclusively to LaserPerformance (see Twitter post). With over 165,000 class members, Laser sailors had still been using the same blocks that were on the boat when it was launched at the NY boat show in 1971.

To learn more about this change, Scuttlebutt checked in with Chip Wilkerson, VP Marketing at LaserPerformance, which builds 4,000 Lasers a year for North America, South America, Europe, Middle East, and much of Asia.

the prototype mainsheet blocks that Harken would soon be supplying to LaserPerformance
  • How does the Laser class go about making this kind of change?

  • Each class is different. They have their own process and differing degrees of freedom when it comes to equipment changes. The Laser is the largest one-design racing class in the world so they take this very seriously. For changes such as these, it has to go in front of the World Council technical committee where it's ratified by a vote. These 'elections' happen once a year at the annual builder's meeting. It then gets documented/updated in the Laser Construction Manual. Any change is recorded in this tightly controlled document to ensure that every Laser, irrespective of builder, is exactly the same -- materials, lay up schedules, dimensions, manufacturing methods, etc.

  • Can you provide a timeline for previous upgrades to the Laser?

  • The last upgrade approved by the class was the new clew strap which was launched in 2006. Prior to this we introduced the Outhaul and Cunningham and 16:1 Vang upgrade in 2000. So, as you can see, changes are made very prudently. This is what has made Laser such a strong one-design class.

  • Describe the latest upgrade - the traveler block and two boom blocks.

  • The biggest distinction is a modern design that is stronger, and reduces friction. As a result, the main eases more freely offwind and in light air.

  • The class required the new blocks to be identical in size to the current blocks. Can you describe the process?

  • This system was developed over the last couple of years. Throughout the process we worked closely with the class, the great team at Harken and some of the world's best Laser sailors. Because it is one-design, the goal was not to revolutionize, but to improve. Therefore, we focused on addressing some of the issues our customers had with the existing blocks, but tempered it with some self-imposed restrictions to ensure we stuck to the one-design philosophy.

  • What motivated the change?

  • The current blocks were designed in the late 60's /early 70's. There's been a lot of innovation since then. An update was due. There's a balance with any one-design class between making sure it's the sailor's ability that wins the race at the same time not allowing the equipment to drag the class into obsolescence. The Laser mainsheet block system is a good example of a builder and a class working together to keep the class relevant and answering the needs of its membership.

  • Any other boat issues that the class is reviewing?

  • With the introduction of this system, we will also be introducing a new friction pad for the dagger board. This was also approved at the annual class meeting along with fiberglass foils which we have in development. Beyond that we are always exploring ideas with the class. We have some studies in process but we don't have anything eminent. For now we are just getting ready for this year's Worlds in Halifax!

    For further information:
    Chip Wilkerson
    VP Marketing at LaserPerformance
    300 Highpoint Avenue, Portsmouth, RI 02871, USA
    T 401-643-0719 M 401-835-1840 F 401-683-0990

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