I would think you could put the best 16 sailor on an old clapped out boat and he would still smoke everyone?
Not quite. Even Enrique Figueroa wouldn't be able to take a 1977 boat and make it compete on a level with a boat that's less than 10 years old.
Here's what you've got going against you:
- the boat is heavier by at least 20 lbs (and probably a lot more)
- you need EPO or equivalent rudders
- 36 year old sails vs. 10 year old sails
- you can't possibly match the mast rake without spending thousands (new jib / jib sheet system, upgraded mast step, new rear crossbar w/integrated track, new mainsheet system - the list goes on).
You could spend thousands of dollars on "perfume" and underneath it's still a 1977 boat.
If you're going to spend money on a boat that old, spend it on things that make it work better - new lines that move through the blocks smoothly, rudder cams that work reliably and don't have slop, no slop in the rudder system, etc.
Then go out and sail it into the ground. Learn how to tack in 10 seconds or less. Learn how to judge laylines. Learn how to work waves downwind. Learn how to make the boat stay in one spot for a minute, then be able to accelerate out in 5 seconds (starting drill). Learn how to jibe without losing much speed and without the main crashing over to the other side.
Develop a feel for the wind so you can detect wind shifts with your eyes closed. Learn how to read puffs on the water.
Go to regattas and ask for help. Most old farts (like myself) are more than willing to help get the kids up to speed. When you go to regattas, you'll also get hooked into the unadvertised boat sales - most top sailors get new boats every three or four years, so you can pick up a nearly new boat for a great price.
I started racing when I was jpedsailing's age. I brought two of my friends because we were so light. It's a great age to get involved.