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The future of the laser: sorcerer's apprentices and the goose that lays the golden eggs by Gilles GLUCK

Andy B

Member
This is a piece which was published on the front page of the Association France Laser web site in March 2020. It was written by a Grand Master Gilles Gluck. It is 20 pages long and talks about how the Laser arrived in Europe and why it took off before looking at the many changes which have taken place over the years. Gilles explains how the Laser's position in the market place has changed by comparing the Laser's price with other products over the years. There is a section on our class association, its structure and the democratic processes. Gilles concludes by looking at the history of other classes which have followed the route now being advocated by ILCA, ISAF and the builders.

Gilles is not very optimistic about the future and is critical of all the players involved believing their individual quests for increased profits and elite competition are detrimental to the class. Hence the title.

Gilles thought processes are very logical and he presents his case very logically but I expect his views are more prevalent in Europe than NA.
 

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LaLi

Well-Known Member
Thank you Andy for posting this. I'll take some time to read it and comment later.

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LaLi

Well-Known Member
Ok, that was interesting... and pretty entertaining as well. Good job by the translator ;) There are plenty of inaccuracies, misunderstandings and errors (by the original writer, that is), but that doesn't hurt most of the historical parts of the writing. I can totally identify with Mr Gluck, remembering how super-modern a Laser looked when seeing one for the first time in 1973 or '74. (And I think it still does - the design has aged remarkably well.) Many "new" pieces of information are interesting, such as the technical problems of Irish-built boats back in the day.

However, he gets the events of the last few years largely wrong, and loses his argument by portraying everybody involved (except maybe EurILCA) as the bad guys who made the Laser elitist and expensive, and offering no solutions how to proceed. For example, he rants about the LP monopoly, but doesn't like the vote that ended that monopoly, either.

This piece raises lots of good questions anyway, with no self-evident answers:
  • How can an organization such as a sailboat class react to societal, economic and value changes over decades? Should it even try?
  • Is it a good thing that 70 % (allegedly) of the membership of an international class is concentrated on one continent? Even if not, should that continent be entitled to 70 % of the decision-making power?
  • Should one always go for minimal technical development in a one-design class, as there are many bad examples of the contrary?
  • What number of builders is optimal for building not more than 2000 boats a year?
  • Etc.
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AlanD

Former ISAF Laser Measurer
I have to agree LaLi.

The first 8 pages were entertaining. After that they become fanciable, little more than the old anti anglo rant which I thought had died decades ago. I'm not all up in the politics of it all, but there are clear inaccuracies in the technical aspects of the article that indicate that it was not well researched.

I've said for 30+ years that the laser is over priced for what we get, but I am happy to pay if the quality is there. That quality has been improving but so has the price.
 

Andy B

Member
The piece reminded me of when I first learnt to sail in the early 80's and everyone told me I needed a Solo I would hate a Laser. Stuck with the Solo for one season, too expensive, too much maintenance, too many adjustments for a newbie and I was too light. So I just bought a Laser and loved it.

I took a different view to Lali I though Gilles was in favour of SMOD boats his problem is that we are not a SMOD because we have two builders who are competing for market share and profits by any means possible.

Lali and AlanD both talk about inaccuracies without elaborating. I'm sure Gilles was sincere when he took the time to write the piece and that his comments are his, and many other clubs sailors, perception of events based on the information at their disposal. If there are inaccuracies it would be really helpful if these could be highlighted, and substantiated, to make sure it is not simply different peoples personal perception of the same set of events.
 

LaLi

Well-Known Member
I took a different view to Lali I though Gilles was in favour of SMOD boats his problem is that we are not a SMOD because we have two builders who are competing for market share and profits by any means possible.
The class was effectively single-manufacturer (on a regional basis) until last year. The current situation with PSA being the dominant builder is planned to end next year, and Gilles should know this, too. Instead he hangs onto the "LP vs PSA" narrative, which isn't relevant anymore.

Lali and AlanD both talk about inaccuracies without elaborating. I'm sure Gilles was sincere when he took the time to write the piece and that his comments are his, and many other clubs sailors, perception of events based on the information at their disposal. If there are inaccuracies it would be really helpful if these could be highlighted, and substantiated, to make sure it is not simply different peoples personal perception of the same set of events.
I was thinking about writing a detailed commentary, but then decided that that would be too pedantic :rolleyes: (And take quite some time.) If you absolutely want it, of course I can still do it.

