February 23, 2014

Radial or Full Rig - Part 1

by Pam
We had a reader who noted Doug's recent decision to never sail a Radial again after getting chicked at the Laser Master Worlds in Oman and asked if Doug would elaborate on the reasons for his decision. Short answer (and I suspect the real answer) is that women don't sail full rigs at the Worlds so he'll never get chicked again. Long answer is more complicated but was also decided by the experience in Oman.

Weight and Rig

Lots of people have written about the recommended weights for the various rig sizes and there are differing opinions. Even Performance Sailcraft Australia and Laser Performance have differing recommendations on their websites.

PSA Brochure65+ kg
143+ lbs
55-65 kg
121-143 lbs
35-55 kg
77-121 lbs
PSA Pathway70+ kg
154+ lbs
65-74 kg
143-163 lbs
55-65 kg
121-143 lbs
LP73-86 kg
160-190 lbs
55-72 kg
121-159 lbs
45-54 kg
100-120 lbs

Decision for Local Fleet Sailing

Doug and I sail at opposite ends of the experience spectrum. He wants to win at the highest level and I just want to use the Laser as a training tool for other boats and to stay fit. Even though we sail at different levels and for different reasons, we often make the same decision for the same reason. From the below average to the highly experienced sailor, regardless of weight, the decision will always come down to the constant: what people in your fleet are sailing vs. the variable: what you can handle comfortably. And what you can handle comfortably will vary depending on the weather at the venues where you sail.

Even though Doug is quite competitive in a full rig, he'd lost enough weight that he had decided to switch to the Radial at World events so that he would be more competitive. However, he still only sailed a full rig for local fleet sailing. In fact, since 2012 he's only sailed a Radial in 4 regattas (2012 US Laser Nationals - 7th out of 46; 2012 Australian Master Nationals - 3rd out of 27; 2012 Brisbane Master Worlds - 4th out of 26; 2013 Oman Master Worlds - 4th out of 23). We both agree he made a mistake in choice of rig in Oman but there were health variables that made it the smarter decision but he also learned some very important lessons which is the basis for returning to a full rig only and he'll elaborate on that in Radial or Full Rig - Part 2

There aren't many (usually any) masters aged women in my district that sail a Laser. Being a light sailor, I should be in a Radial or even a 4.7 but when I do sail a Laser it is almost always in a full rig simply because I would rather start with and compete against people my own age rather than kids (they rarely mix the fleets in our district). I have a better shot at beating a master sailor in a full rig than a kid in a Radial or 4.7. If the wind is light, I have a really good shot at beating a few guys my own age but if the wind is heavy I only have a slim shot at not being blown off the course. In reality, I sail a full rig in light to medium winds and then become a spectator in heavier winds. I could certainly switch to a Radial in heavier winds but that puts me with the kids and I'm not fit enough to go head to head with a kid in wind and certainly don't want to be reminded that I'm no longer a kid. So my experience in a Laser in heavy winds is usually double handed with Doug, which is kind of cool because if I'm tired, he hikes while I drive, and I get one on one coaching and it's a blast.

So, bottom line, whatever rig is best for you will likely get trumped by whatever rig the bulk of the fleet is sailing. If you are fortunate enough to have good fleets for both rigs, then go for the rig that is the most fun (you'll stay with the sport longer).

Decision for World Level Sailing

Below are Doug's weights, rigs, and finishes at various World/National venues after he started keeping track of his weight:

2013Oman Master WorldsLightRadial168 lbs / 76 kg4th
2012Brisbane Master WorldsMediumRadial172 lbs / 78 kg4th
2012Brisbane AU Master NationalsWindyRadial172 lbs / 78 kg3rd
2012Houston US NationalsMixedRadial168 lbs / 76 kg7th
2010Halifax Master WorldsWindyStandard168 lbs / 76 kg6th
2008Sydney Master WorldsMediumStandard190 lbs / 86 kg12th
2007Spain Master WorldsMediumStandard186 lbs / 85 kg9th
2006Korea Master WorldsMixedStandard180 lbs / 81 kg1st
2001Ireland Master WorldsMediumStandard183 lbs / 83 kg8th
2000Cancun Master WorldsMediumStandard183 lbs / 83 kg3rd
1999Melbourne Master WorldsHonkingStandard182 lbs / 82 kg3rd
1998Gorge Master World GamesHonkingStandard182 lbs / 82 kg2nd
1997Chile Master WorldsMixedStandard185 lbs / 83 kg1st

