Buying a Used Laser
This guide takes you through a checklist for seeing whether a used Laser is worth buying. It deals with the fundamentals first: if the boat you're looking at doesn't pass the first few tests, there's no point in looking at the others. To put it another way, all the XD kit, or a new sail and spars won't make a Laser worth buying if the hull's rubbish.
There are loads of Lasers out there, so there's no excuse for buying a duff one. A seller will know this, and should be flexible unless the boat is almost new. Prices for boats less than two years old are especially firm in the Spring, when the supply of new boats is tight and demand is high.
1. Is it what it says it is?
The sail number is no guide to the age of a boat. Anyone can buy a set of numbers and make their Laser look newer than it actually is. I've seen someone try and sell a 25-year-old hull as a 5-year-old Laser. Check the sail number against the number on the plate at the back of the cockpit. (If it's really old, like 40 years old, there won't be a plate; the number should be moulded in the gelcoat under the bow-eye.) If the advertised sail number is higher than the hull number by more than 1000, just walk away: the seller is trying to cheat you straight off, and you may not spot less-obvious boat-pimping. Even if you like the boat and the sail is new, you'll have to replace the numbers to enter any major event. (There is an exception for some 1980s boats: these had the first '1' printed on the plate; this '1' will have faded away or been rubbed off, making the stamped-in number 100,000 lower than it should be.) I originally said that you should discount the cost of a new sail because removing numbers won't do the cloth any good, but I have recently discovered that white spirit can remove sail numbers without significantly degrading the sail.
The seller may say it's only been sailed inland by his younger sister/maiden aunt, but this may not be strictly true. Just because the boat is kept at Middleshire Sailing Club doesn't mean that it has spent its sailing life on a freshwater pond. Check for saltwater corrosion on the spars; seaweed on the launching trolley is a dead giveaway. If it has a trailer there's a stronger chance it's been campaigned elsewhere. And some of those maiden aunts are tough on their boats! Never buy a Laser superstar's boat unless it is significantly discounted, and if it's got Youth Squad stickers check it thoroughly for dings and repairs. Don't be suckered in by Squad stickers of any sort; everyone will know whether you've been in a squad, and if you're over 25 you'll look a right Wally unless you really are in the Senior Squad, in which case you're not going to be getting a used boat, are you?
Legal or not legal? . . . .
In the Spring of 2019 the International Laser Class Association (ILCA) took action to remove Laser Performance Europe (LPE) as a builder. Negotiation to reinstate LPE as a licensed builder has been ongoing for several months (as at March 2020), but (as at December 2019), but LPE has continued to build what it calls the Laser Club Edition. It is priced substantially cheaper than a new 'ILCA' dinghy, but any potential buyer should be aware that, without an ILCA/World Sailing plaque, these boats are not legal to race at any level including club-level racing, not just at events run by the Laser class association. Basically, if a post-215,000 boat has a genuine ILCA/World Sailing authorised plaque it should be legal – though see below. Without one it won't be. All sailing MNAs (Member National Authorities) like the RYA, and all RYA-affiliated clubs, are required to comply with World Sailing regulations. (Note: plaques without ILCA and World Sailing branding — including those issued by 'The Laser Class' — are not legal for racing.)
The ILCA dinghy built by Performance Sailcraft Australia (PSA) is class-legal under the ILCA and World Sailing Rules. In the UK it is currently being retailed by Sailboats UK. You buy the class-legal hull for about £3,600, but you then choose your ILCA-legal rig and fittings between £2,099 (Ronstan) and £2,599 (Harken)
. . . . but only partly legal . . . .
Sailboats also allows buyers of a legal ILCA hull to buy a non-legal sail, spars and foils for about £1359. (Until relatively recently you could not buy a new hull on its own, though I think you might have been able to get a replacement hull if your hull was a rare insurance write-off.)
If you intend buying a nearly-new ILCA dinghy, this is something else to look for: the hull may be class-legal, but the fittings might not be. Check every major part carefully to make sure it is class-legal; you really do not want to turn up at a Qualifier or the Nationals to find that the sail, spars and foils are not legal: it's over £2000 to replace them all! The seller may not know, or even care, whether the boat parts are illegal. So, best to take someone along with you who knows the difference.