Anyway, I have no doubts concerning Gilles's sincerity either; even his perception of things is mostly quite sharp, but his analysis isn't, and he has no concrete solutions to his perceived problems. In the end, what we're left with is an old man's lament how everything was great in his youth and how a bunch of meanies screwed it all up.

One shouldn't need 19 pages to say that.

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Wavedancer

Upside down?
Staff member
That's me: An old man lamenting how everything was great in his youth and how a bunch of meanies all got around the marks first.
:(
I will try to remember that.
 

Wavedancer

Upside down?
Staff member
I hope that when the dust settles there will be a NEW builder in
Northern America; Zim?
South America (which has been treated as badly as Northern America by LP); Riotecna?
Continental Europe; several companies with solid (dinghy building) reputations appear to be candidates
China and/or Thailand

In addition, maybe LP will figure out where the golden goose lays its eggs.
 

AlanD

Former ISAF Laser Measurer
I'll add a couple of points.

For the Olympic Sailing for the Sydney 2000, you did not have to be perched high on a ferries. Depending on which course the boats were on the boats were very visible from the shore. All but one course was inside the harbour and were visible from the normal spectator vantage points people watch the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race start from or the 18' skiffs, Sydney Harbour is a bit of a natural amphitheater.

For example the 470's finals (mens & women's) were held between Clark Island and Nielson Park. I watched with several thousand, from Bradley Head (a low headland), the boats were coming within 10m of the shoreline, both upwind & downwind. There is quite a big advantage of almost hitting the rocks here from years of sailing on this section of the harbour, you go inside the line of the old stone wharf & new lighthouse. The Ynglings on another day I had the opportunity to watch were 100m off Cremorne Point. And for their finals, the bottom mark was 50m off the Opera House Steps. All of these were free venues.

Julian Bethwhaite is not of Performance Sailcraft Australia. He runs his own business designing and supplying boats including the 29'er and 49'er. Yes he has been heavily involved with the design of a few new rigs, but I believe this started off initially independent of Chris Caldecott and PSA. IMO. it's actually been 'modus operandi' for both Frank & Julian Bethwhaite to see a potential market in a class and move in to take a slice. The Tasar is a development of relatively open design class called the NS14 (Northbridge Senior) which Frank sailed and designed his own boats, before basically producing a mass production version of it. Ditto, Julian did the same with the 18' Skiff (B18 from memory) which lead to the B14, 29'er & 49'er classes.

[quote}The only problem with his assertion is, he promoted it in a very exclusive part of the country where there are 10 times as many Porsche’s and top of the range Audi’s than there are Kia’s or Daewoo’s. [/quote]

Let's have a look at this. Firstly, GM Daewoo's haven't been sold under the Daewoo brand for well over a decade. They were re-branded as GM Holdens (the Australian arm of GM). However GM is pulling out of Australia as they no longer intend to make right hand drive vehicles anywhere in the world. The equivalent brand is Hyundai. Last year's car sales for Hyundai (86,000) top 3 car brands for the last 4 years), Kia (61,000) (top 10 brand for the last 3 years) Audi 15,000 (16th), Porsche 4,000 (25th). Another source which didn't give the numbers for Hyundai, indicated that there were 36K Porsches on the road, 177K Audis, and 333K Kias (noting that Kia has been a relatively small brand here as they have been re-badged as Fords for two decades. Sorry but I'm not sure which very exclusive part of the country he might be referring to, but unless he's specifically talking about few suburbs in Sydney, I doubt that there would be 10 times the number of Kia's or Hyundai and it's doesn't appear that at the sailing regattas.

Construction of the Australian boats.

My understanding is the manufacturers have always been encouraged to do limited development which do not impact on performance, anyone complaining about the mast steps ripping out anymore? This development has always been discussed with the Technical Committee and other builders and if deemed a good idea, adopted by all the builders. The so called stiffness of the Australian hulls is a non issue IMO. The extra glass is not going to impact on the stiffness of a hull under 12 months old, but it will make a difference on a hull 5-10 years down the track when a heavily used hull will start to deteriorate. Is it good that someone who in 20 years time has a boat as stiff as a new boat? I think so, it keeps old boats competitive. I can see why LPE wan't to stop it, it means more sales because of inbuilt obsolesce (probably why they are keen of aluminium sections as well).

