Early Lasers

It is a question that comes up again and again, often from someone who has found an old Laser hull that had been sitting neglected for some years and wants to give it new life. Or maybe you are planning to buy a used boat and you know the sail number and want some idea how old the boat is.

What year was this built? How old is my boat?

If you know the hull/sail number for the boat, you can likely find out the answer by reviewing the following table (Please note that for several reasons, this table is not definitive or guaranteed to be accurate, but may serve as a reasonable guide for the approximate age of a Laser):

YEAR       Sail Numbers
1977      35265 – 42273
1978      42274 – 56277
1979      56278 – 72998
1980      72999 – 86490
1981      86491 – 93254
1982      93255 – 104928
1983      104929 – 112845
1984      112846 – 118022
1985      118023 – 132688
1986      132689 – 128595
1987      128596 – 132231
1988      132232 – 136322
1989      136323 – 139659
1990      139660 – 142789
1991      142790 – 145705
1992      145706 – 148322
1993      148323 – 152360
1994      152361 – 155822
1995      155823 – 158264
1996      158265 – 161382
1997      161383 – 164398
1998      164399 – 166270
1999      166271 – 168874
2000      168875 – 171536
2001      171537 – 173950
2002      173951 – 176694
2003      176695 – 179554
2004      179555 – 182213
2005      182214 – 185370
2006      185371 – 188573
2007      188574 – 192439
2008      192440 – 194846
2009      194847 – 197063
2010      197064 – 200309
2011      200310 – 202431
2012      202432 – 204542
2013      204543 – 206662
2014      206663 – 208458
2015      208459 – 210618
2016      210619 – 212235
2017      212236 – 214962
2018      214953 –

Finding and trying to read old markings often raises more questions than answers.

There are a few places on the internet where you can dig around and find production years for various hull numbers, and perhaps some anecdotal information about early Laser history. As the internet was just getting up and running, one industrious individual, Shevy Gunter, who published under the name “dr Laser”, collected quite a bit of information about the Laser and its history. His website is now defunct, though the original content is at least partially accessible through the internet archive.

The information below is reproduced from the original website of dr Laser (Shevy Gunter). It is used with permission and with gratitude for the original compiler.


How do I determine my sail number and boat year?

Except for the very first Lasers, the serial number of the Laser is on the transom. E.g.: PFS80000L879

1971 to 1973 Hulls: For these initial lasers, the sail number is moulded on the deck, right under the bow eye. This Hull Identification Number (HIN) did not identify the builder. Beware! Some hulls with “Pointe-Claire” factory stickers in the cockpit have recently surfaced with hull numbers hand-etched under the bow eye! Ian Bruce, the father of Laser manufacturing, claims that hulls with hand-etched numbers may not be “Performance Sailcraft, Pointe-Claire” products. In these cases, the authenticity of either the hull number or the manufacturing plant is questionable.

It is also reported that following the Laser prototypes, the first mass-manufactured Laser was numbered 101. However, some hulls with numbers lower than 100 under the bow eye have surfaced. Ian Bruce notes that although some owners requested custom hull numbers (due to “emotional attachment” to certain numbers), he can remember only #141 as such a custom number, and the 3-4 other such hulls with custom numbers were all numbered higher than 101.

In fact, the early development of Laser mass manufacturing was quite rapid, involving many production facilities in a very short period of time, and it is thus quite hard today to determine which hulls were manufactured in which of these early facilities and when exactly an identification for the builder was first used.

Post 1973 Lasers: In North Amarica, the first 3 characters usually form the builder’s ID. (See http://www.teamvanguard.com/ for updates.) The rest of the numbers identify the hull. For hulls manufactured in New Zealand, for instance, it is known however that no manufacturer identification code letters may exist.

In North America, these first 3 characters may be:

  • PFS = Performance Sailcraft Corp.(1971-1974) (Montreal, Québec, Canada: still manufacturing 29ers, Bytes, 420s and Optis.)
  • ZFS = Performance Sailcraft (1974 [as per hulls 16950-51626]-1985) (Pointe-Claire, Québec)
  • PSC = Performance Sailcraft (19??-19??)
  • PSL = Performance Sailcraft – San Rafael, CA, USA (Owner Don Trask, 1971 through 1981)
  • PSI = Performace Sailcraft International (South Africa, until 1989)
  • ZID = Laser International (Ontario 1984-1991) Reincarnation of original Laser builder. (Also known as Performance Sailcraft Canada.)
  • PSB = Pearson Small Boats (1989-1991) (RI) Any PSBs with ’92 ?
  • SLI = Sunfish Laser Inc (1991 [or 1992  ?] to March 1997) New manufacturing facility.
  • OQT = Vanguard Sailboats Inc., RI (March 1997 to present) Initials stand for Quarter Moon Inc. Production continued in SLI facility which Vanguard purchased. Personnel the same.