Doug has what I would call a very intimate relationship with the full rig but the Radial is an absolute stranger.  He has sailed a full rig thousands of times in just about every condition possible and he knows what subtle boat handling changes to make as the conditions change. He takes advantage of changes that last only seconds and might only move him a few seconds ahead but those add up at the finish line. When it comes to the Radial, he can't feel the boat at all. The subtle things that work in the full rig just don't work in the Radial. At the Brisbane Master Worlds, he was a half a leg ahead in the Radial fleet at one point and still pulling away.  He couldn't repeat that again if he tried because he didn't know what he was doing and why it was working. I had already challenged him on whether he really knew how to sail a Radial since he didn't sail it regularly. There may or may not be a variety of subtle changes that he can make in the Radial that add up at the finish line but without much experience, he's just a very good sailor in a rig he doesn't know. He'll do well but probably won't beat someone with more experience in that rig. In Oman, he watched Vanessa (who constantly smiled back at him) and he matched what he saw her doing and she just kept smiling back at him and going faster.

In Part 2, we'll hear Doug's reasons for changing to a Radial and back to a full rig … so that he'll never get chicked at a Worlds again.


  1. OK let's get scientific about this and only compare equivalent events so that as far as possible we are comparing results in fleets of the same standard, i.e. analyze only the Masters Worlds and ignore the others.

    Average of Doug's results in 8 Masters Worlds in a Standard Rig = 5.375
    Average of Doug's results in 2 Masters Worlds in a Radial Rig = 4.000

    Conclusion: Doug scores better at Masters Worlds when sailing a Radial Rig (albeit only by one place on average once you ignore the rounding error.)

    And the other way to look at what you said in the long penultimate paragraph is that Doug has more room to improve his Radial sailing than his Standard Rig sailing. So there's more upside for him if he sticks with a Radial in future Masters Worlds.

    1. You have a point but I think the answer is actually somewhere between the two. Al Clark won the Radial Master Worlds in 2011 and then won the Standard Master Worlds in 2013.

      If Doug would actually spend some time getting a better feel for the Radial then he could sail the rig best suited to the venue and increase his odds likely bringing his average up in both the full rig and Radial. But, the biggest factor is will he sail a Radial at local events and get a feel for the boat? I'd put the odds at zero percent. He looks at who is going to show up at various events and just can't help himself, he has to go head to head with them.

      If we had a big local Radial fleet, he'd switch in a heartbeat. But, I also think he's been with the full rig for too long ... it's "his" boat. He would probably have an easier time finding another gear in the full rig at a light weight than he would finding all the gears on the Radial, which may or may not be there. I once had an Olympic coach tell me the Radial was horribly balanced and a dog of a boat to sail. What if he's right?

    2. Whatever he does, he's screwed. If he stays in the Radial at Masters Worlds he's going to get chicked in the GM fleet. And then in a couple of years when he's a GGM, if he sticks with the full rig he's going to get Marked.

    3. Yes, I think he decided being Marked was the better option.

  2. Ah, but I see Mark got Douged in Chile, so there's hope for him yet.

  3. Plenty of opportunity to race the Radial in the UK, and I'm sure you'd be made very welcome, by me at least :-)
    But 76kg and over is always Standard rig in my book, thought height is also a major consideration.
    On open water I sail a Radial rig at 74kg.
    Several years ago a leading team USA olympic coach informed me that at 5'8" I would need to weigh ~90kg to have sufficient righting moment for a Standard rig on open water, which was the point at which I switched to the Radial rig 9 years ago, and a good choice it was. At most major events in the UK at least there are usually twice as many Radials as Standards, sometimes more, with a very high standard of competition.
    Assuming a height greater than 5'10" I always consider the range for the Standard rig on open water to be 75kg to 85kg

    1. This is a great comment!

      Robert Scheidt apparently got down to 175 pounds (79kg) for Oman but he's tall and looks even taller when sailing. In fact, most of the sailors in the gold fleet were tall and skinny. So height should be taken into consideration but is rarely mentioned.

      It makes you really appreciate how Michael Blackburn (who is short) beat Tom Slingsby (who is not) to win the 2006 Worlds in Jeju South Korea when it was really windy.


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