Monday, July 27, 2009

Congratulations, Intensity Sails

From the full page anti-“counterfeit” sails propaganda in the latest Laser Sailor, it looks like you have become far more than a minor annoyance to the powers of Big Laser. You are now a force to be reckoned with, an “increasing trend,” and an “aggressive internet” marketer. Big Laser is out to get you. I think they are afraid of you.

It’s fine that Big Laser wants to reiterate the case for single source equipment as a means of maintaining lasers’ “one design” quality. But it is unfair propaganda to call alternative sails “counterfeit.” The word counterfeit implies an intention to defraud. Every ad I have seen for these sails clearly states (usually in capital letters) that they are NOT CLASS LEGAL. I have never met anyone using these sails who have been confused about this. There is clearly no fraud here. My I suggest a new logo to make things clearer?

There is a giant disconnect between a professed concern for class legal equipment and the needs of laser sailors to have high quality, reasonably priced sails. As the article concedes, these low cost sails are helpful in putting more boats on the water and growing local fleets. Ironically, at the local level, unofficial sails have been a primary means of meeting the goals of “one design” classes: equal boats and minimal reward for greater spending on better equipment. These sails have been wonderful in promoting better and more competitive sailing at my club. So now Big Laser needs to draw a line in the sand, implore regional regatta organizers to forbid non class legal sails ( don’t they do this already?), and try to scare us all into believing that by saving some money we will undermine the Laser class.

Why don’t other classes have this situation? Did upstart Intensity Sails (and others) cause this problem? I don’t think so.

Big Laser has no one to blame but themselves. They have sown the seeds of the alternative sail industry. They gave it sunlight and nurtured it. For starters, they (the class association, Laser-Performance, North Sails, and the dealers) conspired to create a marketing system where they each get a cut of every sail sold – apparently a big cut. Thus, they have guaranteed high prices. Next, they missed all opportunities to improve the quality of the sail design or the sail cloth as the industry has progressed during the past couple of decades. Lately, they have stonewalled resolving “the well documented failings” of the sails. Haven’t they been implicitly begging for someone to jump into the market with a better or lower cost product?

They argue that the “strict one design” nature of the class is worth a “slight premium.” You bet it is! But that “slight premium” is a matter of a $600 sail (incl. battens and sail bag) versus a $200 sail. Not very slight. If the premium really were “slight,” there would be no appreciable unofficial sail industry.

All this said, I don’t have a problem with requiring single source equipment at big events. Those are the rules. It’s pretty simple. But Big Laser has no business disparaging either the producers or consumers of good stuff cheap. The market place is sending a clear message that the monopolistic practices of Big Laser are not working for substantial numbers of the Laser sailors. It’s about time that the class association and the suppliers began working for the members and the customers.


  1. Yarg, I have a lot of sympathy with what you say, but I must take issue with your implication that the rules only require single source equipment at "big events".

    All sailboat racing at every level, as far as I am aware, takes place under the Racing Rules of Sailing. Certainly all organized regattas and club racing use the RRS. In the RRS the rules are explicitly defined (see definition of Rule) to include "the class rules" i.e. the rules of the Laser class in this case which, of course, mandate specifically that the sail must be supplied by a "licensed builder".

    So what's to stop a club or a regatta organizer specifically allowing non-licensed sails in their racing, do I hear you ask?

    Good question...

    Well Rule 86.1 (a) and (b) when read together clearly say that SIs can't change any of the Definitions, and so you can't change the definition of Rule to exclude the class rules.

    And Rule 87 says you can't change class rules without getting written permission from the class.

    So my read is that if you are sailing a Laser under the RRS then you must follow the class rules and use a legal sail, whatever the size of the event. Or am I missing something?

  2. Tillerman, your interpretation seems to make sense.These rules do confuse me some what because rule changes in sailing instructions are very common, specifically rules involving plenty turns and the size of the bouy room circle (changes are specifically allowed in rule 86.1b). Also I know fact that college rules have a different rule 42. Its not clear to me if this constitutes a class association or not.

  3. Class rules can change Rule 42. My understanding of how college sailing rules work is that they have defined a Collegiate Dinghy Class which is basically whatever boats the regatta host provides. And then in the class rules for the Collegiate Dinghy Class they modify Rule 42.

  4. I totally agree with your reading of Rule 87, however…..

    In the next couple of weeks our club is hosting qualifying rounds for the Mallory and Adams Cups, prestigious events sponsored by US Sailing. The NOR says the events will be sailed in Flying Scots, and in the very next sentence it says the Flying Scot class rules shall not apply. This does not change a class rule; it obliterates all of them. It seems this is doing what the college rules do – create a new class - the Flying Scot that is not a Flying Scot.

    I guess in one way or another the same thing is happening in Lasers. Lasers with one or more non class legal part are not Lasers, as stated in Laser Sailor. Local clubs and some regattas are either violating the rules by permitting these non-Lasers to sail in the Laser class, or they are incorrectly changing the SI’s to allow alternative sails. Is it all Kosher if the NOR’s and SI’s create a new class?

    I have been thinking of some names for the new class: Laser Wannabees, Almost Laser, Sometimes Laser, Laser .97 (new boat with cheap sail = 97% of the cost of boat with legal sail), or Bastard Laser.

    Sometimes I sail in the Laser Fleet and sometimes I sail in the Laser .97 fleet. I do about the same in either fleet.

  5. I think you're on the right track. You need to create a Counterfeit Laser Class Association. I'll be interested to read the class rules. Will they prevent me from using a Rooster 8.1 Rig at your next Counterfeit Laser Regatta?

  6. Some class associations are more rigid and snooty than others. In some cases, the organizing authority for an event can contract a class association and get reasonable rule changes made with no problem. In some other cases, the class association gets ignored and everyone sort of agrees to "look the other way". And, if a class is too rigid and unfriendly, it just may fade away.

    One of the biggies is class rules requiring class membership ... theoretically required even for local club handicap regattas. Some classes are very expensive to join and only have a tiny minority of owners who pay. Theoretically, these boats aren't allowed to race anywhere ... but they do.

  7. P.S. Are you permitted by class rules to criticize Big Laser? Better check, just in case.