It could be claimed that the Australian boats have been optimised, possibly. Are they all built within tolerance, from my understanding, yes they are. Basically what all this is about is that the Australian boats were built on tighter tolerances. If the manual indicated +/- 2.0kg, the Australian boats were built +/- 0.5kg. It meant that there were less dogs of boats out there. Throw in half a dozen major variables (mast rake, verticalness of centreboard/rudder, throw in the warped boards we used to get from Crompton etc. Basically the boats were more consistent anyone could get a good boat and not have to go to the factory and hand pick a boat.

Someone with more time than me and more interest can waste there time arguing the points mentioned.
 

beldar boathead

Well-Known Member
Well reading that was torture - 2X as long as it had to be, and riddled with errors. When I see error after error in things I know about, I assume there are probably errors in parts of it that I don't know a lot about too. Errors include Harken/Vanguard, LPE/LP often being called PSE, and Survey Monkey is not just a phone app. Anyway, its just a bunch of rambling!
 

Wavedancer

Upside down?
Staff member
Thanks Alan; that post was quite informative because it came from a (former) Laser measurer and proves that LP has manipulated the truth with respect to the building of Lasers. Here is the part that is really relevant IMHO:

Construction of the Australian boats


My understanding is the manufacturers have always been encouraged to do limited development which do not impact on performance; anyone complaining about the mast steps ripping out anymore? This development has always been discussed with the Technical Committee and other builders and, if deemed a good idea, adopted by all the builders. The so-called stiffness of the Australian hulls is a non-issue IMO. The extra glass is not going to impact the stiffness of a hull under 12 months old, but it will make a difference on a hull 5-10 years down the track when a heavily used hull will start to deteriorate. Is it good that someone who in 20 years time has a boat as stiff as a new boat? I think so, it keeps old boats competitive. I can see why LPE won't to stop it, it means more sales because of inbuilt obsolescence (probably why they are keen on aluminium sections as well).

It could be claimed that the Australian boats have been optimised, possibly. Are they all built within tolerance, from my understanding, yes they are. Basically what all this is about is that the Australian boats were built on tighter tolerances. If the manual indicated +/- 2.0kg, the Australian boats were built +/- 0.5kg. It meant that there were fewer dogs of boats out there. Throw in half a dozen major variables (mast rake, verticalness of centreboard/rudder, throw in the warped boards we used to get from Crompton etc. Basically, the boats were more consistent; anyone could get a good boat and not have to go to the factory and hand pick a boat.
 

beldar boathead

Well-Known Member
"....proves that LP has manipulated the truth with respect to the building of Lasers. " That seems to be standard operating procedure for LP.
 
Not a fan of LP, but they just lowered the price of a new 2020 Laser Race to approximately $3800.
If you fancy the composite top, add about $400.
 

Wavedancer

Upside down?
Staff member
Wow; those prices are REALLY good, but you will be buying a 'Club' Laser, I think (without ISAF sticker). Fine for racing in most USA clubs; probably not so fine for higher level racing.
The LP US site also promises an additional 10% off (Spring Sale).
PS: A Sunfish is now more expensive!
 

Rob B

Well-Known Member
Not a fan of LP, but they just lowered the price of a new 2020 Laser Race to approximately $3800.
If you fancy the composite top, add about $400.
2 things happening here: 1- They are trying to start their own OD class to compete with ILCA, (the actual Olympic class boat). 2- At least in our District, (D12) if someone shows up in one of these boats they will not be allowed to compete in a District level event. We will be checking plaques.

I have a local boat shop marketing these boats. I've already had the conversation with him that he can sell whatever he wants, but I hope he's honest with his buyers on the front end. If he's not I have no problems sharing the though news on the back end which will end up sending angry customers back to him.
 

