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Introducing the ILCA Dinghy and awaiting the SailGP San Francisco event

by David Schmidt 30 Apr 09:00 PDT April 30, 2019
Laser sailor Michael Beckett © Lloyd Images

What's in a name? Consonants and vowels, of course, but depending on the popularity (or notoriety) of the person, place or thing in question, a sense of identity can also become intermingled with a moniker. For example, back in the late 1980s, when I first set my eyes on a Laser, everything about the boat spoke to my imagination - from its slippery hull form, to its powerful-looking rig, to the lip-cracking smiles on the faces of its sailors when the wind machine switched on-beckoned me to step ever closer to its (metaphoric) campfire.

Even its name sounded fast. Granted, this was the late 80s, meaning that truly fast hardware like foiling Moths was still a full twenty years over the horizon, but to an 11-year-old boy, "Lasers" evoked speed in a way that clunky old Optis or Blue Jays could never possibly muster.

Flash forward 30-plus years, and the International Laser Class Association (ILCA) has reached an impasse with its European builder, LaserPerformance, and as a result has terminated their contract agreement. While the legal specifics of this souring are outside of the breadth of this writing, two significant changes are coming for sailors. Most importantly, fully class-legal boats and parts will soon be widely available again, thanks to the ILCA's other two builders who are stepping up their production efforts to help fill the supply void that's been plaguing the class in North America and Europe for years; however these changes come at a price.

Specifically, the "Laser" will now be called the "ILCA Dinghy", a naming convention that applies to all three of the boat's sailplans (standard, Radial and 4.7 rigs).

"It's a big change for a racing class that hasn't seen anything like this in our almost 50-year history," said Tracy Usher, president of the ILCA, in an official press release. "Our staff and our network of stakeholders have been working tirelessly to ensure minimal disruption to ILCA members and class racers in all regions of the globe."

While this name change might seem irrelevant to sailors who are focused on the next Olympic regatta, it's important to remember that the ILCA Dinghy was the world's largest class before the "Laser" was ever selected for Olympic duty, and - as a result - already had a massive grassroots following that needs to be carefully cultivated and nurtured if class racing and involvement are to remain strong.

True, the ILCA Dinghy's status is safe for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but plenty of large question marks circle the Paris 2024 Olympics. Moreover, plenty of other singlehanded equipment - with catchy names like the RS Aero, Melges 14 and D-Zero - stand ready to fill this Olympic berth.

Worse still for the ILCA Dinghy, these newer boats with their decidedly flashier names are already competing with the ILCA Dinghy's now 50-year-old design and new acronym-derived moniker for the hearts and minds of tomorrow's sailors.

Granted, a name is just a name, of course, but one has to wonder how many young and impressionable junior sailors out there will be drawn to the siren song of the "ILCA Dinghy" to the same extent that I felt the gravity of the Laser's moniker on my young and impressionable imagination? wishes the ILCA and the ILCA Dinghy the best of luck as they attempt to put this legendary class back onto a smart and sustainable lay line.

Changing gears from rebranded dinghies to foiling catamarans, this coming weekend marks the first time that Larry Ellison's SailGP tour will race on U.S. waters. The San Francisco SailGP event will take place on Saturday, May 4 and Sunday, May 5, on the waters of San Francisco Bay, and is expected to feature five races, plus a final, over the course of the action-packed weekend.

Given the sheer speed of the F50 wingsail-powered catamarans, plus the Bay's notorious wind machine, all involved are hoping to see sailing history made in San Francisco's natural sailing amphitheater.

"It's going to [be] unreal to watch these boats in action," said Rome Kirby (USA), skipper of the United States SailGP Team. "It's so intense on the boat, and I'm sure you can see that off the boat. There is a high chance we will break the 50-knot barrier. It will be a wild ride."

Game on!

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt North American Editor

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