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The History of the Laser

Laser Hull #1The Laser was launched to the public in 1971 at the New York Boat Show. It was designed by Bruce Kirby with simplicity and performance in mind, and quickly became the quintessential one-design. The Laser is sailed all over the world, and there have been over 160,000 Lasers built as of May, 1998. There are currently builders in Rhode Island, USA, England. At 13 feet 10.5 inches long with a 12.5 foot waterline and 76 square feet of sail, the Laser has enough power to glide in extremely light air and blast along in a stiff breeze.

The original name for the Laser prototype was “Weekender,” which is why sailmaker Hans Fogh used the insignia “TGIF,” as seen in the photo of hull #1 at right.

The Laser’s flush deck, minimal beam (4.5 feet) and low freeboard (12 inches) were designed to keep the hull weight to a minimum (average 130 lbs) and to allow simple car-topping and easy handling on shore by women and junior sailors. The innovative “place for your feet” cockpit means the boat ships very little water, and comes up completely dry when righted after a capsize. The Laser’s two-piece mast and sleeved sail are in keeping with the goal of simplicity, and also help to make car topping simple.

In the mid-1980s the Laser Radial Rig was developed and in 1988 the Laser Women’s World Championship was sailed in the new Radial Rig for the first time. The Radial mast uses the same top section as the “full rig,” and a shorter and more bendy bottom section. The sail is 18% smaller (62 sq. feet) than the full rig, but the center of effort of the sailplan is much lower. This means the Radial rig generates more power relative to heeling force than the full rig and so for lighter sailors allows performance and handling far better than they can achieve with the full rig. When it is quite windy, the Radial rig is faster upwind!

The Laser Radial is unquestionably the best training boat for Laser Olympic aspirants who are still growing. In fact, the winner of the 1993 Radial World Championship, Ben Ainsle from England, went on to win a silver medal in the 1996 Olympics in the Laser. The Laser Radial is also a great boat for Europe Dinghy sailors who want to do as much close racing as possible. The Laser Masters events are very well attended and enjoyed by keen and competitive veterans of the class who have built friendships around the world over the years of their Laser sailing.

Recent rigging innovations make the Laser easier and more enjoyable to sail, and better to race. One used to have to stand up in the boat after the leeward mark and jump down on the boom while taking the slack out of a 3-1 vang to get enough tension! Now, with an 8-1 slippery spectra line swiveled vang, more than enough can be pulled on from a hiking position. Tillers with rollers allow a helm with great feel. Loops in the outhaul allow it also to be adjusted while hiking.

Laser racing is arguably the most competitive and close sailboat racing in the world. Still, the real beauty of a Laser lies in its invitation to go sailing for the pure joy of it. With no standing rigging to bother with, no obstacle course of fittings to bruise and cut, no cockpit full of water, the bare essentials of tiller, mainsheet, and sailor can come together to feel the magic of the wind and water cast its spell.