Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Three Ways to Sail a Laser Downwind

Last weekend I was observing the different techniques that the top sailors in our Laser fleet used on a run. The winds were mainly around 5 to 10 knots with smallish waves, not big enough for major surfing but certainly pronounced enough that some gains could be made by using the waves.

Sailor A. Sitting well forward with one knee alongside the centerboard, locked in to the boat. No body movement or steering. Outhaul released so that he had a baggy sail. Boom slightly in front of 90 degrees to centerline of boat. But here's why this guy was going fast and what singled him out from all the boats around him. The leech of his sail was pumping rhythmically every time a tiny wave rocked his boat. He wasn't causing these leech flicks with any conscious movement of his body but they were sure helping him to keep the boat moving fast. You have to get the vang released just the right amount to make this happen. Too tight and the leech won't pump. Too loose and the leech will just be floppy. Totally legal and totally fast.

Sailor B. This guy clearly believed that the way to gain maximum advantage from the waves was to carve big turns up and down across the course to catch the best waves and/or steer through gaps in the waves. He would heel to leeward and trim in aggressively to head up; then flatten the boat; then only a few seconds later he would heel the boat to windward and bear away sharply and release all the sheet he had trimmed in. There was some rudder movement but most of the steering was done by the heeling and trimming. Legal? Probably -- if he had good reasons for all of his radical changes of course then he was certainly entitled to heel and trim to steer the boat.

Sailor C. This guy was sitting in the boat sideways in a knees-up position, not locked in next to the centerboard like Sailor A. He wasn't making major changes in direction like Sailor B but he was rocking a lot. His upper body was moving in and out, and the rig was rocking in response too each of these movements. Occasionally he would even lift his butt off the deck to initiate a major roll to leeward and then sit down again to roll the boat back to windward. There was some discussion on our mark boat as to whether this guy was pushing beyond the limits of Rule 42; my two fellow Laser sailors on RC duty felt that his technique was perfectly legal if he was using it to work the waves. Hmmm -- I wasn't so sure.

So which technique worked best? Search me. Sailors A and C were leading or tied for the lead when I was watching them, and Sailor B is one of the most successful sailors in the fleet over the season. I guess all of these methods will work better or worse depending on wind and wave conditions on any given day. Though I might be cautious about using Sailor C's technique at a regatta where there were on-the-water judges enforcing Rule 42.

Any comments?

10 comments:

Litoralis said...

In light to medium breeze, I like Sailor A's technique. I find that any excess body movement in that breeze tends to slow me down too much, no matter how much it seems like it should help.

Derek said...

Thanks Tillerman!

In light to medium conditions my experience and technique is very similar to Litoralis.

However, I think B's technique probably has the most potential but takes an enormous amount of practice and skill to be effective. For the average sailor, those radical changes in direction result in a net loss over the entire leg because of excess steering and improper coordination of the rudder, sheet and body.

My guess is that a combination of techniques may actually be ideal. You probably want to be able to shift gears/techniques depending on the size of the waves and wind strength down the leg. It may actually be the case that B was incorporating A and C's technique between and during the turns.

Without having personally seen the actions C took, it is difficult to comment on the legality, but it definitely sounds suspect.

f r a n k i e said...

Re. your slogan "Cheat the nursing home. Die on your LASER"... it prompted me to write the story of an 80 year old skipper I sailed with in the Pacific...

Tillerman said...

Yes, frankie I saw that post. I'm not an ocean voyager but that guy's attitude is exactly what I mean.

ab said...

I like the sound of Sailor A's technique in 5 knots, but in 10 knots or more I'd have my money on Sailor B. The trick is knowing when to transition from the first technique to the second. Body weight, wind speed, waves all contribute.

Sailor C's technique definitely sounds dodgy. As soon as the upper body is moving, watch out.

Manuel R. said...

As the conditions were so light I would bet in sailor A's technique. The other ones just move around too much and all those variations tend to delay the boat. Even if u can trim the wave like B, the rudder movement is so big that you will lose alot thanks to the high friction that is caused. Keeping the gravity center in the middle of the boat will also increase the surffing and the leech flicks.

I was having some difficulties in keeping up with light wind, so I hope this will help me.

Ariel said...

I think sailorA would have the best technique since its best not to rock the boat in light wind lest you lose the little breeze. But who knows exactly how mouch one should loosen the vang since its so freakin sensitive in strong wind?

Anyway i'm more like sailorB seeing as i'm always very impatient and always trying to gain a lead by carving the waves

Lindy said...

I'm just learning to steer with the hull and not with the rudder, Sailed this weekend at Seabrook and some of our youngster guests stated I was rocking. All I was doing was trying to steer the boat with the hull. Mind you I'm new at this and getting the hang of it is taking a little time but it sure is faster. Wind was flukey and shifty with small waves. I'm afraid rule 42 would have prevented me from steering this way.

Anonymous said...

heike
I AM HAPPY TO READ ALL THIS COMMENTS. I AM QUITE FRUSTRATED AS I AM A LATE STARTER AND NOW AFTER 10 YEARS OF PRACTICE NEW COMMERS - PbUT WITH SAILING PARENTS -SAIL FASTER THAN ME - HOW BAD IS THAT.
BUT HAY - TILL 80 I STILL HAVE 30 YEARS TO GO....

Anonymous said...

boat A has a good light wind technique but in anything over about ten knots (about when you should be loosening off your toestrap) sailor B has a much better technique, if you look at all the top laser sailors going downwind they all take large S shaped courses this is to find larger waves and to sail in the gaps between waves to prevent hitting the wave and stalling.

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