Next 5 digits are the sail number. If the sail number is great than 99,999, then the first digit is a character, where A=10, B=11, C=12 etc. (i.e. a letter followed by 5 digits).

Last 4 characters indicate when the boat was built and the model year. Usually 1 letter followed by 3 numbers, and occasionally 1 letter, 2 numbers, followed by another letter (see below).

In the 1 letter, 3 numbers case, the letter indicates the month of manufacture (according to Sunfish/Laser Inc.):
A=Aug, B=Sept, C=Oct, D=Nov, E=Dec, F=Jan, G=Feb, H=Mar, I=April, J=May, K=June, L=July.

The next digit indicates the year the boat was built (not model year!), followed by a 2-number model year. Eg.
D494 = Built Nov (D) 1994 (4) for 1994 model year (94).
F697 = Built Jan (F) 1996 for 1997 model year (97)

For example:
SLI F1234 F494 = Sunfish Laser Inc, Sail number 151234, Built in January 1994 for Model Year 1994.

Dubious trailing letter:
Some Pointe-Claire factory hull numbers contained as the last four characters a letter, followed by two numbers, followed by an unexplained ending letter. A 1980 Pointe-Claire hull is numbered “ZFS84933M80D”, a 1981 hull is numbered ZFS98104M81E, and a 1983 hull is numbered “ZFSA9837M83C”!

Older lasers: Last four digits of sail number may be missing or belong to an unknown code (e.g. ZFS 33426 0376 = march ’76?). Boat manufacturing codes seem to conform to some industry norm – an Alden Ocean (rowing) shell hull number has a similar format. In addition, some early 1980’s hulls had a trailing letter. (See section titled “NZ Lasers” below.)


Outside of North America

Information available to us for regions outside of North America is scarce!

European Lasers
UK manufacturer has occasionally etched the sail number only under the bow eye, with no additional stamping on the transom. In cases where the etching under the bow eye has special codes (such as “GHN067”), there is also an aluminium sticker riveted into the back wall of the cockpit, and the sail number is etched on the sticker. (Confirmed examples include UK-made hulls with the numbers 10423, 30648, and 67225.)

On the other hand, it is also reported that some European Lasers do come with sail number stamped in the transom gelcoat, in the area between the upper and the lower gudgeons. (An example is sail #46438 built by PSE in the UK in 1977.)

NZ Lasers
Until early 1990s, Performance Sailcraft in New Zealand also manufactured hulls with the sail number stamped on the transom, without any manufacturer codes or manufacturing year identification. NZ hull number 132524 is such a hull. Later, a manufacturer’s ID was used: number 156749 had both a manufacturer ID stamped on the transom as well as the sail number.

SA Lasers
There is one report that in the early eighties, Performance Sailcraft International (South African manufacturer until early 80’s) used a hull number ending with “SA”. It may be that for a while, manufacturers worldwide tagged the manufacturing country to the end of the hull number.

How do I determine the age of the boat from the sail number?

When was a boat with sail number XXXXXX built? If you do know the full hull serial number engraved on the hull, then the hull number reveals the year the boat was manufactured. (See the related FAQ item.) If you don’t know the full hull serial number – as in many cases where a hull appears in a “FOR SALE” ad or as in many Laser Mailing List posts where sailors sign their posts also with their sail numbers, then the following table contains sail number ranges and the year they were issued. This table is a work-in-progress, is based on the best verifiable information currently available, and should be used as a rough guide only. Sorry, No Laser II numbers in the table.

Year

Number

Year

Number

Year

Number

2000 166843-168261 1990 138878 1980 80467-90547
1999 166098-166145 1989 130211-136849 1979 69547-79977
1998 164394-165011 1988 134145-134953 1978 52604-60996
1997 160976-162136 1987 129199-129368 1977 51221-51626
1996 158005-159878 1986 121539-128447 1976 33318-44847
1995 153020-158000 1985 117982-120978 1975 23926-32167
1994 152196-153019 1984 114372-117859 1974 15430-22496
1993 148878 1983 109837-112339 1973 3230-14305
1992 147273-148395 1982 104258 1972 2, 100-2205
1991 144077 1981 95129-100630 1971 95-718
Email in your data to help fill this table.

drLaser has contacted the Laser Builders and Bruce Kirby, the designer of the Laser, to obtain any additional information they could provide. Kirby notes: “If you have been having difficulty getting this type of information from the builders it may be because they consider it proprietary, or it is more likely that they simply found it a very time-consuming task.” However, Kirby was able to provide the approximate sail numbers issued each year from March to March since 1989 when he was charged with keeping track of the hull numbers after the manufacturer Performace Sailcraft International, PSI (South Africa) went broke in 1989.

