Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why Manly Men Never Use a Radial Sail

A few weeks ago, as I sat eating my quiche and reading about Tillerman’s adventures in frostbiting in 18 - 30 MPH winds, I thought about how courageous he was in conditions where I might have wimped out and used a radial.

For anyone who doesn’t sail a laser, I should first explain what a radial is. Lasers can accommodate three sizes of sail – full rig, radial, and 4.7 – each one getting successively smaller. The idea is that smaller and lighter people can step down the sail area and still sail with the same hull. It is also a way for sailors to deal with increasing wind by reducing sail area, just like every big boat in the world does. It would seem there is ample precedent for the wisdom of this concept.

Nevertheless, manly men never reduce sail on a laser no matter what the wind, their physical limitations, or their sailing deficiencies. (A few shorter, lighter, perhaps smarter men are notable exceptions to this rule, but they have Laser Radial World Championships to prove their prowess.) Below is a list of 6 excellent reasons why manly men continue to defy conventional big boat sailing wisdom and never cop out with a radial.

Radials are for girls. It’s simple in the Olympics – men sail full rigs, women sail radials. Period. End of story. It doesn’t matter how big or strong the women are or how small the men are. It’s a gender issue, and only girls sail radials. Gender identification can be a slippery slope, and no manly man wants to take even a first step down that slope.

Radial sailing girlie girl
Radials are for weaklings. Radials suggest a smaller stature, and we all know it is the strong, tall, manly men who control the world, run the corporations and get elected to political office. (i.e. Scott Brown and Mitt Romney – we are so shallow in Massachusetts.) Never mind that when the wind approaches 20, radials are just as fast upwind, even with the best sailors sailing full rigs against radials. When everyone is overpowered, the big guys lose their edge, and it becomes a contest of boat handling and wave management, but that’s no reason to make those things easier by using a smaller sail. Manly men are tough enough to struggle with the bigger sail in the toughest of conditions.

Radials are too slow. Manly men always go for maximum speed. Being in control doesn’t matter. Even though the two sails become about equal upwind, downwind the big sail always goes faster if it stays upright. The more Adeline the better. Damn the consequences, full speed ahead!

Manly men aren’t chicken. Regardless of the amount of wind and the size of the waves, a smaller sail is an admission of fear. Fear is not acceptable in the code of the manly man. Even if every sailor on the beach understands that radial sails are just a common sense reaction to the conditions, no manly man wants to be the first to suggest it. He is understood by the others to have conceded that his thingie is smaller than the other guy's thingie.
Fearless manly man
Manly men like to overcome disasters. The bigger the disaster, the more spectacular the crash, the tougher the man who accepted the pain. Actual sailing injuries provide fodder for great stories of heroic recoveries. Manly men welcome the potential dangers of a bigger sail and want to be filmed having spectacular death rolls that would scare women and children off the water forever. Taking risks is for the manly. Being smart is for the nerd.

Heroic manly man
Manly men will always prevail. If they can’t stay upright, they can still demonstrate their prowess with powerful swimming and skilled boat righting techniques. Rather than meekly accepting the limitations of their skills and using their judgment, they can claim to be heroic, life saving first responders… albeit of themselves. A declaration of victory is what it is all about.

The marks of a manly man are strength, courage, desire for adventure, and the ability to prevail over whatever comes. God bless you, manly men!


  1. Great post!

    The same principle applies to keelboats, of course, where manly men never reef.

    In the summer winds on SF Bay (typically in the 20's), you see dozens of boats on their ear, manly genoas scraping the water. It took sailing with a girly girl to discover my boat is just as fast, and a heck of a lot easier to handle, with a smaller thingie up.

  2. Now that I'm old I'm thinking of admitting that it's OK to have a smaller thingie sometimes.

  3. Well played on your opening gambit, Yarg! I lol'ed.

  4. I know this thread is over 2.5 years old, but I just had my first race on a Laser today and was encouraged by several experienced Laser sailors to choose the radial rig, not the standard. But I'm a manly man, so I went with the full rig, capsized on the first weather leg, in about 12-15 knots, then broke the mast on the second upwind leg. If I picked the radial I might have actually completed a race, and maybe all the races that day. Lesson learned, and order placed for a radial bottom and Intensity radial "practice" sail.

  5. I think for a laser racer of average skill and over 10 knot winds the radial sail is better matched for the hull than the standard sail, but with the proper adjustments the standard sail can be depowered, capsizing at mark roundings due to mistakes in sail trim and weight positioning will likely occur in both rigs but slightly less on the radial.

  6. I just came across this thread I see is a year old. Its a real problem this one. We sail on the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel with Sully Sailing. org, and are mostly Laser headbangers.
    Im getting quite old for this stuff and have been dithering about getting a radial. It is about fear but then you dont want to wind up with a back injury at the age of 70. I capsized it the other day well under 10kn havent a clue what happened just took my eye off the ball and it was a bitch to get back upright. I dont know that a radial would make all that much difference, Im not going out in a blow anyway as I am pretty well a fair weather sailor these days. I think I will go for a radial as its easier for me to get the mast in the hole.
    Sailing here is freaky. We have a thirteen metre tidal range. Yes thirteen. Ive been 3 metres off a mark and missed it because of the tide rip. So yeah I think a limp wristed Radial wouldnt add to the general headache. I mean I wouldnt ride a Norton 650 SS any more.
    Jean Bernard Parr Barry South Wales

  7. We are a club on the Bristol Channel UK full of Laser headbangers and I am getting a bit old for this stuff but nevertheless struggle to put the mast in the hole these days. To add to the general headache we have a phenomenal tide rip here with a thirteen metre tidal range so rounding a mark you miss it from three feet away take your eye off the ball and bingo in you go. Im getting on for seventy and really you need to a bit sensible and not wind up injured. However I know what Yarg means. Theres still a lot of pressure but hell you do what you can. I wouldnt ride a Norton 650 SS anymore either. The rest of my family think Im crazy even going out. I might even get a 4.7 well its better than not going out at all. This thread is getting a bit long in the tooth. Blimey!

  8. My name is Tillerman and I eat quiche.

  9. ha ha, good fun post! you could always sail a radial and buy yourself a manly Ford rs turbo boy racer to keep your manliness up!

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  11. It is not the sail size that matters but the sailors skills, physique and mindset, full rig, radial or 4.7 choose whatever makes you a better sailor on the long run! G. Nachornik

  12. And Yarg, I lost count of how many times I laughed out loud here in the office reading this awesome post, Thank you!!!

  13. Forget bravado, its just a matter of wind to weight ratio ,
    I'm 94 kg so I need more wind before considering a radial
    But I get beat by light folk in lower winds,
    Thinking about getting the rooster sail ?

  14. If you are going to capsize, then it is always a good idea to do it near a mark and screw up everyone else a bit. Like your friend in the photo. You an do that with any rig. (He looks like he is about to take a short nap on his centreboard.)

  15. I am looking for some quotes and sources for a letter to US Sailing about women sailing laser fulls. I am a female laser sailor and am looking at attempting the 2028 Olymics I would like to sail a laser full depending on the conditions. If anyone has any good resources or reasons women should be able to sail I would love to hear from you.