Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Conversation with O’Brien

Not long ago in my Lasering experience I made a new friend, O’Brien, who is not only a fellow Laser enthusiast, but he works as a dealer in the Laser marketing network. While having a beer after sailing, we had had a conversation about a bizarre dream I had.

“I was at a regatta, but not a Laser regatta,” I told him. It was a regatta for some kind of a larger, less fun boat, like the boat I used to sail before I was converted to Lasers. It was sort of like a Laser regatta, but the boats had different kinds of sails. I mean, they all looked pretty much alike, and they had the same measurements, but they all had different labels on them. There were about five different brands.”

“You mean all the boats were different? Was there some kind handicap scoring?”

“No, the boats were the same – only the sails were different – and maybe the way the spinnaker sheets were routed, but essentially the same. It was a one design class.”

“Couldn’t be, if the sails were different!”

“It was a dream. What can I say? The folks there all thought it was a one design regatta. They were even congratulating themselves that US Sailing had chosen their boat for the Triple handed youth and adult national championships just like they had a couple of years ago.”

“Wow! Imagine a championship where all the boats are different.”

“No, the boats were the same. Only the sails had different makers. And at this regatta, one of the sail makers was giving a seminar about how to trim sails and generally make the boat go faster. He was explaining how they were using this new cloth which would stretch a little less and hold the shape longer. And there was some extra reinforcing in the corners, but I really couldn’t understand why that was important. And this guy seemed to be friends with about half the people at the regatta.”

“Were all the sailors’ stockbrokers lining up to buy the next new and more expensive thing?”

“Not really. They were pretty regular folks. Most of them were pretty impressed that these new sails were still less expensive than the ones from the big sail makers. Some of the sailors really liked the sail maker, and were very apologetic that their sails were only a year old, and it would be another year before they would buy a new suit.”

O’Brien frowned. “Cheapskates. Any respectable Laser sailor replaces his sail at least once a year. The big time serious guys use a sail for only one or two regattas.”

I was puzzled. “Doesn’t that go against the one design principle of not giving an advantage to the guy who spends the most money?”

“No. It makes all the boats equal. Sails only cost $525. All the good guys have new sails.”

“I don’t,” I said sheepishly. “My friends don’t either. At my club there are a bunch of high school and college kids who nag their parents for a year just to get one of those imitation Laser sails. Then they try to borrow a real sail if they want to go to a big regatta.”

“Well, we have the dealer network any time you need a new sail – or anything else for your Laser. We’re only a click away.”

“Yeah. The service is great. But where do I get $525 every few months just to keep up with the good guys?..........You know, years ago when I was in that other class, I only had to pick up the phone and call the sail maker to order new sails. Most of the time it was my sail maker friend that I talked to. It worked the same way for boat parts – one phone call, next day shipping. I guess they use the internet now.”

“Of course they do. Who wants to actually talk to customers? That’s pretty inefficient, you know.”

“So, is it true the Laser sail we use now is the same as one that is 20 years old? It’s funny that in that time we have the emergence of personal computers, the internet, email, Ipods, Iphones, texting, twittering, and Facebook, but we can still depend on the Laser sail to stay the same.”

O’Brien thought I was being a smart ass. “Yarg, are you getting a bad attitude? You understand that in order to have a one design class, everything must be controlled. Things can’t just change over night.”

“I understand that.”

“And you know that letting just any sail maker supply sails would cause chaos and eventually ruin the class. If the class association and Laser Performance and the sail maker and the dealers didn’t all make money, they wouldn’t be able to serve you.”

“That makes sense.”

“And you know that when the sail eventually gets improved, and that will be soon, it will be because the entire supply chain worked together methodically for as many as five years, on your behalf, to develop the best possible product for the class.”

“I know years of hard work goes into this. ……………….But it worked so differently in that other class. It didn’t seem so hard.”

“That was just a dream, Yarg. You were dreaming that anarchy miraculously produced good products at reasonable prices. Don’t buy into that myth. This is reality. That other class is falling apart. They are not serious. Just because US Sailing picks their boat once in a while, doesn’t mean it is any good. It’s nothing like the Laser class, the best and most competitive class in the world. Laser has the Olympics- the Olympics, where the world’s most talented athletes invest endless amounts of time and money in becoming the best. Isn’t that what sailing is all about? Yarg, it isn’t just about you and your friends fooling around, having fun.”

“I don’t know what I was thinking. Crazy dream. I love the Laser class. Thank you Big Laser for taking care of us.”

1 comment:

  1. I sometimes have that dream too. Then it turns into a nightmare when I find out that the boat in my dream coasts over $18,000 new with all the bells and whistles, and that a new set of sails for it costs $2,300. I wake up in a cold sweat and my heart rate only returns to normal when I realize that I am back in the real world and that I could buy a new Laser for under $6,000, but that I don't need to because my 14 year-old Laser is fine and even wins regattas some days.

    Then I go for a sail in my Laser using my 3-year-old real Laser sail (that has been used for well over 100 days of sailing including two world championships) and, on the reach of the final race, blast past my friend yarg who is using some kind of counterfeit sail.

    Life is good with Big Laser!