2. The HullLook on the Laser hull as the only non-consumable item on a Laser. Everything else can be replaced at lower cost: a complete set of new class-legal spars, foils and a Mk II Standard sail will set you back well over £2000 (see above). If you buy a well-used boat with a good hull, that's pretty much all you can be in the hole for. But if you buy a Laser with good spars, foils and a new sail, and a few weeks later the hull turns out to have a cracked cockpit and leak, it will probably cost you loads, and even then you may not be able to put it right.
At least you can now buy a new hull if the boat you've bought is a dead loss; but that will set you back £3,600.
- Mast Step: Pour water in up to the deck-level. If the water level goes down, even by a small amount, Make Your Excuses And Leave.
- Open the transom bung and smell inside the hull. A good sign is a strong smell of glass-fibre resin; it means the hull is probably still watertight. An old boat won't have this 'new boat' smell, but a new-ish boat that doesn't smell of GRP will almost certainly be a 'leaker'. (Sea-water inside destroys the smell very quickly.)
- Look along the line of the gunwhale joint where the top and bottom decks meet. If there's a kink just aft of the point where the hull sits on the trolley, someone has sat on the aft part of the deck while it sat on the trolley, and bodged the repair.
- Cracks in the under-gunwhale gelcoat where the trolley sits, or any softness there, indicates that the trolley doesn't fit. It can do a lot of damage that is difficult and expensive to repair.
- The Laser hull is made in two moulds: top and bottom. Check that the seam between them is solid and sealed, especially where it sits on a gunwhale-hung trolley. A split seam will not appear while it's on the trolley; turn the hull upside down on the trolley and any split in the seam should become obvious. It is possible to repair a minor split up to about six inches long, but just stuffing gel-coat in the crack and hoping for the best will not do the trick. Heeling to windward on a downwind leg will reveal a split seam quickly, as water will pour in.
- Press down on the side-decks just aft of the mainsheet block. If the decks are soft, there's some de-lamination underneath.
With any one of the above conditions, MYXAL! (see Mast Step)
- Hatch(es) next to the mast-step. Some sort of repair has been done to the mast-step. It may be OK, but be wary and drop your price big-time, even if it's been done by a professional Laser repair shop. It's easy to bodge a repair here.
- A hatch inside the cockpit, next to the centreboard slot is generally OK. It may have been put in to fix a leaking centreboard slot, or, more commonly, to re-fix the cunningham clamcleat/deck cleat block because the screws have pulled out. Hatches are useful for holding goodies, but they can leak.
- Check for cracking along the side-deck at the top of the foot-well, and all around inside the cockpit. Isolated cracks are generally OK, but if there are more, press hard against the deck and footwell around the area. If it gives, there's a degree of de-lamination. This is quite common with Lasers that have been campaigned hard by a top sailor. (Buying from a top adult helm may be good in other classes, not so great with the Laser.) If the cockpit or side-decks are very soft, it's had hard use, and will not be worth as much. Look elsewhere unless it's heavily discounted.
3. Other parts
Sails aside, foils are the most expensive individual parts to replace: a rudder assembly or a centreboard is heading upwards towards £400. Be aware that there are now three types: foam sandwich, GRP and 'infused'. The foam sandwich ones are easy to repair, and older Lasers will have this type; the GRP-only ones come with newer boats, but Laser Performance is now producing a GRP blade that is injected with a foam inner under pressure, hence 'infused'. Repairs on the GRP ones are more like repairing your hull, which can be difficult. Judge on general condition, and check for repairs to the trailing edge, especially to the tip. (If the boat comes with GRP or 'infused' centreboard, check the rear bottom of the hull centreboard case for wear, as the newer centreboards are harder, and tend to wear through the fibreglass.)
Laser spars are durable, but they are at their best when 'almost new', when they've been 'work-hardened' with a bit of use. A slightly bent boom is usually a sign that the sailor uses quite a lot of vang, but it is still legal and doesn't really affect its effectiveness; but you will want to check it underneath for lateral hairline cracks by the forward mainsheet block. A bent mast, either a bent bottom-section or a bent top-section, is illegal for racing. You should either insist on a replacement as a condition of sale, or drop the price by the cost of a new replacement. Bent Radial bottom-sections are now common but almost impossible to straighten effectively because of the dual-sleeve construction. A bent Standard bottom-section, though rarer, will stay bent no matter what you try. A 4.7 bottom-section should be bent; they are strong enough, and the rig small enough, not to bend further. Carbon top-sections are a big plus-point.
