Saturday, March 23, 2019

Commentary: Olympic Equipment Trials - Singlehanded Dinghy

I've put the header photo of the Laser being blown over as a sort of tongue-in-cheek; I've always been joshing the Laser class; great boat that the Laser is. In the beginning of March, World Sailing ran a week long trials in Valencia, Spain to ostensibly select the singlehander dinghy for the Paris games in 2024. (I say ostensibly because politics always intervene, see my post on the Contender.) This could mark the end of the Laser in the Olympics (and then, perhaps not). Three newish classes were invited; the RS Aero, the Devoti D-Zero, the Melges 14. The Laser was also invited but kept ashore for the final day. Conditions were varied enough during the trials with the exception of a real blow. All three trialists represent modern dinghy thinking; low rocker hulls, flattish transoms, high aspect sails, and, (bullshit opinion alert!, since the blogmeister was nowhere near being present at the trials) during the week, there probably wasn't a huge difference in performance from class to class. So we await the report of the selection committee; which, if truth be told, probably doesn't have a lot of weight when the Annual Meeting of World Sailing convenes in November. Like any political body, behind the scenes maneuvering and lobbying will win the day.

I've come around, slowly, to the idea that Olympic classes should be elite dinghies, not popular world wide classes. This is the way the 49'er has evolved. It is a very difficult boat to race and only the Olympic sailors race this class. (One of these days I might re-tell the tale of Macy Nelson, who decided as an amateur, to race his 49'er in the Miami, Florida, World Sailing event.) My idea of the elite Olympic hiking singlehander is a version of the RS300. Olympic racing and the rest-of-us racing are two different concepts. Let the Olympic sailors have their own singlehanders and to us, the amateurs, leave us be, enjoyably racing our Retro singlehanders (long live our Retro singlehanders!), or our Laser's, or our RS Aero's, or D-Zero's, or Melges 14's. It's time to stop pretending these two, very different versions of our sport should be sharing the same classes.

I should mention that I know Dina Kowalyshyn, an Annapolitan, who was the head of the selection committee. Her husband was an International 14 crew during my era in International 14's; he is known by the 14'ers of that time as "Easy Bob". I ran into Dina at my normal Saturday breakfast joint about six months ago. She was breakfasting with Lorie Stout and we had a interesting conversation about where community sailing was going in Annapolis (or not going as it was determined).

Update: May 4, 2019: The World Sailing committee released their recommendations; either the Laser or the RS Aero is fit for Olympic competition. The Melges 14 was too big of a boat and the D-Zero had too fine a bow - not enough buoyancy for the trialists.


Tillerman said...

Great idea.

I have always thought that the eventual choice for the singlehander for Paris 2024 will be "none of the above."

Didn't the Contender "win" the trials a few years back? Is it too late to start a campaign to bring it back in 2024?

Tweezerman said...

Thanks Tillerman.

It seems to me that it would be easier for World Sailing to control a small elite class. I'm almost positive that the 49'er has gone through some rig changes over the years without any big controversy because only the Olympians sail them and, besides, you would get a new boat to start any campaign. Trying to maintain the one-designedness of older boats isn't such a big deal as long as the changes are at the start of an Olympic cycle.

Poking around Aerobian, I came across your post on Indian River and the RS Aero course used. Being a fan of those kind of courses, I would like to use your illustration for a post on Earwigoagin at some point ...if that is OK with you?

Has someone determined the best angles for "blast reaches" on a RS Aero? I think it would be tighter than the 60 degree reaches that were used on the Indian River course, at least in winds less than 20 knots.

Alden Smith said...

It does seem that the Olympic classes are going the same way as Formula One car racing - the niche of high performing sponsored individuals. It is impossible for the weekend club yachtee to compete with any of this, so a separation seems like a sensible idea just so long as the tax payer and levies on local yacht club members are not going to be asked to sponsor this stuff. The Olympics seems to be all about politics and money (lets not even mention the drug cheats etc, etc) Leave them to it I say. Any levies or tax payers subsides (if any at all) should be invested in bolstering local club sailing.

Tillerman said...

Tweezerman - that course diagram was in the SIs for the Florida State Chmpionship

It's fine with me for you to use it but perhaps you should give credit to the race committee at USSCMC in Jensen Beach.

As I recall the wind conditions were only just enough to be able to plane and I did get some good planing reaches on the first day - not so much in the second. Tighter angles might have worked a bit better I guess.

Someone pointed out to me that this course is a variation on what is often called a Harry Anderson course except the HA course is reach-reach-run and uses the start line pin to define the start of the run.

The RS Aeros also sometimes use what we call a Z course which has three reaches - first leg beat followed by a starboard reach to a gybe mark with then a port reach to a second gybe mark with another starboard reach to a leeward mark. Enables you to have somewhat tighter reaching angles than a triangle course.

Tweezerman said...

Thanks Tillerman. I would think the Z-course would devote a higher percentage of the course to reaching legs (not a bad thing in my eyes) and might not be so popular with those who like the dinky-doink of upwind tactics or the ability to demonstrate the run-by-the-lee techniques of the downwind legs.

Tweezerman said...


I see by your blog that you are getting a local fleet of Zephyrs going. Hopefully the interest will snowball. Enjoyed the video of the 2019 Nationals you had linked.

Chris Thompson said...

I'm not sure about separating the "elite" and the "amateurs". A few weeks ago, I did my first "open" (ie non-Masters) Laser championship for many years. I thought it was damn good sharing the racing with someone who had been in the finals in Rio, just as I used to love sailing with Olympians when I was into Lasers seriously 20 years ago.

The Olympian was third, a Grand Master who had done two Games was seventh out of 40+. In between were rising young stars. There was no clear separation between the "elite" and the "others"; it was a continuum. The winner had been 3/4 of the way back in the national titles three years before - at what stage would she make the shift from being a hack to an "elite"? Where does one split the line? How would that young sailor have made the shift from hack to elite, without the two-Games veteran and other non-elite sailors to sail with every weekend and to train with? Would we Masters enjoy sailing as much if we weren't getting beaten by those pesky elites? Maybe, maybe not. It's probably an individual's preference.

The 49ers are arguably different because hiking singlehanders are universally popular and skiffs are pretty much universally a small minority, apart from one Australian state where gambling and liquour laws allow even hackers to be paid to sail. From experience in Olympic windsurfers I'd say that in high performance boats the gap between elite and the rest opens up much wider, to the point where it is dispiriting. I've never found that in Lasers.

Things may also be different in the USA and Europe, where there are so many people. The Olympics also has to appeal to places like Asia and Africa, where the chances of creating a viable separate training group of elite sailors would seem to be negligible. Without support from such countries, Olympic sailing is doomed.

Tweezerman said...


Great to hear from you. I'm not so much arguing about separating the elites and "the regulars" as developing an Olympic singlehanded class that the elites would primarily race at the World Sailing Olympic events (Australia, Miami, Parma and so on) and the Olympic Games. A small class that World Sailing manages and is built by a couple of builders and where rule changes at the start of an Olympic cycle isn't a big deal. Trying to develop a mass-market singlehander that is also an Olympic singlehander seems to me to be at cross-purposes. The current legal mess in the Laser class has taken forty or so years before it erupted but it just took one fellow who didn't want to play by the genteel rules of boatbuilders and more by the rules used by a cutthroat business mogul.

I have no problem with the elites using the Laser class for training, for development, for spotting young talent. I just don't think that World Sailing has any business anointing the next world-wide class for the masses.