Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How to Roll Tack a Laser

You must be joking. You are reading my blog to learn how to roll tack a Laser? You can't be serious.

Anyone who has ever seen me sail knows that my roll tacks are crap. When I try to do a roll tack it either comes out as a rather pathetic wafting around that only serves to make the boat move even more slowly than it already was, or else as a totally uncontrolled near capsize followed by a desperate rapid flattening of the boat that frightens all the waterfowl within a three mile radius.

I am never able to tack like all those incredibly annoying kids who effortlessly perform controlled, graceful, smooth roll tacks that turn the boat efficiently and propel it speedily on to the new tack.

Well, I may not be able to perform killer roll tacks. But I know a man who can. Or rather I own a DVD by a man who can. Steve Cockerill's Boat Whisperer DVDs include some excellent advice on roll tacks supported by some superb video on how the master does it. I have been studying the DVD to try and work out what is wrong with my own technique and how to change it. I have been trying to break down the tack into its individual elements so I can reconstruct my own tacks. So here is my synopsis of how to tack like the Rooster...

Disclaimer: As I wrote before passing on Dave Dellenbaugh's Top Ten Tactical Tips, if the following doesn't make sense to you or you disagree with it, blame me, not Steve. Hey - it's OK to disagree. I like a good argument. Flame me in the comments if you like.

Shoot. Steve's first tip is to start the tack by "cheating the wind" or shooting into the wind. His point is that your aim is not to complete the tack as quickly as possible but to gain as much distance to windward as you can. He has a lot of gobbledygook on the video about the square root of two which will probably go over the heads of folk who have forgotten Pythagoras's Theorem. But the idea is to use your speed to gain distance towards the breeze without slowing down. The shoot is achieved with gradual gentle use of the rudder and continues until the sail starts to back. At the same your weight should be moved towards the centerline of the boat. Note there is no mention of a heel to leeward before the tack which many sailors do use.

Roll. As the sail starts to back, move your body weight by pushing with your feet against the cockpit wall and moving your butt to the edge of the deck. Steve has a long explanation about how this is using the angular momentum of your body to help the boat rotate to the new tack more quickly. The boat is moving in a circle around a vertical axis as it tacks and when you move your body backwards you are moving your weight towards the center of the circle. This is analogous to an ice dancer spinning with her arms out and then pulling her arms in when she wants to spin more quickly.

I have to confess that although I understand the physics of this argument, it doesn't feel to me that this body movement to roll the boat is actually making the boat spin more quickly to the new tack because of this angular momentum effect. Am I alone in this feeling or do you get that sensation when you tack?

Another way that Steve describes this part of the move is to say that it's not so much a matter of sitting on the side deck as that it should feel like you are pulling the boat towards yourself.

Stand up. Once the roll is complete, you should stand up through the gap between the boom and the deck.

Ease. At this point you should ease the sheet a tad so that when you flatten the boat the sail doesn't stall. Steve emphasizes that you shouldn't ease too soon as keeping the sail sheeted in helps the boat to turn.

Flatten. Roll the boat flat and sheet in as the boat gains speed.

I haven't mentioned what is happening with the tiller, the rudder and your hands through all this as I am assuming that this part of the technique is understood. When I studied this video in detail and then went out on the water and tried to emulate Steve, I realized that my technique was wrong in several areas. I was starting the first roll too soon, I was easing the sheet too early, and the way I moved my body across the boat in the middle of the tack was totally wrong. It took me a few practice sessions back in August to correct these errors, and things got a lot worse before they got better. But that's why it's important to practice; you're never going to fix errors like this in the middle of a race. I still have more work to do, but thanks to the Rooster I'm making good progress.

What is your technique to roll tack a dinghy? Do you do it in a different way from what Steve recommends? All input, advice, disagreements and insults gratefully received.


Mama Duck said...

Learn something new every day, I do ;). Our how-to is up as well if you'd like to check it out!!

Matt said...

Never heard of it! thanks for the information! Nice contribution to the Group Writing Project. My How To is up also.

Wavedancer said...

Rules 42.3 (a) and (b) apply. But do they get 'enforced' at high-level events? Personally, I find 42.3 (b) virtually useless since one cannot know the speed in the "absence of the tack" unless the result is very obvious (e.g., almost no wind and no speed prior to the tack, but a sudden burst after the roll tack). I imagine I would loose a protest if I were to call another sailor based on 42.3 (b) since it would be a situation of what I said versus what the protestee said.

Any thoughts?

Tillerman said...

I've written about rule 42 previously on the blog. I think you are right wavedancer, it is extremely rare to see a sailor protested for one roll tack that is "too good". Although breaches of 42.2(e) repeated tacks or gybes unrelated to changes in wind or to tactical considerations are easier to spot, and I am proud to say I have served on a protest committee that DSQ'd a sailor fo a breach of this rule.

Having said that, there was one very well known sailor who was yellow-flagged by the judges at the Laser Masters US Nationals in Annapolis last year for a tack into a hole on the start line in light air. I understand that 42.3(b) was the issue. The guy was so shocked he went home after the incident!

Anonymous said...

ive only been sailing a laser radial for like 3 weeks but my instructor tells me to yank on the hiking strap wich basically replaces the kicking off the cockpit. by the way just so you dont feel alone i turtle the boat all the time trying to roll tack. Any advice for what to do with the tiller. mine is long and i always end up sitting on it or having to drop it and swich hands one time it even got sucked under the boat (wich was pretty scary i was stuck doing circles cus the main sheet was stuck too!) i appreciate your help :) wish you luck in sailing your laser

Tillerman said...

Welcome anonymous Laser Radial Sailor. The answer to your question as to what to do with the tiller is "hang on to it". Keep it in the same hand until after you have tacked and are in the hiking strap. Then swap sheet and tiller hands by taking the sheet hand back to the tiller. You should be holding sheet and tiller at all times throughout the tack.

Anonymous said...

thanks! i tryed it today and i did much better.

laser radial 178832 said...

hey tillerman i made a blog now id love for you to check it out im the Anonymous poster. i have another question do you race commpedatively in reggatas?

Anonymous said...

all these tips are good. There has been much debate as to whether to heel the boat to leeward going into the tack, but my opinion is that it is not fast unless tacking from a reach. First, the rudder works most efficiently when the boat is flat. Second, thrashing your rig back and forth through the air, and your daggerboard through the water, is not actually fast. Big, steady sweeps are fast; abrupt, short movements create turbulence around the sails.

Another note is that most people don't sheet out enough when they flatten in the light stuff. Watch your sail when you flatten; if your sail never luffs while you flatten, you are probably overtrimmed often. Find out how far you must sheet out to make your sail barely luff while you flatten, or use telltales up and down your luff to make sure you aren't stalling your sail.

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