On the mast top-section look for a rivet or taped-over rivet-hole a foot from the top. This means the mast has been 'end-for-ended' (i.e. the tube and fittings have been swapped round) because the mast has become bent at the old collar-point. If this is so, you are also likely to spot a slight bend near the top. Accept one of these only as a freebie, and insist on a straight, unaltered mast (or £100 price-drop) as part of the deal.
Sails are consumables. Expensive they may be, but they don't last long. Don't expect a new sail with an old boat, but if a competitive sail is in your must-haves, you have to accept that the seller's asking price will reflect this. Check the sail is legal: especially that it has the ILCA red button. (See my pages on illegal sails.) A new-ish Mk 1 Standard or a Radial sail will be relatively uncreased under the cunningham eye, but if it's been used for a week at a windy championship there will be creases. I wouldn't worry about it over-much, but it won't be a new sail any more. Check for repairs or replacement panels: any repair larger than a small (e.g. 6 inches) tear-patch will be illegal.
Mk II Standard-rig sails
A Mk II Standard rig sail is a plus: with thicker cloth and a radial construction. Empirical evidence shows that these sails are significantly faster upwind in most conditions, though the radial cut makes them behave differently from the Mk I. I raced with a new Mk I sail at a recent Masters Nationals, and at subsequent club-level races. The difference is most pronounced in F2-3 winds, when I am consistently dropped on the off-wind and downwind legs.
'Class-compliant' and 'Practice' sails
These sails, though sold by the UK manufacturer, have been marketed as not legal for class-association events, but actually they are not legal for racing at any level, including club-level. You may find yourself the subject of a protest. If you are offered a Mk II radial-cut Standard sail with a blue Laser starburst symbol at the head it is not Class-legal, and never will be made legal retroactively. It will be a practice-only sail produced before the MkII sail was approved for competition: it can not be used for racing.
Fancy kit: XD or whatever
XD kit: Harken vang kit and blocks are tough, and are guaranteed to be tough. The other stuff works OK, but don't pay a premium for it. Carbon tillers are a matter for personal preference. Don't be surprised if the current owner wants to hang on to his/her carbon tiller and gives you a standard alloy one. The Gorilla Tiller is heavy just where you don't want excess mass, right at the end of the boat; like the standard alloy tiller, it's only useful for selling with a boat. At least the standard tiller is light, and encourages you to be gentle on the helm. (See Steve's Boat Whisperer videos to see what I mean.)
Carbon top-sections are about £500 and were intended as more robust than the alloy spars. In theory they should be no faster, but they are more springy than the alloy spars, and appear to give better gust performance. Worth having if it's offered as part of the deal, but not if the difference is the cost of the spar!
ILCA has recently authorised a carbon lower-section for the Radial / 'ISAF 6' which will be legal to use in competition after 1 September 2020. (Go to the ILCA News/Announcements page.) The current alloy Radial lower-section bends if you breathe on it, and this development is one that will be welcomed by any Radial sailor (or parent of a Radial sailor) who's fed up with having to buy new spars. It'll probably be faster, but who would be so foolish as to bring out a new version that was slower?
What used to be called 'replica' kit now has to be referred to (thanks to a legal ruling somewhere) as 'replacement' kit. Whether it's a boat you're buying or one you already have, check that all your kit, spars, foils, blocks etc are class-legal. If you're on a website and the part says 'replacement' or 'class-compliant', it's not legal for racing, even if it looks the same or very similar. If it says 'compatible', it may be class-legal: the blue Allen traveller and becket blocks are no longer sold with a Laser — they have been superseded by the Harken blocks — but they are still class-legal. In my view they are still better, because they will not gouge out the gel-coat on your deck in the way that the harder Harken blocks will.
4. Do the deal
Standard part of any deal should include a top-cover that is still relatively waterproof, and a gunwhale-hung launching trolley. Only pay extra for a trailer if you want one, and check first with the manufacturer that your car can tow; not every car made nowadays can. With some cars, small ones especially, adding a third-party towbar invalidates the manufacturer's guarantee.