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Riding a composite plane

News International-French

25 Aug 2011

Composites are renowned in the marine industry and are often the material of choice, but few are aware that they are just as prevalent in sailing dinghies. In the case of the world-famous Laser model, composites have been in use since its creation.

(Published on October-November 2006 – JEC Magazine #28)


Sailing dinghies have exploded in both popularity and diversity. Today, there are a countless number of different designs being sailed all over the world. Even the Laser, which started out thirty-five years ago as a simple one-sail dinghy class racer, now has 14 different models that are raced and recognized everywhere.



Same materials since 1970


While some materials on the newer Laser models, such as the Laser Stratos and Pico, can differ slightly and use rotomoulding and polyethylene, the traditional Laser has always been constructed out of fibreglass. This is because the Laser is an Olympic-class boat, which means its design is tightly controlled, allowing for few if any modifications to the hull or structure.


Laser orders its composite materials from a wide range of suppliers including Scott Bader and SP system. They are usually produced using hand lay-up and vacuum foam sandwich techniques. These materials make the Laser light enough so that it is capable of surfing down waves when on a downwind run.


In addition, the fibreglass hulls are remarkably durable; it is not uncommon to find people sailing Lasers that are more than twenty years old. In fact, a system is used where the sail number on each boat indicates the number in which the boat was made, meaning that numbers closer to 1 are the oldest and higher numbers were made more recently.


Laser history
The Laser was originally called the “Weekender” and the sail had TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) written on it in bold letters. The name and symbol were changed for the official unveiling of the Laser in 1971 at the New York Boat Show.


The world’s most popular single-handed dinghy


The market for Lasers has been extraordinary, especially since the model became an Olympic-class boat in 1996. By the end of 2004, the number of boats produced was more than 180,000 and, according to Laser UK’s technical manager Chris Tunstall, sales are growing by about 500 units a year worldwide.



As far as Laser racing and competition are concerned, there are no signs of a slowdown. With races and regattas taking place every week in over 133 countries, the Laser appears to have truly consolidated its place as the leader and permanent fixture of the dinghy racing community.


The outlook for these boats looks good, and much of this has to do with its composite structure that makes the Laser one of the highest performing dinghy racers in the world.