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Laser controversy, the Trofeo Sofia and the Congressional Cup

by David Schmidt 9 Apr 09:00 PDT April 9, 2019
USA on day 4 of Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar © Sailing Energy

While the Laser is a beloved dinghy in some 120 countries girdling this lonely planet, the news coming out of the International Laser Class Association hasn't been especially rosy. Specifically, in late March, the ILCA announced that the class was seeking new builders after one (of three) of their licensed builders allegedly breached the terms of the class' Laser Construction Manual Agreement (e.g., the construct that keeps all Lasers identical). The path forward seemed fairly clear: find new builders and press play. But then, this weekend, the class dropped another bombshell, this one in the form of a "frequently asked questions" section on their webpage. While there's a lot unpack in the class' informative release, the bit that really jumped off the page, to me at least, was the fact that the name "Laser" could soon date-stamp sailors.

"Q: Will boats from the newly-named builders be sold under the LASER brand?

A: No. In order to avoid trademark issues and to comply with the requirements of European competition law, all current and future ILCA-approved builders will sell boats under a new brand name. ILCA and the current approved builders are finalizing the intellectual property details for the new brand, including fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) licensing rules. ILCA expects to announce the new brand name in the next four weeks."

Fortunately, the FAQ immediately addressed the next burning question, namely:

"Q: If the name of the boat changes, what will happen to my Laser? Will it still be legal to race?

A: All current, class-legal Lasers are and will remain ILCA class-legal. The proposed change simply changes the brand name to avoid trademark complications. The new system would allow class-legal Lasers (those with World Sailing Plaques) to participate in any ILCA event along with the new, alternately branded boats. After all, it's the boat that matters, not the brand!"

While this is good news for local Laser fleets around the world, considerations swell when a design is an Olympic class. For example, what do these builder-related shenanigans mean for sailors who are training and working towards either the Tokyo 2020 Olympics or the Paris 2024 Olympics?
Here, apparently, semantics come into play in a good way, at least initially.

"Q: How can the Laser stay in the Olympics if the name of the boat changes?

A: The name of the Olympic events that include the Laser are the "Men's and Women's One-Person Dinghy," and the name of the boat is irrelevant to the Olympics. Like ILCA and World Sailing, the International Olympic Committee cares about events, athletes and equipment, not brands."

So while the boat's Olympic berth does not seem to be immediately in question, the fact remains that dark clouds still shroud this time-honored dinghy. Sail-World has a deep affinity for the Laser, and we wish the best for the class, the sailors, and the people who work hard to ensure that the playing field stays level.

Speaking of the Olympics, the Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar Olympic class regatta recently wrapped up on the waters off of Palma de Majorca, Spain, and saw great performances from American sailors some 15 months ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. All told, the regatta involved 1,224 sailors from 67 nations racing aboard 869 boats.

In the Men's Laser, Chris Barnard (USA) proudly took top honors, signaling a hopeful return to the days of top-flight American performances in this highly athletic class. "I'm extremely happy, relieved, and emotionally exhausted," said Barnard in an official US Sailing release. "This is by far the biggest regatta I've won. I've been happy with the way I've sailed all week and today I showed a really good fight. That's probably what I'm most proud of."

Other North American top-ten results included Charlie Buckingham's (USA) fifth-place finish in the Laser, Erika Reineke's (USA) third-place finish in the Laser Radial, Paige Railey's (USA) sixth-place finish in the Laser Radial, and Pedro Pascual's (USA) third-place finish in the Men's RS:X.

Finally, in match-racing news, Ian Williams (GBR) beat Scotty Dickson (USA) to win the 55th Congressional Cup, which was contested from April 3-7 on the waters off of Long Beach, California. En route to this win, Williams also bested Taylor Canfield (USA), himself a four-time Congressional Cup winner. For Williams, this win represents his fourth time donning the Congressional Cup's crimson blazer.

"We were not really on our game on Day One," said Williams in an official Congressional Cup release. "But it's always about just being good enough to get through. As long as you get through each round, and build momentum; that's how match race regattas work. It's not how you start, it's how you finish... I've got a fantastic team, but we are new together, and hadn't sailed as a group, so it took a few days to get the team gelling."

Sail-World extends a big congrats to Chris Barnard and Ian Williams, and to all of the other dedicated and talented sailors who pour their hearts and souls into their campaigns, both big and small. And we remain patiently hopeful that the turmoil surrounding the Laser doesn't create unnecessary collateral damage to the world's most successful One Design class.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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