What's Cool about the New Z420?

 Photo courtesy of LaserPerformance

For those of you who saw the Z420 article in our December issue and want to learn more about these awesome new dinghies, you’ve come to the right place! We have a bit more information we’d love to share with sailors curious about technical changes. We also have some interesting input from coaches and LaserPerformance on how college sailing may change in the future.

In the print article, we discussed how the hulls have been made lighter after years of complaints regarding the “clunkiness” of collegiate 420s. Now, the fiberglass comprising the hulls are infused with soric and other chemicals to help regulate the weight as well as strengthening the boats. Several other changes, such as the enclosed foretank, the inboard jib leads, and the added molded keelson all add strength to the design. Vang controls now have strength of 6:1, an increase from the previous 3:1, and controls lead to the sidetanks.  This allows not only the crew to be able to adjust the vang without leaning in and negatively affecting the weight placement in the boat, it gives the skipper control of vang tension as well while racing.

 Photo courtesy of LaserPerformance

After tests of the new design, notes about the experience of sailing these different boats have been made. One of the positives for crews is that the centerboard trunk (oftentimes used for stability and leverage for crew’s feet while rolling in light wind in a 420) no longer flexes. This added stability could lead to surer footing and some extremely powerful roll tacks. Skipper Rebecca Dellenbaugh, who is a graduate All-American skipper from Dartmouth and the current PR executive for LaserPerformance, says that she also uses the part where the structural rib fits into the centerboard trunk to roll the boat when tacking. Another change that crews may have to adjust to is the role of weather sheet due to the inboard jib leads. While weather sheet is a must for 420s in many conditions, the Z420 jib lead placement may entail less use of weather sheets because the jib will be angled differently. Time will need to be taken to assess effective use of windward sheet when dealing with a boat that has the potential to point higher, as the Z420 does.

The Z420 is undoubtedly faster, sleeker, and stronger, but many coaches have begun to speculate about how this will change the game of racing.  The new design cuts through the water and planes easily in breeze that wouldn’t have a crew full hike in previous designs. Responding more easily to puffs and gaining speed more quickly out of tacks could means that riding out bad breeze may not be as effective as before, and with more ability to tune precisely, there are many new tactics to think about out on the course. Dellengbaugh says, “I can see some new strategies begin to open up because there are so many more angles to sail on now.”

Adam Werblow, head coach of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, is excited to see how the Z420 transforms college sailing.  “We could see more variety in the race courses used,” Werblow explains, mentioning that the ease the boat has planing on a reach could affect tactics around marks. Of course, the most exciting test of the Z420 design will be at college nationals held at St. Mary’s during late May to early June on the St. Mary’s River, where athletes will compete for the Women’s, Co-ed, and Team Race national title in a new fleet of Z420s.

~Rachel Ryan, SMC sailing team