Andy B

Member
AlanD many thanks for taking the time to elaborate on your views, it was not time wasted but time invested for the record. So much better than some of the other posts which seem to ignore any correct assertions and simply claim some of the facts are wrong but do not take the time to explain why. Many of the points presented by Gilles perfectly seem logical to those of us who do not profess to be sailing gurus and leaves the less well informed sailor wondering who is correct. I believe Gilles referred to this as presenting facts like a papal address. You do wonder about the strength of their case when they have to resort to unnecessary comments about peoples ages and their views which will alienate about 40% of the active fleet at my club who are older than Gilles and are the group who have nearly all of the new boats, mostly bought ex-charter, as Gilles observed.

It would be much better if contributors refrained from inflammatory remarks and kept this forum professional and constructive. I found this useful definition of an internet troll. What Is an Internet Troll? (and How to Handle Trolls)

Some interesting observations from the substantive comments so far.

When manufacturers had regional monopolies it did not matter if the boats were slightly different because everyone in the region had the same boat and a single manufacturer supplied boats for major championships. ILCA have therefore weakened the one design by allowing boats to cross regions.

I simply do not understand the rational of saying if two competitors arrive at a regatta with boats built to exactly the same construction manual but one cost 30% more and has two silver stickers only the expensive boat can compete.

AlanD illustrates the problem extremely well, the Australians are building boats to tighter tolerances, this takes more time and will have a higher reject ratio so tighter tolerances will be one of the reasons why Australian boats are more expensive. In his example he speculates by saying boats can be built to a 75% tighter tolerance today and as an ex ISAF measurer he should know. This illustrates the problem with the ILCA concept, unscrupulous builders can easily produce two boats, one at each end of the wider tolerance to keep their averages correct, and supply the bespoke boat (not necessarily weight but rake and probably many other things I do not know about as a club sailor) to the high level competitor who does not care if it will not last as he is only going to use it for a season and the other boat, a right dog, goes to an unsuspecting club sailor.
We had a similar problem 40 years ago with Solo's when Richard Lovett from Salcombe built wooden boats to the extreme limits of the specifications and all the other builders boats became obsolete. It took years before the class recovered as the new profile was slowly adopted by other builders who had to change expensive moulds and jigs.
Gilles, contrary to some comments, suggested a solution, higher levels of competition require tighter tolerances. I wonder why ILCA did not do this, I suspect it might be because they do not have the power to alter the specification without agreement from the builders and LPE, the largest builder, realised that tighter tolerances would increase prices which in turn would make the boat less attractive and reduce overall profits.

I have a different view from Gilles on some aspects and believe some of the previous changes introduced by ILCA have been very good, the XD controls, MK6 Radial and MK2 Standard sails being the best. My only concern is their introduction was too slow, in part because we only do it every 4 years because of the Olympics. Changes to date have made the Laser accessible to a wider range of sailors and if strong sailors break their equipment by overstressing it the solution lies in their own hands.

When I bought my last Laser I thought long and hard and sailed an Aero many times before making the decision. In the end I stayed with the Laser because it cost 30% less, replacement spars and sails were less than half the price, the MK2 standard is more controllable if you are a lightweight (but nowhere near as good as the Aero), life expectancy of the boat, durability, resale value and the size of the club fleet.

The price is increasing and is now approximately the same as an Aero, more Aero's are appearing at the club so there is now competitive sailing, the Aero rig is more controllable than the Laser so next time around the choice is not going to be so clear cut. For many cost and durability are not important as parents buy the boat and it will only be used for a few seasons before the youngsters move on either to other classes, other sports or other interests in life. The Laser is simply loosing it's appeal, competitive advantage and position in the market.

Having tried the ARC rig I liked it, although I have concerns about some aspects of the technical implementation, and cannot wait to try it in a race to see how it compares in competition, I'm not looking for something faster but more controllable and as enjoyable to sail as the other new classes.

19 pages was a long text and had it not been for lockdown I could never have translated a document of this length. I felt it had some useful insights into the past and our current problems. Although I have different views to Gilles on some points I think he is right: ILCA's strategy and pursuit of the Olympic dream is the end of the Laser as we know it and it is now a class with one foot in the grave.

Perhaps not being adopted for the 2024 Olympics was the best outcome for RS and the Aero.
 

AlanD

Former ISAF Laser Measurer
Andy B, please refrain from putting words into my mouth.