The sail number – issue year pairs provided by Bruce Kirby are only “approximate” statistics because sail numbers are not likely to be requested at the same time every month, and of course, the below pairs have to do with when the numbers are ordered and not when the boats are built! Japan, for example, might order 50 numbers for a whole year, whereas PSE may order numbers for, and build, about 150 boats a month.

HULL NUMBERS ISSUED BY DESIGNER – after 1 March 1989
Period Hull Numbers
March 1989 to March 1990 136,951 to 140,824
March 1990 to March 1991 140,825 to 144,160
March 1991 to March 1992 144,161 to 146,718
March 1992 to March 1993 146,719 to 150,201
March 1993 to March 1994 150,202 to 154,287
March 1994 to March 1995 154,288 to 156,338
March 1995 to March 1996 156,339 to 159,459
March 1996 to March 1997 159,460 to 161,735
March 1997 to March 1998 161,736 to 165,814
March 1998 to March 2000 165,815 to 169,724
March 2000 to March 2001 169,725 to 172,425

Note that the only definitive information you can derive from the above table is the following:

 

  • a boat with sail number X could not have been manufactured before the March of a year Y if X is less than the smallest sail number issued for the period starting with the March of that year Y.

 


* Some history:
J. Price wrote:”I have one of the original hulls shown at the NYC boat show, I think in ’72. John Bertram and I were at MIT in the ocean engineering dept doing graduate work. He said he had a friend in Canada making these neat boats and I might want to buy one. Went to the boat show and made arrangements to pick one up in Canada after the show. Drove up in one hell of a snow storm and tied it on the top of the car. About 10 years ago, I needed a hull number for CA registration, and, after talking to Canada, was told to use # 99 since they started formally numbering them at 100, and this was earlier. We named her ‘radish’ from the hull color and she’s still afloat today at Smith Mtn Lake in SW Virginia.”

Some data based on Neil Berman FAQ1

 


Who owns the oldest Laser afloat?

According to Dick Tillman’s book “Laser Sailing for the 90’s” (1991 Edition), Laser designer Bruce Kirby notes two “production Lasers” were built (following two prototype “pseudo-Lasers”) before the launch of the boat at the New York Boat Show in January 1971 and 144 orders were taken at the show. We can assume that at least a few of these 146 boats are still around.

Kirby’s Laser #100

According to the Tillman book, the first “class-legal” (pre-show) Laser was tangerine, was built in December 1970 for Bruce Kirby, and is still owned by Kirby. Kirby sailed her with the sail number “0” for 18 years! In the Foreword of the book, Kirby writes, “In 1989, the Mystic Seaport Museum (at Mystic, Connecticut) asked if they could be keepers of of old No. 0, and she is there today…”

However, Eric Robbins reports that in the Fall of 1992, Bruce Kirby, whom he did not know at the time, showed up with his boat to race frostbite at Cedar Point Yacht Club (CPYC). When he put up sail number “0”, Eric approached to discuss with him the issue that one of their CPYC Fleet members was already using number “0”. He replied: “I have the registered number zero! I’m Bruce Kirby!”

Does Bruce Kirby really own a hull numbered zero?

In one of his e-mails on the NA Laser Mailing List, Jim Price reports that the Laser manufacturer at the time “started formally numbering Lasers at #100”. In contrast, Mark Kastel reports “he was always under the impression” that the numbering system started with #101. Which one is it? Double checking on this, drLaser has learned from the original builder, Ian Bruce (See sidebar), that the early Lasers “had numbers over #101”. What did this really mean?

Ian Bruce

Ian BruceAlthough the general Laser folklore identifies Bruce Kirby as “The Man” behind the Design, one should not overlook that Ian Bruce, other than being the original Builder (Peformance Sailcraft) and thus having built the plugs and made the moulds, also designed the mast and the collar system, the boom, the centerboard and rudder, the rudder head, the gooseneck, the traveller system, the grab rails and the general fitting layout. Ian also did Industrial Design work on the deck, developed and wrote what is still the laminate and building specification in use and wrote the original Construction Manual.The Laser Radial rig was also designed by Ian Bruce and Hans Fogh, and developed by Ian without the support of ILCA, designer Bruce Kirby or Performance Sailcraft’s own Board of Directors. Ian finished it on his own, in his small R&D; company in Pointe-Claire, and predicted, in writing, that it would one day surpass the Laser.

