Laser 4000: The Definitive Modern Single-Trapeze Boat?

Laser 4000 tested by Madforsailing and came back smiling

15th September 2002.
By Peter Bentley

img1717The Laser 4000 shares much of the design concept with her bigger sister, the 5000. In particular it took the idea of weight equalisation, with adjustable racks and correctors, and delivered it in a more manageable boat with just a single trapeze.

Shirley Robertson joined the madforsailing review crew, and set out in moderate conditions to see how it all worked. The 4000 features a self-draining open plan deck, and a state-of-the-art fully-battened Mylar mainsail and battened jib, both from Hyde and looking bullet proof.

There were lots of things that we liked about the Laser 4000. The boat is well-balanced and light on the helm upwind, easy to work through the waves. It’s a class act, a real performer – the ride is fast and secure.

Setting the equalisation system up – extending the racks and adding the lead correctors – is very simple, important for such a fundamental part of the concept. The layout was clean and spacious for the crew, it was easy to get from rack to rack, and the toe straps are adjustable for comfortable hiking. The systems are soundly designed, with mainsheet, vang and Cunningham – all vital for the fully battened mainsail – well placed and easily adjusted.

Downwind, the ride is wild, though the powerful kite was easy to trim and the launch and retrieval system was very effective. High marks also went to the foam sandwich construction for both the hull and deck. The test boat still looked in excellent condition after a year of constant use.

But there were a few things that we weren’t so sure about – turning corners is a bit of a challenge. Some real weight is needed on the rail to bear away. Rigging the boat is complicated by the lack of a mast gate or forestay, and a trapeze wire needs to be used as a temporary stay before the jib is hoisted. There’s no jib furler, so some planning is required when departing the slipway.

None of this is anywhere near enough to spoil the boat and the Laser 4000′s success is unsurprising. Laser still has a full order book and the class continues to grow fast, feeding the fleets on the Audi Laser Racing circuit, where the sponsorship provides generous prizes, good venues and well organised racing. There is an Audi event each month throughout the season in the UK and Europe.

What might be described as the second generation of manufacturer’s one-designs is now well established, and the 4000 is perhaps the definitive single-trapeze race boat on the UK scene.

Ease of Sailing

img1716Light and easily managed on the trolley, the 4000 proves easy to handle on the slipway and drama-free once in the water – although the lack of a jib furler will keep you alert, if you are used to having one. The daggerboard simply drops in place and secures Laser-style with elastic, while the lifting rudder is secured with a multipart lanyard.

Once sailing upwind, the 4000 is well balanced with a delightfully light and sensitive feel to the helm. Precise in her steering, this is a boat that the experienced sailor will enjoy working through the waves.

Crewing the Laser 4000 is just as rewarding, the extra space provided by the Gnav is something that you can get used to very quickly. Getting in and out from the wire is simpler than might be expected and the jump from gunwale to rack is not intimidating. There is little to trip over when running from side to side and the non-slip proves effective in keeping the crew where they belong – on their feet.

As with all the new generation of high performance boats, the real challenge comes not in getting the 4000 to go fast in a straight line, but in turning the corners. In this respect the 4000 is easier than many, exhibiting reasonable levels of stability at low speeds and offering effective systems to make the crew’s job easier. The bear away at the top mark requires a fair bit of weight on the side deck but, once the pressure is off, the crew can move in easily enough and set to work hoisting the kite.

It is possible to cant the spinnaker pole some 30 degrees either side of the centreline. With the breeze up, one is well and truly into the realms of apparent wind sailing and it seems best to set the pole on the centreline and sail the angles downwind. No doubt as the breeze drops – and particularly in flat water – it will pay to get the pole back and run off deep with the crew in the boat. Judging the transition from one mode to the other and learning the angles in a range of wind strengths will almost certainly be a key to getting the best out of the 4000.

Sheeting the kite should prove a single-handed operation for all but the smallest crews in the strongest conditions. It’s clearly powerful, but the spinnaker is also stable and relatively forgiving to handle. Quite short in the foot, it follows the modern trend in asymmetric spinnaker design and judged by Hyde’s success in the development classes should be a high performer. Unless the kite is radically over-sheeted the 4000 shows little tendency to lee helm and when sailed properly she remains as well balanced and sensitive downwind as up.

Essential in a big breeze, but even in more moderate conditions getting the crew weight back makes a big difference not only to speed, but also controllability. Some coordination is required between helmsman and crew to get the wireman’s foot into the aft loop but once there, the ride is solid.

Capsizing inevitably plays a big part in learning to sail any high-performance boat and in this respect the 4000 is no trouble. She’s very quick to invert, but can be worked up onto her side with both crew standing on one edge. From here, just one person sitting well out on the board can keep the boat stable, while the crew pulls the kite down, a task accomplished unusually easily, even with the boat on its side. One heavyweight might be able to right the boat alone – but our experience indicated that both crew on the centreboard would be required in most circumstances.

Overall, for both helm and crew, this is a boat that is relatively easy to sail and yet rewarding of high skill levels.

Systems and Layout

Sitting on her trailer with the covers on, there is little to set the Laser 4000 apart from a multitude of other dinghies. Set to work rigging her and some substantial differences quickly become apparent. The racks take little time to extend to the appropriate position and lock in place, while adding and removing the lead correctors that are so essential to the weight equalisation system is an equally simple matter.

Equal performance potential for crews of varying weights lies at the very heart of the Laser 4000 philosophy. The system used to achieve this is marginally less sophisticated than that employed on her bigger sister – the Laser 5000 – but the concept is very similar.