As for Australian boats being more expensive because of the higher tolerance, this is incorrect. The Australian labour force is very well paid relative to the uk. Further Australian work places not just want skilled workers, but in the most part want their people to continue to train and continue their education. This wasn't the case 30 years ago when I had two long stints in the uk, the second as acting operations manager. Basically the staff in at PSA will be shiprights or training to be shiprights and not some person who was shown to lay fibreglass to make a bath tub
 

Andy B

Member
Apologies, not my intention just my understanding and interpretation of your post which I thought made some very good points. As an engineer I know tolerances cost money because of the additional time and skill needed. Certainly cost might also be a reflection of highly skilled and better paid craftsman building the boats. It would be interesting to compare the man hours used to build one hull by the different companies my guesstimate, having been able to visit the LPE factory, is the gross labour cost is about 2 man days per hull.

In time it will be interesting to see if the market is price sensitive and if the improved quality/price causes sales to rise or fall.
 

LaLi

Well-Known Member
...some of the other posts which seem to ignore any correct assertions and simply claim some of the facts are wrong but do not take the time to explain why.
As I already said, I felt that would be too pedantic; pretty useless, too, as the whole thing doesn't have much substance beyond some interesting historical material. Although I said I could still do it, I don't find it worth the effort.

You do wonder about the strength of their case when they have to resort to unnecessary comments about peoples ages and their views which will alienate about 40% of the active fleet at my club who are older than Gilles
Andy, I am a Grand Master myself. I can totally understand how Gilles feels. I am not being ageist against him; I am not sayng that his argument is wrong because he is of a certain age. He simply doesn't have enough compelling evidence. But you have to admit that at the core of his writing there is a yearning for an imagined golden past. I don't think saying this out loud fulfills any definition of trolling.

When manufacturers had regional monopolies it did not matter if the boats were slightly different because everyone in the region had the same boat and a single manufacturer supplied boats for major championships. ILCA have therefore weakened the one design by allowing boats to cross regions.
ILCA didn't have much choice here, and it's a good thing that builders who allegedly have tighter tolerances than LP can soon compete on the global market. The supplied boats will still come from a single builder each time.

I simply do not understand the rational of saying if two competitors arrive at a regatta with boats built to exactly the same construction manual but one cost 30% more and has two silver stickers only the expensive boat can compete.
I do. It's the sticker guaranteeing that the boat actually is built like it should. The other we can never be sure of. Like the difference between a measured and an unmeasured boat in more open classes.

Gilles, contrary to some comments, suggested a solution, higher levels of competition require tighter tolerances. I wonder why ILCA did not do this, I suspect it might be because they do not have the power to alter the specification without agreement from the builders and LPE, the largest builder, realised that tighter tolerances would increase prices which in turn would make the boat less attractive and reduce overall profits.
I don't count that as a "solution" as you rightly note that it would raise the prices. It's another case of Gilles contradicting himself.

The Laser is simply loosing it's appeal, competitive advantage and position in the market.
When you say "market", it sounds like you mean your national market, and extrapolate it into a global one. However, the vast majority of sailing countries can't support hundreds of classes new and old, and the relatively few places where the sport is growing (mainly in Asia) clearly favour old-established classes such as the 420 and the Laser. Neither the Aero nor any other new class is a serious market threat.

19 pages was a long text and had it not been for lockdown I could never have translated a document of this length. I felt it had some useful insights into the past and our current problems. Although I have different views to Gilles on some points I think he is right: ILCA's strategy and pursuit of the Olympic dream is the end of the Laser as we know it and it is now a class with one foot in the grave.
Once again, thank you for the good work. But what does "as we know it" mean? After all, the class has been Olympic for longer than it was non-Olympic (27 vs 21 years). By remaining so, it actually keeps the other foot - the youth - out of the grave.

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beldar boathead

Well-Known Member
It’s hardly a class with one foot in the grave. It’s the default youth boat about everywhere, it’s Olympic, and it has a massive Masters following. LP has tried to kill it in the US, but it seemingly can’t be killed.

And I want to reinforce what LaLi said about the stickers/plaques. The one without the stickers can be built any way a builder chooses. I want to race against boats like mine, not against whatever LP comes up with.
 
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