With over 60 boats on the startline the Laser SB3 fleet with its VW Touareg connections is one of the biggest sponsorship success stories here at Skandia Cowes Week

Last year the SB3 class produced an impressive 30-boat entry and although they did have their own fleet they raced with the 1720s.

This year’s entry however, has exceeded all expectations with over 100 per cent increase making a total of 68 boats – the second largest fleet (the X One-Designs beat them with 90 boats). As well as being the official vehicle sponsor of Skandia Cowes Week, VW Touareg has played a large part in the growth of the class. The benefits of the sponsorship deal filter all the way through the SB3 fleet. Commenting on Touareg support, Jerry Hill – class committee member in charge of event organisation – said: “They [Touareg] sponsored three or four of us last year and gave us each a spinnaker. But on the Wednesday of Skandia Cowes Week last year on a perfect sailing day, the commercial director of VW who’d been watching the racing was chatting to Dave Graham [Managing Director of Laser] about what he thought about the fleet. Apparently he replied: ‘absolutely fantastic but next year I want them all to have VW spinnakers’. So that’s how it came about.”

This year with increased support, VW Touareg decided to produce 50 VW-branded spinnakers to give away with each entry together with Henri-Lloyd clothing and goodies. Little did they expect the entry would exceed 50 boats, which is why 18 boats racing here at Skandia Cowes Week (the late entries) don’t carry the sponsor’s branding. “The other thing that the sponsorship has provided,” added Hill, “is subsidised berthing at Shepherd’s Wharf to ensure we’re all based in the same place. We were very aware that it was important to ensure all competitors benefited from the deal. This I believe we’ve succeeded in.”

Throwing money at a class is not necessarily a way of guaranteeing success. Although The Laser SB3, which has now been around for three years, does have a major builder and sponsor promoting the class, ultimately it’s the boat itself that has to appeal. The design of the Laser SB3 (from the drawing board of Tony Castro) is effectively a development of the 1720 despite having a shorter waterline. Basically Castro’s taken a lot of the characteristics of the 1720 that needed improvement and come up with SB3. Hill continued: “Champion dinghy sailor Mark Rushall was also quite instrumental in the development of the design. It’s a bit lighter and more dynamic downwind – much more dinghy-like. I think one of the big benefits is only having three people. Although having said that some of the lighter crews sail four-up not exceeding the 270kg weight limit.”

Another appealing aspect over some of the larger keelboats is the handling ashore and ease of launching and rigging, it’s much more like a dinghy. You can launch off the slipway and avoid all the hassle and expense of relying on boatyards to launch and recover.

So popular is the fleet right now that even the second hand value is remaining stable at approximately £12,000/£13,000. Hill continued: “But if you’re looking at buying new, you need to budget at around £18/19,000, which includes all the safety gear ready to sail and even a trailer.”

Although still currently leading the fleet after day five Hill and his super-fast team of Tomo and Mark Richards aboard Team Touareg reckon they have a long way to go. “It’s a tough fleet and we had a very, very tricky race yesterday in that there was very little wind at the startline and a very strong tide sweeping everyone over. This caught out a lot of good people which is an advantage for us because they’ve now had a bad race to add to their overall ranking. We were leading at the last leeward mark but lost out to Southy [Ian Southworth] who took line honours with Spank the Monkey [Matt Johnston] in second. I think there’s only one point in it between us and Johnston so it’s still early days.”

The next major event on the Laser SB3 calendar, in three week’s time, is the class national championship in Torbay where 60 boats are expected to take part.