A favorite saying that I learned from a friend of mine is, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." Since our readership seems to be up and there is no shortage of opinions, perhaps now is a good time to shine a little sun on the subject of altered foils.
Laser Class Rule 14(c) Surface refinishing of the centreboard is permitted provided the original shape, thickness and characteristics are not altered.
The first time Doug heard about the subject of altered foils was a few years ago from a Masters sailor (sailor 1) who had them and named about a half a dozen sailors who also had them. Doug was told that many of the top level Masters sailors use them and 'if you want to win, you have to use them too.' Then sailor 1 explained that there was a loophole in the rules that allowed for alteration without specifically breaking the rules. And even though it's supposedly "legal" no one talks about it. There is a template for measuring in at the Worlds that is a rectangular slot with equal thickness and the centerboard has to fit in the slot. This controls the maximum thickness of the board but not the placement of the thickness (up, down, forward, back). Doug's theory is that the alteration is a movement of the thickness but he doesn't know for sure.
The entire subject made Doug uncomfortable. First, because of the people named (at the very top) and second because it didn't sound legal and he didn't want to believe that he had to use them in order to be competitive. Doug never considered using them but would keep an eye out for signs that others were indeed using them.
At the recent Masters Worlds, the subject came up again. This time another sailor (sailor 2) gave another list of specific names, some of which were in Doug's fleet and one of which, (sailor 3), Doug knew beyond a shadow of a doubt would never use them. But then sailor 2 went on to give specifics about what was done and how to tell them apart from regular blades. How they are fatter and some may be slightly weighted at the bottom to the point that they don't float like other foils, how they are more rounded here and bull-nosed there. He said those who have them don't have to hike as hard.
This prompted Doug to talk to sailor 3 who would have been sailing right next to one of those that had been specifically named by both sailor 1 and sailor 2 and asked if he noticed anything when they were side by side. Sailor 3 said the other guy seemed to have a more relaxed style and didn't seem to be working as hard as he was in order to go the same speed. Sailor 3 hadn't heard about altered foils and he didn't seem to really care. He had noticed a consistency problem in manufacturing and some boards were generally thicker than others and when selecting stock foils, he advised choosing the thicker ones. Same thing with centerboard trucks, some where narrower which is also better.
Having a little time on my hands at the Worlds, I went on a reconnaissance mission, covertly taking pictures of the foils of one of the sailors named that was in Doug's fleet. Later I zoomed in on the pictures. They looked like charter blades to me. Although that sailor was doing quite well, he wasn't on the podium and he seemed to be working just as hard as Doug. Then I skimmed through my photos and checked the tops of the centerboards of a few of those named that would have flown to the event and could tell who appeared to have brought their own blades and who was using charter blades.
In the meantime, Doug chatted with two class officers on the topic. Both were surprised to hear of the issue and both named the US person most people used to finish foils but they hadn't heard about alterations of any sort. Both encouraged Doug to talk to the class measurer about changing the measuring process to eliminate any doubt about alternations. One of the officers did ask rhetorically why anyone would bring their own blades and risk damage when they were getting perfectly new ones with the charter. Good question.
So far there is one admission of use, some casual mention of others' use, one potential observance of use, but mostly, just unsubstantiated claims. I suggested Doug order a set to see if they really do make a difference because there is simply no other way to know. He refuses to do so. I told him they could be for me since I already work harder than everyone else to stay on the course and I don't ever win anything on a Laser. He still refuses.
What would you do with this information? a) Nothing, it's irrelevant; b) investigate it quietly; c) investigate it loudly; d) order a set and join the crowd; e) sail your own race and forget about it; or f) other? Doug tried a and b and has opted for e.