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One of our sailors racing a laser
 

Small sailboat sailing (and particularly racing) is one of the most exciting sports for women and men of all ages. You may yearn to own a sailboat yourself, but don't know where to start. Here are answers to some of the questions Lansing Sailing Club members are most frequently asked about buying a small racing sailboat.

What kind of sailboat should I buy?

If you intend to sail your boat on local lakes such as Lake Lansing, you will probably want to buy a boat like others are sailing. This is particularly true if you want to race.

Lansing Sailing Club members currently race four different kinds of boats:
     Lasers - a one-person sailboat designed for racing.
     Wayfarer - a two, three or four person boat with mainsail, foresail and spinnaker.
     Lightnings - a two, three, four person sailboat with mainsail, foresail and spinnaker.
     Sunfish - a one-person sailboat that is very stable and easy to learn to sail.

These four boats are very popular all over the world. No matter where you live, you will probably find a nearby fleet and plenty of regatta opportunities. Even if you don't want to race, sailing a fleet boat makes for instant conversations and camaraderie. You will also find other sailors are eager to assist new boat owners in maintaining and tuning their boat.

Want a boat for young kids?

An Opti is great
for kids

Think Sunfish or Optimist. The Optimist is just the ticket for junior sailors. It is very easy to sail, extremely stable so it is difficult to capsize and light enough for even very young sailors to launch with a dolly. When your junior sailor is ready to begin racing, there are numerous opportunities at local, state, national and international levels.

The Sunfish is the boat of choice for Lansing Sailing Club Junior Sailing Camps. Not only is it a good boat for junior sailors, but it is a great boat for adults. 

What do I need to know to begin racing?

A basic knowledge of sailing is all you need to race a one-person sailboat. Regardless of your skill level or experience, you will be welcomed and assisted by the more experienced skippers. Crewing is an excellent way to learn sailing and more about racing. Lansing Sailing club members are always looking for crew. Call and let us know you are available.

What are the sizes of these sailboats?

The following table provides some detail about the size and weight of these sailboats. There is also information on how many have been built so you can get an idea of how popular they are.

For the Laser there are some optional rigs for light weight sailors. The Radial rig involves purchasing a special lower mast section (about $173) and the smaller Radial sail (about $432). The 4.7 Rig requires a special lower mast section (about $172) and the smaller 4.7 sail (about $365).

Boat

Num Built

Length

Width

Weight

Sail Area

Optimist

150,000+

7' 7"

3' 7"

77 lbs (Rigged)

35 sq ft

Laser

170,000+

13' 10"

4' 6"

130 lbs (Hull)

76 sq ft (Regular Rig)
62 sq ft (Radial Rig)
50 sq ft (4.7 Rig)

Sunfish

250,000+

13' 9"

4' 1"

130 lbs (Hull)

75 sq ft

Wayfarer

8,400+

15' 10"

6' 1 "

370 lbs (Hull)

125 sq ft (Main and Jib)
145 sq ft (Spinnaker)

Lightning

15,200+

19' 0"

6' 6"

700 lbs (Hull and Rigging)

177 sq ft (Main and Jib)
300 sq ft (Spinnaker)

 

Lightnings Like to Race with Three

Will I need to find people to crew?

The Sunfish and Laser are one person racers. The Wayfarer and Lightning can be sailed by one, but for racing crew is an important commodity. The Wayfarer requires two people (including the skipper) and the Lightning requires three people (including the skipper) for most regattas (two can sail in local races). Skippers are responsible for finding their own crew, but the Lansing Sailing Club maintains a crew database and will help you find crew. The Lansing Sailing Club also provides clinics on how to crew.

What is the stability of these sailboats?

The Sunfish is a stable small sailboat - but it is a "wet" boat and capsizing is part of the fun. Lasers, because of their high performance design, are much more sensitive to weight shifts and therefore "tippy." Laser sailors will capsize more often because of the boat's responsiveness and because racing success requires aggressive sailing. Wayfarer and Lightnings are very stable. Many Wayfarer and Lightning skippers will go through years of sailing without capsizing.

Capsizing in a Laser or Sunfish is part of the fun in sailing these boats. They are designed to be "wet boats." Water doesn't usually come into the boat during a Laser or Sunfish capsize - and if it does, these boats have self-bailing systems that quickly clear any water. After the Laser or Sunfish capsize, the boat is easily brought upright. The challenge for Sunfish and Laser skippers is to right the boat as fast as possible and continue racing.

How wet will I get?

The Sunfish is going to capsize occasionally, and water easily splashes over the deck so you will get wet on a windy day. The Laser will occasionally capsize when raced aggressively and there will be spray as the boat goes through the waves. When sailing in a Wayfarer or Lightning, you will get some spray - but otherwise will usually keep dry.

How many can be on these sailboats when not racing?

The Lightning will comfortably hold 6 to 8 adults and the Wayfarer 4 adults for a relaxing sail and a picnic lunch or moonlight sail.

You can take another person with you on the Sunfish and Laser. It will be fun, but probably not romantic. Plan on getting wet on the Sunfish and a tippy ride on the Laser.

How long does it take to set up my boat and be ready to sail?

The Optimist and Sunfish are very easy boats to rig and get in the water - just a few minutes and you are sailing. It takes about 20 minutes to rig and launch the Laser, Wayfarer and Lightning.

