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Posted by on Apr 10, 2013 in News and Events, Sailboat Racing, Sailing, UK, US |

Laser to Become the Kirby Torch Dinghy?

Why we may have to learn to call the most famous international racing dinghy by a new name.

Our UK editor Gael Pawson explains the background behind a recent announcement by Bruce Kirby that he was rechristening his famous Laser as the Kirby Torch. The Laser is a 14-foot Olympic singlehanded dinghy with more than 200,000 boats built worldwide since 1970.

As if sailing wasn’t confusing enough, one of its most well-known dinghy classes looks like it could have a new name.

Since the Laser has been in the Olympic Games it has seen its worldwide status as the best-known dinghy boosted further — speak to those who know very little about the sport and the Laser is one class many have heard of, perhaps because they had a sail in one once as a youngster, or on holiday. However, we could see the “Laser” disappear to be replaced with the “Kirby Torch.” No, this isn’t a late April Fool’s Day post, it’s actually something that’s been rumbling away under the surface (and in the courts) for some time.

Paul Goodison sailing a Laser in the 2012 Olympics

Paul Goodison sails a Laser in the buildup to the 2012 Olympic Games; In Rio in 2016 we could be reporting on the Kirby Torch class instead. Photo Richard Langdon/Skandia Team GBR

It’s all due to a row between designer Bruce Kirby and LaserPerformance (Europe) over the non-payment of royalties, and in the past few days a few interesting statements have been made public on the Kirby Torch website.

First, the statement that ISAF sent a letter to the International Laser Class Association (ILCA) in late March stating: “…ISAF requests that ILCA cease to issue ISAF plaques to LaserPerformance (Europe) Limited and Quarter Moon Inc. (the “Builders”) with immediate effect.”

Then the news: “Bruce Kirby Inc. has today [April 8] signed Builder Agreements to manufacture the Kirby Torch in regions serving the needs of sailors in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania.”

Then today the announcement that “Current manufacturers of the Kirby sailboat under the Laser brand are in the process of converting over to manufacture the Kirby sailboat under the Kirby Torch brand. The process is expected to take a few months after which Kirby Torch builders will be the only licensed manufacturers of the Kirby sailboat throughout the world.”

The first question that probably comes into your mind is, “why?” Apparently “After numerous attempts, Bruce Kirby Inc felt it had no choice but to withdraw building rights in North America and Europe. Through the Kirby Torch, sailors will be able to maintain access to boats, parts and the one-design aspect which is the touchstone of the Kirby sailboat design. To accelerate this outcome, the Kirby Torch builders agree that all ISAF-plaqued Lasers are class legal in the Kirby Torch fleet.”

Furthermore, “Bruce Kirby Inc. and the Torch Builders have been trying to negotiate with the International Laser Class Association in hopes it would replicate itself as the Torch Class. This is considered the most expedient way to establish a Torch Class because Bruce Kirby Inc. and the Torch Builders all agree that all authorised Laser brand boats with ISAF plaques will be class legal in the Torch Class.”

So at the end of all this, we might end up with the Kirby Torch as the official Olympic class — the name being the only difference from the Laser we have known so fondly all these years.

The final outcome after all the legal wrangling and politics play out remains to be seen, but it will be a sad day when we have to change what we call the boat that has been such a great friend to the sport. And if LaserPerformance (Europe) is out of the picture, who will distribute the boats in the UK? Two designs it used to produce already have new homes. The SB20 (formerly Laser SB3. See The SB20 is born: Laser SB3 class changes name and builder) is now built by White Formula and the 2000 (formerly Laser 2000) by LDC (see LDC is Announced as New Builder of the 2000).