A clarification was possible based on another statement of Ian Bruce to drLaser. Ian explicitly notes, “Kirby was given 100 and numbering started with that boat.” So, it looks like the hull Bruce Kirby has “registered” as hull number “0” is actually the hull that was considered #100 by the Builder. (This is confirmed by Bruce Kirby to drLaser.)

Well, is Kirby’s #100 to be considered “afloat”? Robbins’ story implies that the museum boat may still be sailing occasionally. We checked. Kirby notes that although the hull may have been dragged out of the Museum for special events, he has not sailed it. Kirby writes, “When I donated my boat to Mystic, one of their Board of Directors members gave me an old Laser that he had had in his barn for years.” [It had hull number in excess of 1000. Ed.] It was that Laser that Bruce Kirby had sailed with sail number “0” at CPYC.

A second boat show hull?

In his e-mail to the NA List, Jim Price refers to

  "one of the original hulls shown at the New York City
   boat show, I think in '72."

However, upon drLaser‘s inquiry, both Ian Bruce and Bruce Kirby have informed drLaser that only one boat was taken to the New York Boat Show, which was held not in 1972 as Price recalls, but in January 1971. Following Kirby’s #100, it was the second “real Laser” ever produced, and therefore presumably #101.

It is reported in Tillman’s book that the boat-show hull was “dark green”, and that it “attracted a lot of attention” at the boat show. Officially, Bruce Kirby calls the color “British Racing Green” (the traditional color of the British MG sports cars).

In his e-mail, Jim Price actually notes that he in fact owns “one of the boat-show hulls”. Price adds: “John Bertram and I were at MIT in the Ocean Engineering Department doing graduate work. He said he had a friend in Canada making these neat boats and I might want to buy one. I went to the boat show and made arrangements to pick one up [empasis added by Editor] in Canada after the show. I drove up in one hell of a snow storm and tied it on the top of the car. About 10 years ago, I needed a hull number for CA registration, and, after talking to Canada, was told to use #99 since they started formally numbering Lasers at 100, and this was an earlier boat. We named her ‘Radish’ from the hull color and she’s still afloat today at Smith Mountain Lake in SW Virginia.”

This story conflicts with the official story that only one hull was taken to the 1971 boat show. Since it also contradicts the Tillman, Kirby and Bruce statements that the boat-show hull was dark green, it implies this “Radish” was not the 1971 boat show hull! But this does not preclude it from being a hull that was taken to the 1972 Boat Show. Nor does it preclude the possibility that the boat Price loaded on top of the car was just another hull, not a “boat show hull”.

Could Price be remembering the color wrong? Ex ILCA-NA Scretary Fred Schroth confirms that Megan Price (Jim’s daughter) brought the #99 boat to him around 2000, and he fixed it up in return for some class website work by Megan. Fred notes #99 was by then red, but both the hull and the deck had been painted. Schroth notes “I think the hull gelcoat is a dark shade of red”, which supports the original Jim Price statement that they named the boat “Radish” for her hull color.

In addition, both Bruce Kirby and Ian Bruce have rejected that the ’71 New York Boat Show hull was sold to Jim Price. They both claim that hull was bought by Jim Miller. Ian Bruce definitively wrote to drLaser: “He [Miller] saw the boat at the NY show, spent the entire show in the booth with me, became our dealer in Oyster Bay, NY, sold literally hundreds of boats in the ensuing years through the Oyster Bay Boatshop which he and his wife had opened three years earlier.” Bruce Kirby concurs: “I believe (the NY show hull) was bought by Jim Miller of Oyster Bay, who became a dealer and sold a lot of Lasers.” (Editor’s Note: Jim Miller has moved on to the great race course in the sky on June 17th, 2001.)

But could #99 be one of the two prototypes? In particular:

  • Price recalls #99 originally had a one piece tapered mast…until somebody swiped it off the boat while she sat for too long somewhere in Annapolis. It is now rigged with a modern rig.
  • Also interestingly, the boweye fitting of #99 was put on “backwards” compared to what we see in all the rest of the Lasers. In fact, #99’s boweye may have been fitted the right way, while all the rest of us have our bow fittings on backwards.
  • The traveler blocks on #99 are the original and they are not the Holt Allen blocks the rest of us have. Also, the cunningham cleat is a bit far foreward because there is a deck access plate at the front end of the daggerboard trunk. Whether this is from a repair or something the original builders did is unknown.