Lead ballast is added to the boat to compensate for lighter crews while the racks are extended to provide similar righting moment. Heavy crews carry less lead, but with the racks further in, lack the leverage to gain an advantage. Unlike the 5000, the relationship between crew size, corrector weights and rack settings is not exactly linear, as in this instance only one member of the crew is trapezing.

img1715In practice, rack settings and ballast weights are determined from a simple table based on the ‘ready to sail’ weight of the helmsman and crew. What really matters is that the system is seen to work in practice, and at the end of the first year’s racing in the UK it was already apparent that a wide range of different crew weights and heights are able to win races.

Putting the rest of the boat together is slightly complicated by the lack of either a mast gate or forestay, and one of the trapeze wires has to be brought into action as a temporary stay before the jib is hoisted. Once up, there is no furling mechanism for the jib, so some pre-planning is required when organising the departure from the slip.

Fitting the boom and Gnav requires inserting two small clevis pins in the respective fittings and seems most easily accomplished if the boom is held level. The main hoists easily, though it is all but essential for one of the crew to climb into the boat to feed it into the luff track. Both halyards tuck neatly away into a small pocket on the spinnaker chute.

The toe straps are adjustable for length and the aft attachment point moves out with the rack. There is a choice of two tie-down points forward, allowing a wide range of leg lengths to be accommodated.

img1714As with any fully-battened mainsail, the vang and Cunningham have a vital role to play in controlling the power. Cleated on the centre console by the mainsheet and led to a retrieval system on the gunwale, both are easily adjusted by either helmsman or crew. The mainsheet is also lightly loaded and is easily worked with the Harken swivel base cleat set at precisely the right angle.

Jib control is restricted to an adjustable track with the option of a single or double purchase sheet. As with the mainsheet, the cleat is perfectly positioned allowing the sheet to go in easily, and pop back out without generating any heart-stopping moments rolling into a tack. The fittings come from a range of manufacturers and the class rules allow individual sailors to change things, as long as the type and function of the fitting is maintained.

It is possible to hoist the kite facing forwards, but we found it more effective to turn around, pulling the halyard through the turning block on the forward face of the console. Half a dozen big pulls on the single line system sees the pole extended and the kite up.

Getting the kite down proves no more trouble than hoisting, though it is essential to release the pole gybing lines if a trouble-free recovery is to be achieved. Again a rear facing position seems best, recovering the spinnaker simply by pulling the retrieving line back in the opposite direction through the same block as was used to hoist.

Up above, the rig appears carefully developed, the sails from Hyde are set on a Proctor Epsilon mast section. The Gnav applies its forward loads to the mast relatively high up, so the lower shrouds play a major role – not only in keeping the mast in the boat, but more importantly in regulating the power.

It seemed that tight lower shrouds should help add extra drive in medium conditions. The facility to let them off on breezier days will be all the more welcome when one learns that the spreaders are fixed length, with the fore and aft adjusters locked in position at the factory. But limiting the adjustability of the rig does have the major benefit of preventing rig settings that might render the rig less than secure in a blow.

Performance

The Laser 4000 is a real performer – the ride is fast and secure upwind, and wild without being uncontrollable downwind. All the speed you’d expect from a single-trapeze, racked asymmetric boat that stops just short of full skiff performance.

Build Quality

No surprises here, with all that’s expected of the Laser name and perhaps more, given the switch to foam sandwich construction (see Anticipated Durability) for the hull. The rudder and centreboard both use proven Laser technology, with the centreboard actually the same as that on the 5000.

The sails from Hyde are, as might be expected, pretty much state-of-the-art. The main utilises a heavy, fibre reinforced Mylar film, five battens help keep it in shape and one gets the impression it should remain competitive for a very long time. The jib benefits from two battens, and the heavy Dacron fabric should also ensure a long life. Unusually, the spinnaker sports three retrieval patches and, despite concerns, it seems to slip up and down quite easily.

Anticipated Durability

The construction marked something of a departure for Laser, using foam sandwich for both the hull and deck. Despite concerns that this approach might lead to something less than Laser’s legendary levels of durability, experience with the early boats is very much to the contrary. Our year-old test boat certainly looked to be in excellent condition, free from the dents and depressions one normally associates with this kind of construction.

Quality of Race Circuit

img1713With Laser reporting brisk sales for the 4000, the already popular class is still growing fast. Well backed up by the Laser organisation, the class has an active race circuit, taking part in the Audi Laser Racing. The sponsorship enables generous prizes, good venues and well organised racing.

Laser’s Crew Power Equalisation system is on hand at the regattas, crew are weighed and leverage readings establish rack settings and correction weights required.

With what might be described as the second generation of ‘new’ designs now fully established, the 4000 looks set to be the definitive single-trapeze race boat on the UK race scene into the new millennium.

Value for Money

A solid, popular product with huge support for class racing that should ensure high resale values.

Specifications

Length 4.64 m 15.22 ft
Beam 1.50 – 2.30 m 4.92 – 7.54 ft
Weight(fitted hull weight) 107 kg 235.89 lb
Sail Area: Mainsail 14.7 sq m 158.23 sq ft
Sail Area: Gennaker 17.10 sq m 184.06 sq ft

Ratings
Overall: 70%
Build Quality: 70%
Ease of sailing: 60%
Anticipated Durability: 70%
Systems and Layout: 70%
Quality of Race Circuit: 80%
Performance: 70%
Value for Money: 80%

Laser Centre
6 Riverside
Banbury, Oxon, OX16 5TL, England
Phone +44 (0)1295 268191
Fax +44 (0)1295 273682
info@lasersailing.com
www.lasersailing.com


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