Guest post by Laser sailor Kirsten on what gear is best for Laser sailing.
Kirsten started sailing at a young age down at Etobicoke Yacht Club in their Learn to Sail Program. She began with Opti's and eventually found her footing in the Laser class, where she would continue sailing for years and years to come. Like many young sailors, her passion for sailing grew and eventually she found her way into the racing circuit where she competed for many years.
With years of racing experience in the Laser, it's no wonder she was dubbed the Laser expert by her fellow co-workers at Fogh. Below are her tips, tricks and recommendations for Laser gear!
When entering into racing sometimes it’s hard to discern the essentials from the plethora of information provided from coaches, teammates, siblings, parents and the wallet. That’s not to say that their opinions are wrong. Their opinions are right and based off of what works best for them. In the end, the secret to dressing for sailing should be about what works best for you and should develop as the sailor does. This makes it challenging to create a list of must haves. Consequently, I began writing this post on what works for me (and what I imagine for many) are the bare essentials to your laser gear.
In terms of apparel, these are some items that you should consider: Sunglasses, a Splashtop, Hiking pants, Booties, Gloves, the ever contentious hat, a watch and Rashguards which include both standard lycra shirts (at least two) and a Hydrophobe (or wetsuit) shirt.
The Sunglasses should be polarized, and the colour of the lenses you choose do impact your ability to see things on the water. For example If you are looking for a multipurpose pair of sunglasses, try glasses with an amber, brown or grey tint, and avoid yellow tinted lenses (these are better reserved for foggy days).
The decision on what brand and style of hiking pants work best for a sailor should be exclusively decided by the wearer. Unless you’ve worn them before, don’t choose a size, or a style until you’ve tried them in the store! I wear SEA winter hiking pants right through the summer. These pads are not adjustable, are less breathable, and aren’t generally carried by Fogh as a regular item anymore. But they work for me because I get cold easily and the pads are located in just the right place on my legs. Other options include the Gul Code Zero Pro Hiking Pants or Sea Airprene Hiking Pants, which are lighter and very breathable; available in either a waist or shoulder strap option.
Booties are much more than style! They not only protect your feet during sailing, but also the period between ramp and where your boat sleeps. It’s important to consider both of these factors when you choose a boot (i.e. feet vs gravel, feet vs random things in your cockpit). Holding up people on a ramp during training, or at a regatta because you can’t find your other pair of shoes is not a way to gain friends. If you do choose boots with a thin sole, or uncovered toes/heels, make sure you have a system to deal with these potential problems before you buy your boots. I point this out because once you wear them sailing there are no returns.
Your splashtop is much more than the water repellent shell many beginners think it is. Consider the openings for wrists, neck and the waist. The majority of a good sailing day is spent with your torso outside of the profile of the boat. You will want something that gussets tightly because if given an option, the water will find a way to shoot up your arms through openings at your wrists, and across your core, entering by way of your neck or waist. This isn’t particularly bad if you’re really warm, but if it is a cold day, as windy days often are on the water, it is certainly less than pleasant.
Finally watches. All watches have different features, and it’s important to purchase a race watch that is right for not only your race day, but for your training. It’s important for your watch to feature a count down timer, with a sync function. If you are looking for specifics, Ronstan, and Gill watches tend to be the preferred brands within the dinghy community.
Laser sailors, in particular, tend to have a penchant for the Ronstan Clearstart Watch. These are popular because they have an elasticized band attaching to an over-sized watch face. This band can fit around your wrist or around your mast. This is possible because the over-sized watch face allows you to see the 16 mm numbers clearly. Some may consider the watch too large for everyday living so, if you’re a Ronstan fan, and looking to bring a little bit of sailing with you everywhere you go, the Clearstart Sailing Watch can be considered an excellent substitute. It retains the 16 mm numbers, lacks ‘the chunk’ of the Ronstan big face Clearstart watch, comes in several colours, and can be turned off when not in use.
The rest of the gear is fairly straight forward. You should probably own at least two long sleeved lycra shirts (e.g. rashguards) and a warmer rashguard, such as a hydrophobic shirt or a wetsuit shirt (I love both of mine equally). Gloves are a personal choice but I do have a system that works for me: ¾ finger gloves (e.g. 5 finger cut), which are replaced by full finger gloves in heavy air. If you have a problem discerning your gloves from other peoples, my family found colour coding (by placing a dot of nail polish anywhere on the gloves) helped tell them apart.
Boat Accessories can cost you big time, so it can be important to prioritize what you need. Wind indicators, Carbon Fibre tillers and extensions are among the most favoured upgrades (excluding changing your rigging to swiftcord or robline).
If you are shopping for a wind indicator Black Max are popular. They rely on shock cord to keep it attached to your mast, but can be costly if you tend to lose them. If you’re worried about the index falling off, consider feeding the metal needle through a cork before screwing it tightly to the plastic base. This won't ensure you’ll find it or be able to retrieve it during a race, but it will mean that there is a possibility that someone may find and return it to you.
The use of carbon fibre is at your own risk. If you’re new to the sport or are looking to upgrade from the standard aluminum tiller/aluminum extension combo, consider purchasing a tiller, rather than a tiller extension, first. Carbon Tiller-extensions aren’t as forgiving as aluminum when used improperly, and they won't hold up well if you are still working on correcting sloppy tacks.
Below are some snaps of Kristen's Laser out in Halifax where she currently sails in between lab sessions for her Master's Degree in Chemistry.