But if this were one of the two prototypes, what was it doing in a 1972 boat show? And there would be no reason whatsoever for a Laser in the 1972 show not having a standard two-piece tubular spar. Furthermore, Ian Bruce notes “NO boat built by me, prototype or otherwise, EVER had a tapered mast. All the prototypes were two-piece masts and differed only in diameter and wall thickness.” He concludes based on the construction and rigging differences noted that “that boat has been ‘doctored'”.

Could this hull be an early, unnumbered demo boat built to show to dealers? In fact, Ian Bruce remembers that there was a tangerine demo boat (and tangerine is close enough to red). The demo was done in December 1970 in Rowayton to show the design to Bill Hargess from Barnegat Bay, the first Laser dealer. Ian does not recall what was done with that demo boat after that. Nevertheless, that boat could not have been the boat Price picked up in Canada following the boat show, either! Why not? Ian Bruce finds a clue in that Rowayton was where the One Design Yachtsman magazine edited by Kirby was situated. The boat was used that day also to shoot the first photos for the first printed Laser ad in the magazine. And Kirby has confirmed Bruces’s theory to drLaser: That tangerine boat was the original #100. It was left that day with Kirby in Rowayton.

So, the source of Jim Price’s unnumbered “doctored” Canadian hull remained questionable… Untill John Bertrand’s name was mentioned to Ian Bruce on March 11, 2004. Bruce wrote to drLaser“Yes, it was picked up by John Bertrand (the Australian America’s Cup skipper) at the Dorval location in the aforementioned snow storm. I did the tying on the roof with him.” Ian Bruce confirms that this was the first Laser sold out of the first (Dorval) Montreal facility, and certainly among the first 5 Lasers ever built (including the two prototypes and Kirby’s #100). Not too far from the Price claim that it was “the second real Laser ever produced.” Ian adds: “It could well have been without a number tape at that early stage as it was built even before we went to the NY Show, but it would have had its sailing number recorded.” So the story of “Radish” is now validated… (Number 99 is probably #101.)

An undisputable oldie

Eric Robbins claims that Ward Bell, the retired ILCA-NA District 8 secretary on Long Island very proudly owned a dark green “pre-production boat, Laser #1“, and never parted with it. However, ILCA-NA’s Fred Schroth reports that Ward is actually the owner of Laser #102, not #1! ILCA-NA published a copy of Ward’s original purchase receipt in the Winter 2000 issue of The Laser Sailor magazine. Hence, Ward Bell’s hull is probably really #102, one of the 25 or so hulls produced at the first (Dorval, QC) factory. (See the sidebar “Point-Claire Facilities” below.)

This means that #102 should be the third Laser ever produced, the first being Bruce Kirby’s #100, and the second probably being the hull Bruce Kirby and Ian Bruce note had been sold to Jim Miller at the NY Boat Show. However, Bam Miller, Jim’s second son, wrote to drLaser (exactly):

I know the boat you are referring to, by story only, as I was 5 or 6 when Dad bought and sold it. As the story goes, he took one look, and had to have it. I think he was actually the first laser dealer as well, but I think the boat you are thinking of was actually hull #2, but it was considered the first production Laser. I know that somewhere on the Internet exists a picture of the invoice to Ward Bell, the first retail customer for the laser…

So, is Bam saying his Dad sold the British Racing Green boat to Ward Bell? Is Jim Miller’s boat one and the same as Ward Bell’s boat?

To solve this puzzle, we contacted Bam Miller. Bam noted “My father did buy a boat the NY boat show, that was considered to be the first production Laser for sale, and he did sail it for a season, and he did sell it to Ward Bell. This is as I remember it.” The story is backed up by Beegie Miller, Bam’s mother. (Beegie and Jim started the “Oyster Bay Boat Shop” in 1968 together.) Years later, Jim did regret selling such a piece of history. (We are expecting the Millers to submit the full story.)

So, if Kirby has #100, and Miller and Bell both owned #102, then is #101 really the arbitrarily numbered as #99?