Wayfarers are often launched by one person using a dolly. They can also be launched from a trailer using a vehicle with a trailer hitch. Launching the Lightning requires a vehicle with a trailer hitch and is much easier with two people. At the Lansing Sailing Club, it is not necessary for Wayfarer or Lightning owners to take the mast and rigging down each time they sail. A regular membership includes trailer parking for your Wayfarer or Lightning in a location where you can leave the mast up. This simplifies putting the boat away after sailing as well as expedites getting the boat ready to sail.

How complicated are these boats to sail?

Complexity is closely related to the number of sail controls. Sail controls change the shape and position of a sail. The Optimist and Sunfish are very simple boats with few controls for sail adjustment. This is one reason the Sunfish is easy to sail. The Laser has five separate controls for sail adjustment. The Wayfarer and Lightning have even more sail controls than the Laser.

What are these boats made of?

All Lasers and Sunfish are made of fiberglass. Almost all Optimists, Wayfarers and Lightnings are made of fiberglass, but you see the occasional wooden boat. Wooden boats are not as common these days because the amount of time required to maintain the finish in good condition is so great.

What if I need repairs on my sailboat?

More Sunfish have been built
than any other type of sailboat

If you don't have the skills and knowledge to do the repairs yourself, there are several places locally that will make repairs at a very reasonable price. Many of the Lansing Sailing Club members have done repairs on their own boats and can provide tips if you want to tackle simple jobs yourself.

What will I need to pay for a sailboat?

Optimists sell for about $2,500 new and shoppers can find good used Optimists for $500 to $1,200.

For a new Sunfish, it will cost about $4,000. It will usually cost between $900 and $1,200 for a used Sunfish in good condition.

A new Laser will cost about $5,500. A used Laser in good condition will usually cost between $1,500 and $3,500.

A new Wayfarer will cost about $15,000. However, used Wayfarers are available in the $1,000 to $4,000 range.

A new Lightning will cost about $22,000. A used Lightning in good condition will usually cost between $5,000 and $12,000.  

What should I look for in a good used boat?

Smooth hull, no holes or deep imperfections. Hull should be uniformly firm, not soft in places.

Look for a boat that has been "dry sailed." This means that the boat is stored on land, off the ground and under a good covering when it is not being sailed. If left in the water, or improperly stored, boats will gain weight quickly.

Weight should be as low as possible. Lightnings must be a minimum of 700 pounds (with mast, boom, and fully rigged) and will often have weight added to bring the weight to 700 pounds. More than a few pounds over 700 is not desirable. An Optimist's weight new is 77 pounds. A new Sunfish or Laser weighs 130 pounds. These are minimum weights and, if you wish to be competitive, a used boat should be avoided unless within a few pounds of the weight of a new boat.

If a boat is sailed often, sails will lose their effectiveness for racing after a year or two. They will continue to be good for day sailing and for practice, but competitive racing requires newer sails. New Lightning sails will cost about $1,500 for a main and jib. The Lightning spinnaker will cost another $900. Good used Wayfarer or Lightning sails can often be obtained through their class association classified ads and through some sailmakers. For the Wayfarer, a new mainsail will be about $725 and a new jib about $300. New Laser sails cost about $650, new Sunfish sails about $440 (with a window) and new sails for an Optimist about $550.

Some indications an owner takes good care of a boat:
     Sails will be rolled - not folded.
     When sailing, the sail is not allowed to unnecessarily luff (flap back and forth) in the wind.
     The boat is kept clean.
     The boat is stored out of the water, off the ground, dry and covered.

Is there anything I'll need to get besides the boat?

Wayfarer sailing is often a family affair

For the Sunfish, a window in the sail is strongly recommended. If the sail doesn't have a window, installing one is fairly straight forward. When buying a new Sunfish sail however, make sure it comes with a window.

Launching Optimists, Sunfish, Wayfarers and Lasers is made much easier by having a dolly. The Lansing Sailing Club has a club dolly for community use with Sunfish and Lasers, but many members find it most convenient to have their own dolly and use it to store the boat on when they aren't sailing - then it is ready to launch. An example is the Seitech dolly which sells for between $320 and $625 - depending on the boat it will be used for.

Another consideration is whether you will be travelling with the boat. Typically, Lightnings and Wayfarers come with trailers - but Sunfish, Lasers and Optimists don't. The Sunfish, Lasers and Optimists can be "car-topped" - but trailers are often much easier.

When buying a used boat, lines very often need to be replaced - particularly if the boat is an older boat. They all need to be carefully checked. For Lasers, a line package will run about $110. New lines for the Sunfish and Optimist will be about $95. 

Where can I get more information about sailboats?

If you have Internet access, you can get a lot of information through the class associations for the different sailboats. Here are some web addresses:

     - United States Optimist Dingy Association
     - International Lightning Class Association
     - Wayfarer International
     - International Laser Class Association
     - International Laser Class North American Region
     - Sunfish Class Association

Can I try out these boats to help me decide which to buy?

Lansing Sailing Club members are always eager to introduce people to their "favorite" type of boat. Someone will be glad to take you sailing. Contact the Vice-Commodore at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to make arrangements.

The Lansing Sailing Club also has a small fleet of Club Sunfish, Lasers and Lightnings. By becoming an Associate Member of the Club ($175 in 2013), you can not only take advantage of our "learn to sail" and other programs, but try out the different kinds of boats we sail on a first come - first sail basis.

By Pat Dolan with special thanks to Alanna Harvey and Ann Siegle for reviewing the initial draft and for the excellent suggestions they made. First version April 10, 1998. Updated December 8, 1999, February 10, 2001, November 30,2001, January 6, 2004,  August 25, 2009, August 19, 2011 and May 2013. 

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