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Gladwell's Line: Laser's Olympic future..Cup build date looms

by Richard Gladwell, 16 Apr 2019 05:12 PDT 16 April 2019
Despite being one of two current Olympic classes that are FRAND compliant, the Finn will not be part of the 2024 Olympic line-up © Sailing Energy

In a piece of lousy timing, the Laser class is split after the predominant builder in the class LaserPerformance had its building licence cancelled, soon after World Sailing had conducted an Evaluation Trial for the Laser's two Olympic Events.

LaserPerformance is the world’s largest producer of small sailboats, with two of the worlds largest dinghy classes, the Laser and Sunfish, in its stable. It claimed 85% of the world Laser annual market.

"Last Monday International Laser Class Association - ILCA has removed Laser Performance England (LPE) as approved builder, it was a surprise for a lot of sailors, class officers and Laser dealers. The EurILCA executives and the European representatives at the world council regret that decision and have pushed for negotiation," said the European International Laser Class Association Executive Committee in a written statement. EurILCA claimed a membership of 70% of the class (disputed by ILCA who put the percentage at 61%).

While EurILCA recognised there were supply issues in some of the LPE territories "the situation is different in Europe where there are no supply problems, and there is a great network of dealers. In Europe, we have a strong relationship with the Laser dealers in each country, and the class was built with a long-time good relationship with Laser Performance," EurILCA Executive Committee said later in the same statement.

As was reported in Sail-World and other media, the final day of the Evaluation Trials in Valencia took place without the Laser. The most accomplished sailor in the Trial, Pavlos Kontides, is the current World Champion. The feedback we received from one source was that while the Laser was the slowest of the four boats on trial that margin was not so significant as to be a reason for not selecting the class.

In ordinary times, having a parish of 215,000 boats, 50,000 active sailors and 14,000 ILCA members worldwide would be rather compelling numbers in favour of a class which obtained and has continued to justify its Olympic place on strict one-design and universality.

The Laser at the Evaluation Trial was tested with the Standard rig and the Radial rig. The new Bethwaite rigs were not trialled. The stance of the Laser owners association is said only to introduce new rigs in the same conservative way as the other rig variations have been tested, agreed and adopted.

"EurILCA also wants to point out that any decision to change the rigs who are in discussion as proposed by PS Australia with the C5, C6 and C 7 and the ARC proposed by LPE must be submitted to the Laser sailors for a membership vote," said the EurILCA Executive Committee. "We consider that it is very important to get the opinion of the sailors."

Whether that process is acceptable to the panjandrums of World Sailing and their audience is another matter entirely.

The difficulty that the Laser (and all the other Single Manufacturer One Design) classes face is that they must comply with World Sailing's FRAND policy (Fair Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory). The two page World Sailing Equipment Strategy document says that FRAND terms will be published Mid-Year [Meeting] 2019.

FRAND has its roots in European Union Anti-Trust requirements, which in the most simple understanding means that the building and supply of any Olympic class must have competitive market forces - there must be multiple builders, and they must compete on price.

"World Sailing has asked the Olympic classes to adopt a FRAND policy which will permit to have several builders even in the same region", EurILCA confirmed.

The World Sailing Equipment Strategy, in its last sentence, says: "This means that between 2023 and 2024 all Olympic classes could have multiple competing manufacturers". Earlier World Sailing states "As outlined above Finn and 470 already provide access to the market in FRAND terms". That last statement confirms that the licenced builder model which has prevailed since at least the mid-1960s is an acceptable FRAND benchmark. Of course, "multiple competing manufacturers" also must be extended to cover more than just the hull construction and includes spars, sails, foils and fittings.

The Laser's re-selection situation became a lot more complicated when the International Laser Class Association terminated the building licence of the European builder of the class at the beginning of April - soon after the Evaluation Trials were completed. "The move comes after longtime builder of the class dinghy, Laser Performance (Europe) Limited (LPE), breached the terms of the Laser Construction Manual Agreement (LCMA), which seeks to ensure the identical nature of all Laser class boats, regardless of where they are built," an ILCA official said in a written statement.

Just over a week later ILCA confirmed all 215,000 boats would be street legal in the new class: "Any Laser class boat with a valid World Sailing Plaque affixed to the aft face of the cockpit will remain ILCA class-legal," the ILCA said in a series of FAQ responses.

For the past couple of weeks, there has been an exchange of media releases between the two factions in what is becoming a very public and messy divorce - and with World Sailing due to make a decision on the equipment for the One Person Dinghy at their Mid-Year meeting at the Chelsea Football Club in London in four weeks.

LaserPerformance, as the England based builder, claims 85% of the world market, and own the Laser (trade) marks in all countries except Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea.

The only certainties are that the current Laser class will have to change its name - a new class will have to be formed, and international class status will have to be given by World Sailing - almost without the yet to be named class having sailed a championship.

Then there is the not so trivial matter of appointing a new builder network, and for them to gear up with moulds and tooling - bearing in mind that the Laser is a Single Manufacturer One Design and all boats must be identical at the point they leave the factory. The easy way is to adopt contemporary technology and break the hull and components down into IGES files which can then be used to build strict one-design tooling and components as was down with the AC50 class in last America's Cup cycle.