Some Disputable Oldies

Keeping track of where the initial hulls were produced is rather problemmatic today, because the original builder (Performance Sailcraft, Canada) had a series of capacity expansions and plant moves within a short period of time. Confusion was rampant, to the extent that until March 2004, even this website was identifying two separate Canada plants, first in Montreal and the second in Pointe-Claire, while in fact there were four Qu�bec production locations during these early years, none really in Montreal proper. (See sidebar below.) Furthermore, as the Qu�bec builder could not supply Lasers to the West Coast, a separate builder was building hulls in California. In addition, the Hull Identification Number (HIN) system that was in use at the California facility is not definitively known today.

Pointe-Claire Facilities

Based on reports on the NA Laser Mailing List and the info published on Dr. Neil Berman’s “FAQ” (now a part of drLaser‘s FAQ), we were under the impression that Performance Sailcraft produced Lasers in a Montreal, Qu�bec plant (with builder identifiaction PFS in the HIN) during 1971-1974, and in a Pointe-Claire, Qu�bec (with builder identifiaction ZFS) during 1974-1975. (See “How do I determine my sail number and boat year?” in this FAQ.)In March 2004, we were able to dig out the following information from Ian Bruce, the original Laser Builder: there were five “Pointe-Claire plants”, equivalently commonly referred to as the “Montreal plants”:

Montreal vicinity Laser facilities
Click on map to see closeup of Dorval & Pointe-Claire locations.

The first 25 or so hulls were built in a Dorval plant in 1971 (green star in map above). Then, the plant was moved to Bancroft Avenue in Pointe-Claire a mile away. In 1971, there were about 675 more hulls manufactured here. Then in 1972, the plant was expanded to another facility on Hymus Avenue, Pointe-Claire a quarter of a mile away, and then expanded to Delmar Street 200 yards away in 1975. This was followed by a move to Hawkesbury, Ontario 100 miles away in 1983. This is the facility which continued until the financial crash of October 1987 when the operation was put into Receivership by the bank and picked up by Pearson Yachts.

Pointe-Claire sticker on Laser #94Same “Pointe-Claire, Canada” stickers (shown to right), same labour crew, same management, same shop practices were used in the Bancroft, Hymus and Delmar facilities. So, trying to sort out the differences in boats from these three locations is futile. In the Hawkesbury plant, the same staff and shop management personnel but a completely new labour force (which was trained from scratch) were used, along with a “Hawkesbury” sticker (as far as Ian Bruce can remember). The Hawkesbury boats have been considered by the “experts” to be very good boats.

The lack of clarity in the numbering system used casts doubts on the origin and vintage of some hulls manufactured right after the 1971 Boat Show.

David Dowrie notes that he bought in 2003 an old light blue Laser, with a faintly etched #63 under the bow eye. The previous owner was Annie Armstrong from Foster City, CA (formerly from Toronto area, where she had bought the boat from a friend). The hull had a “Performance Sailcraft, Pointe-Claire” sticker. But David later found out that the hull numbers had to be greater than 100. So, he wanted to double check…
Bow of Laser #63
Dowrie’s hul, with bow eye removed.

David contacted Ian Bruce of Performance Sailcraft in 2003. Without access to the photographic evidence we have now, Ian Bruce initially thought part of the hull number might have remained under the boweye fitting. (In very early Laser manufacturing, before they started putting drilling marks in the mould for the boweye fitting screws, the gelcoat sprayer was placing the hull number tape on the mould by eye. There have been several instances of one part, or all, of the number being hidden under the bow eye. One could ascertain the correct number only upon removal of the boweye.)

Upon being informed that the number was just “63”, Ian disclosed that a handful of 1971 boats in fact had hull numbers specified by the buyers! Some buyers had special attachments to specific numbers, which may have been the numbers of boats that they had previously owned. But Ian remembers that all such custom hull numbers were larger than 100, one being #141. [Number 141 was (now ISAF President) Paul Henderson’s boat. His brother, who passed away when Paul was in his early twenties had the International Fourteen No 141. In fact, Paul’s present email address actually has this number in it! Ed.].

On the other hand, Bruce Kirby alludes to a possible explanation of hull numbers lower than 100! Kirby noted to drLaser that after the boat went into production, “there were a few hulls made that did not come up to the standard Ian had set for himself. The problems were cosmetic. These boats were given numbers below 100 and were sold off as seconds.” It is possible that Dowrie’s #63 is one of those hulls.

However, Ian Bruce remembers that all Pointe-Claire hull numbers were always moulded in the gellcoat and never etched! (See sidebar titled “Laser Hull Number De-bossing” below.)

