“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. Laser – It’s Beginning in RSA

Flock of Lasers round the mark, in a typical overseas turnout of this up-and-coming new singlehanded class of highly competitive dinghies.

by Richard Crockett

Yesterday I covered the launch of the very first Laser in South Africa. It created an immediate and positive response, as can be seen in this extract from the June 1974 issue of SA Yachting as written by the South African Laser Class Association:

“In Durban we had the incredible situation where a Class Association existed, a full class was in being and the class was enjoying social events without any of the owners having seen a Laser other than in photographs.

“There was great excitement when the two huge crates containing the first two dozen Lasers arrived and boats were literally launched and sailing within 20 minutes of their having been removed from the crates. Since then many more have arrived and are dotted around the country in large or small groups.

“In Durban they have been sailed on Durban bay in light and heavy weather, normally starting with the Finns, who not always outdistance them, and at present are being sailed off-shore in the open sea during the Durban winter season.

“South African Laser Association’s guiding committee has been in being for some months and has been working towards a fully recognised South African Laser Association, and to this end has been in correspondence with SAYRA. We anticipate that the result of the negotiations will be a properly and formally constituted Laser Association, recognition by the SAYRA and, we hope, eventual recognition as a national class.

“There has been a great deal of sailing activity including a Laser Regatta at Midmar Dam which was thoroughly enjoyed by a total of 13 entries.”

There’s a lot to be said in just how keen and quickly the new Laser dinghy owners went about promoting and setting up the class.

The July 1974 issue of SA Yachting covered the “Highveld Lasers” (author unknown) in this manner:

“Hardly has the single-handed Phantom made its appearance but another new solo dinghy is seen on the Highveld, the Laser. It is, of course, nothing new on our coastal waters where I have been told 40 are already bucking the strong south easterlies.

“The class was introduced recently by Bruce Mc Currach having realised the potentials of this boat on his overseas visits. Al Leenstra, the crack Transvaal Finn skipper, followed up by sailing the Laser for the first time at the Victoria Lake Club. This boat is being keenly observed by potential buyers and naturally is being torn to pieces by the conservatives, who will not easily give up the Finn concept. “Whatever may be said, the Laser is being marketed by Elvstrom, which in itself must be a recommendation.

“Considering this design and similarities to the Phantom, it is obvious that a new concept in sailing lies in the near future. The lightweight 56,7 kg (125 lb.) glassfibre hull measuring 4.23 m ( 13 ft. 10 ½ in.) will raise many eyebrows. I have been very happy in my Finn weighing twice as much, and am not convinced that the Laser will outperform the old faithful designed way back in 1949.

“But keeping up with the times. Bruce Kirby, one of the world’s leading small boat designers, came up with a new idea which developed into the Laser. Ian Bruce, known for the development of the International 14, took up the interest and designed the rig. Hans Fogh, Elvstrom’s right-hand man, designed the sail. This international team spent a long time making sure that this boat would not be just a little boat. So there you are – now you can have a fast racer which is quick on the plane, not too difficult to handle, at a cost almost half of the older classes, easy to rig and maintain and to transport. More important, it is favoured by the experts.

“A fascinating feature is the unstayed aluminium mast which comes in two sections and is fitted into a sleeve in the luff of the sail, which has an area of 7.06 m2 (76 ft.).

“For myself, l will stay with the conservatives, and remain with the Finn – but without any doubt, the Laser class has a great future. It should prove to be popular among the newer yachtsmen and the younger skippers, especially considering the low price in this spiralling high-cost society we live in.”