The good news for the current 215,000 boat Laser fleet is that all boats displaying building plaques will be brought across to the new class, regardless of which class builder was involved.

It remains to be seen as to what legal action, if any, that LaserPerformance will take against the International Laser Class Association. Their last legal battle lasted three years in the US District Court.

Laser Club edition launched

As expected LaserPerformance has exercised its rights and has put a new Laser model on the market, badged as the Laser Club Edition.

LaserPerformance is the trademark holder for the Laser marks, therefore it has the right to market boats using the Laser marks in all territories except New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Korea.

The UK Laser Association notes that the Laser Club is a training boat and may not be eligible to race in events sanctioned by UKLA, however it may be a good option for sailing schools and resorts within LP's territory. The Laser Club cannot be built to the exact specification in the ILCA Construction manual, however, it would be a simple enough task to come up with an alternate hull layup which may be more robust than the model formerly known as Laser Race.

The pricing of the Laser Club is not stated, however, it would be cheaper than the standard model, particularly if it were supplied with "alternate" Laser products such as sails by Rooster. The spar and fittings package would likely be coming from an alternate supplier than for Laser Race.

UK Laser Association, following the lead of the European International Laser Association, says it is remaining neutral in the spat between the International Class Association and its formerly licenced builder.

LaserPerformance still lists all models of the now ILCA class on its website. LP can no longer build the boats and presumably, those listed are stock boats which have Building Plaques supplied by World Sailing.

Squeezing through FRAND

Of course what happens to the former Laser class, in terms of FRAND compliance will, if World Sailing is consistent will apply to all the other classes that are put through the FRAND wringer in the 2024 Equipment review process.

Only two of the current Olympic classes are FRAND compliant - the Finn is set to be dropped as an Olympic class after the Tokyo Olympic Regatta, and the 470 will have to survive the Evaluation Trial for the new Mixed Two Person Dinghy.

America's Cup - Build deadline looms

Crunch time is also not too far away for the Late Challengers for the America's Cup - two, in particular, being Malta Altus Challenge and DutchSail, who have yet to commence boat construction.

Ominously a new Protocol change was posted late in the week, which tidies up an ambiguity in the Protocol for those who are in default on entry fee payments.

The Defender, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, probably taking the lead from Emirates Team New Zealand appear to have taken a slightly relaxed view on when Entry Fees, Late Fees and Performance Bond should be paid. For a Late Challenger, this totals a cool $4million - the same level of Entry Fees that applied for the last America's Cup, except the protocol had no Late Entry fee, neither were there any Late Challenges.

The latest change to the Protocol provides a mechanism for the Arbitration Panel to apply a discretionary penalty depending on the nature and manner of the Fees payment breach. Ultimately the Arbitration Panel can exclude the competitor from the regatta.

It also removes the voting eligibility of teams who are behind in their payments - and in particular their ability to vote on AC75 Class rule changes.

For the group of Late Challengers, the rule change is somewhat moot. If they are staying in the Cup, time is starting to run out fast - boat construction needs to get underway - and design work before that, notwithstanding that they may obtain one of Emirates Team New Zealand's packages on offer.

Last week Sail-World featured an interview conducted by the doyen of yachting commentators, Peter Montgomery, with Emirates Team New Zealand's COO, Kevin Shoebridge, and broadcast on Radio Sport.

Shoebridge confirms that the first event in the America's Cup World Series will now be held in Cagliari, Sardinia in April, probably late April, followed by another in June - location likely to be Europe /USA, with another in July, and now a fourth likely for Auckland in August 2020. That is the "favoured" plan at present.

The elongated timetable means that for the Super Teams a the summer of 2019/20 is a more feasible option. As noted in the story with some smart logistics, it should be possible for the two boat teams to position one boat in Auckland and then have the other on the road, so to speak, doing the ACWS circuit.

Part of the decision is whether they want to risk running their race boat on the America's Cup World Series circuit, and incurring the risk of damage while racing or during the pack-in and pack-out phases. Plus there is obviously the dead-time of shipping between venues - 53 days from Auckland to Europe.

Add that up around the circuit, and it is a lot of downtime that most would rather spend working up their raceboat than training in their first launched development boat.

The teams are allowed to launch their second AC75 after February 15, 2020, and if they hit that early date - will have their second boat complete, before they have even raced their first. The way the ACWS circuit was first set up the teams would have been sailing for six months between racing in the first ACWS regatta and that early launch date.

The damage suffered by Emirates Team New Zealand was clearly more than a ``love-tap`` - photo © Emirates Team New Zealand <a" />
The damage suffered by Emirates Team New Zealand after a "love tap" underlines the risks involved in practice racing by a team in their race boat. - photo © Emirates Team New Zealand

But looking at it another way, Emirates Team New Zealand only had their first racing experience in the AC50 in the practice sessions just before the start of the 2017 America's Cup. They were shunted in one of those races - underlining the perils of sailing your race boat in practice racing.

The bases in Auckland are due to be handed over to the three Super Teams in August 2019 and from that time they can start building their bases and move in to begin sailing operations. The Luna Rossa base is due to be handed over in September 2019 and is said to be having a spectacular base build to the design of noted Italian architect, octogenarian Renzo Piano.

It is likely to remain as a permanent legacy of the America's Cup.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

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