#63 is #23030NEW: After the publication of this article, Dowrie sent the image to the right along with his apologies! The hull is clearly numbered on the transom with the serial number ZFS230300175 above the lower gudgeon. We merely have Laser Sail Number 23030 here, manufactured in January 1975 at the Pointe-Claire plant!
Bow of Laser #94Similarly, Brad Wagner owns a tangerine Laser with #94 under the bow eye. This time, the hull number appears to be moulded (see photo). Like #63, it also has a “Pointe-Claire” sticker (the one pictured in sidebar “Pointe-Claire Facilities” above). The boat also has what looks like a dealer sticker – Bay O’Plenty, Brandywine Raod, Green Hills, Nashville.

Altough Brad reports that the Vanguard reps he saw at “Strictly Sail Chicago” identified her as “indeed #94 but with 90% confidence”, the mistery of why it appears to be numbered “94” under the bow eye can again only be explained by Kirby’s statement that a handfull of hulls with “cosmetic defects” may have been numbered lower than 100.

The real interesting issue about hull #94, however, is the way the number “94” appears in the photo to be embossed athwartships under the bow eye. “Embossing” is raised letters on an object, and “de-bossing” is depressed (or indented) letters on an object. All early Canadian Laser hull numbers were de-bossed, and in a fore-and-aft direction under the bow eye! So, the hull number “94” is “intriguing”, to say the least. We have confirmed that such numbering could not be done in any of the Montreal/Pointe-Claire facilities. (See sidebar below for an explanation of Laser hull number de-bossing techniques, as explained by Ian Bruce.)

To triple check, Brad Wagner was asked to make sure the photographic evidence was being interpreted correctly and to make sure no other numbers appeared on the hull. Brad reported that upon a closer examination: 1) the number appears to be not embossed but “hand etched into the gelcoat using some sort of rotary cutting tool”, and 2) in the center of the transom, near the gudgeons, you can read the serial number ZFS333180276. So, Wagner’s #94 hull is actually manufactured in 1976 and corresponds to sail number 33318. This conforms to the data drLaser has about the hulls manufactured during 1975 and 1976.

Laser Hull Number
De-bossing

In all the Point-Claire manufacturing facilities, all the hull numbering was done on “Dymo tapes”. A tape strip with the (raised) digits was affixed to a female deck mould in the fore and aft direction. There is no evidence of the tape rectangle in the No. 94’s boweye photo (it would be recessed into the deck), the numbering is athwartships, and the lettering is not from a Dymo. Ian Bruce notes “The answer is, I simply do not know, and I have never seen a numbering system like that.”That said, if you stop to figure it out and think in terms of reversals from a mould to a part, the hull number “94” is raised, but there is no evidence of it being on a tape, which, as mentioned above, would show as an indent all around the number.

Ian offers the following explanation of the embossed hull numbers: “This would seem to indicate that the number was either engraved intothe mould (pretty unlikely), or that someone had a tool that could produce a reverse-embossed number onto a carrier tape (like our tool did), filled the area under the bow fitting with gelcoat, and impressed the carrier down into the gelcoat, removed the carrier after the gelcoat had cured, and sanded out any telltale edge that might have remained. I don’t know how else it could have been done.”

Bow of Laser #95Similarly, Michael Klybor in Annapolis, MD, notes he bought in 1995 an early Laser, #95. Under the bow eye, a “95” is faintly embossed athwartships, as far as Michael can read it. Klybor thinks it was manufactured in 1972. The deck and the hull were painted by the previous owner, but Michael, who stripped / refinished the hull a few years ago as part of repair, thinks the original gelcoat was some kind of cream color or yellow. There are no other identifying marks or builder’s sticker on the hull.

As noted above, since Ian Bruce indicates that “embossing” was never used in any of the Performance Sailcraft factories in Canada to mark the hull numbers, this hull may have been manufactured elsewhere. In fact, Michael notes that as far as he knows, the hull was built in Europe. He bought it from the original owner, an Irish sailor who purchased it in Ireland, and subsequently moved to St. Louis, and then to Warrenville (Chicago area) where Michael bought it.

Although the on-line Lasering community thought no Lasers were produced in Europe that early, when inquired, Ian Bruce confirmed to drLaser that manufacturing started at the Performance Sailcraft Europe plant in Banbury, UK plant in late 1971/early 1972. He notes “They would almost certainly have been selling boats to Ireland.” (The largest Laser plant was opened in Ireland to handle all of Europe in 1974.)

So, yes, there is a numbering problem with #95, but it is unlikely that this is the fault of a Montreal plant. In summary, the #99 has a definite origin and is probably #101, #95 has a likely origin, #94 is in reality a 1976 boat, and #63 is in reality a 1975 boat. Kirby suggests the possibility that hulls with numbers less than 100 under the bow eye may be cosmetically defective Pointe-Claire hulls that were sold as “secondhand” boats. Fred Schroth suggests that these nuimbers may in fact represent mold numbers! Finally, for the #95 hull, the only other possibilty is that she was manufactured at the West Coast plant in California without adhering to the principle of numbering the hulls starting with Kirby’s #100.

If the “seconds” theory were true, one could speculate that the numbering of the defects was in descending order, starting from #99. That is, #63 must have been the 37th “unacceptable” unit. However, Ian Bruce insists:

“I can assure you that there were not 37 DEFECTIVE Lasers built. If there were 3 or 4 in any one year, that would be the maximum. And THEY WERE CUT UP ON MY INSTRUCTIONS and put in the trash!”

Ian Bruce actually confirms that some boats with cosmetic defects and weight problems were sold as “Seconds”, but all these hulls were numbered in the normal fashion (i.e., by de-bossing using Dymo tapes) because, Ian Bruce notes, the numbering took place before the gelcoat was even sprayed, and the problems would become apparent only later in the finishing.

The correct hull numbers lately “discovered” on the transoms of #63 and #94 support Bruce’s statement.

To check the alternative that #65 hull was manufactured at the West Coast plant in California , drLaser has contacted Don Trask, the California builder who produced about 11,000 Lasers between 1971 and 1981 (with the builder designation “PSL”). Don notes that his company, called “Performance Sailcraft Corporation” built 365 Lasers in 1971. But we did not receive any replies to our inquiries about the hull numbering system used. We similarly did not receive any response from Performance Sailcraft Europe regarding the early numbering procedures used in the Banbury, UK plant.

Undisputed Contenders

Following Ward Bell with his #102 in the list of owners of undisputably old Laser, Jay Buhgenhagen from Annapolis, MD (actally a friend of the owner of #95) owns hull #130. The “130” is stamped clearly under the bow eye. John Aras was the original owner.

As for Paul Henderson’s custom numbered #141, Henderson notes he sold it to David Yule, the President of the Canadian Yachting Association during 1977-1978. He still sails her in Algonquin Park!

In a private letter to drLaser, Barry Wolinsky notes that he owns Laser #255, “original and unmodified except for a replacement traveller after the original one frayed and broke in 1980 and a quick-release outhaul snap hook.” #255 remains a boat in very nice condition (photo to right), with the grabrails, centerboard and rudder periodically varnished. The mustard-colored hull has never leaked and the deck has remained firm. Her original sail is in excellent condition and has no window.

A poster to the NA Mailing List list, David Barr, claimed in 2000 and re-confirmed in 2003 that he owns two 1971 boats – #317 (light green) and #325(dark green or “British Racing Green”) built in the “Montreal factory”. In his initial report, Barr notes they were built in the summer of 1971, but his second report notes more precisely that the boats were manufactured in Spring 1971 and his wife picked them up at the “factory in Montreal” around the end of May. David had asked that the two boats – one for him, one for his wife – have consecutive numbers. As he remembers it in 2003, Laser #318 was British racing green and was supposed to be his boat, However, Quality Assurance picked up some defect that needed to be corrected, and the correction was not completed when his wife arrived at the factory. So, she was given #325, the next British Racing Green hull in the production stream.

#317 is currently in a barn at Southdean Farm, south of Ottawa, half way between Ottawa and the St. Lawrence River. #325 is at Barr’s cottage, at Sturgeon Point, on Sturgeon Lake, approx. 100 miles NE of Toronto.

Among memories of once owned slightly newer hulls, Tim Prince reports his first Laser was #645, one of the British Racing Green boats built later in 1971, with “great soft spots each side of the mast”, a stiff mast and strong weather helm. Similarly, Jan O’Malley reports that their first Laser was purchased in September 1971 and was #718. Her husband sailed it in the US Laser Nationals at Surf City Yacht Club in 1972. They still have the original sail and wooden centerboard! The current owners of hulls #645 and #718 are unknown.

The oldest Laser NOT afloat?

Well, on the slightly humourous side, there are also stories of old Lasers used in backyards as flower pots! But there are also land-locked “Laser wannabees”, like the training hull at the Jericho Sailing Club, Vancouver, BC shown here (courtesy Pierre Helias). Helias notes “It is the original Laser prototype!” 😉

© Shevy Gunter