Thursday, March 26, 2009


So I thought I knew how to do a roll tack in a Laser. You just roll the boat to windward before the tack, cross the boat, and then flatten it after the tack to accelerate on the new tack. What could be easier? For years I was doing these sorta kinda OK roll tacks, throwing the body to windward to start the roll, and hoping everything else would follow.

However when I watched a true expert do a roll tack I sometimes suspected that my roll tacks weren't quite right but I never did figure out why. The first inkling of what was wrong came at the clinic in Cabarete a couple of years ago when coach Brett Davis talked to us about such radical (to us) ideas as maximizing distance to windward in the tack, keeping the sail drawing all the time, not doing a "pre-heel", and not forcing the boat to roll to heel to windward with an aggressive body movement. Brett's advice was simply to let the boat come up into the wind while maintaining your body in its normal upwind position, and then as the boat comes through head to wind just letting the roll happen naturally.

Points of clarification...
  • If Brett is reading this... sorry if I mis-stated what you said. Hey, it was two years ago and my memory isn't what it used to be.

  • I said "us" rather than "me" in the above paragraph because there was at least one Laser sailing god there who also found some of Brett's advice to be new information to him. Hey, I'm not the only old geezer Laser sailor who was never taught how to do a roll tack properly.
Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes, let the good times roll. No, that's not right. Let the roll happen; don't force it.

So I tried to change my roll tack approach. At the Sailfit clinic last year Kurt Taulbee reinforced the same points, along with some other tweaks to my roll tack technique which would only confuse this post if I tried to cover them too. Another day perhaps.

So what I discovered was that that this "just sit still and let the roll happen" worked fine above a certain wind speed. Once the wind caught the other side of the sail it induced the roll and Bob's Your Uncle. Is that an expression familiar to anyone outside the UK? Never mind. You get the point. (Actually Bob is my uncle. I had two Uncle Bobs in fact. Both deceased now.)

Where was I? Where am I ? Where is this post going?

Anyway, the problem I discovered with this "wait for it" roll tack method is that in very light winds the roll didn't happen. So then I ended crossing the boat with my hand pulling on the old leeward rail trying to induce a roll that I knew was too late and all wrong and it felt ugly but hey what the hell I have to make the boat heel somehow so that I can then flatten it and get some kind of acceleration on the new tack.

Are you still there? Does this make any sense?

Anyway, at the Sailfit clinic last week coach Kurt Taulbee spotted my problem and explained that if the boat isn't rolling then I need to do a "shoulder bump". A "what"? Kurt explained that a shoulder bump is a sharp backward (outboard) movement of the shoulders to induce the roll, after which of course you have to move your body across the boat in the opposite direction to which you just "bumped". Hmmm.

So I tried doing some "shoulder bumps". But Kurt explained I was doing them too early. I'm supposed to wait until the boat reaches head to wind and the sail is no longer drawing and then do a quick "bump" to pump the sail and induce the roll and then cross the boat.

Point of clarification: if Kurt is reading this... sorry if I mis-stated what you said. Hey, it was two weeks ago and my hearing isn't what it used to be.

Anyway, I tried. But the habits of 25 years are hard to break. The problem is that my brain knows that the boat will roll on top of me if there were only a couple more knots of wind so it's counter-intuitive to make it roll harder especially as I then have to move my aching old body back inboard in the opposite direction from the "shoulder bump".

But I'll get there. I will.

New objective for solo practice session this summer: master the shoulder bump.

Is this post more or less wonkish than Tuesday's?

Hello? Anybody there?


Derek said...

You said "a shoulder bump is a sharp backward movement of the shoulders". Is it a "backward movement" towards the stern of the boat, or a "backward movement" outboard?

Tillerman said...


O Docker said...

This post is less.

Wonkish, that is, than the post about how windward isn't windward and up is down and whatever that was all about.

Tacking is something I can relate to, although, for a long time, I thought a roll tack was some kind of sushi. I just know it doesn't work on a Catalina 30, no matter what I do with my shoulders.

The part about letting the boat find its own way through the tack seems to apply to all boats, though. Boats really don't like being ordered around by a helmsman. The less you mess with the steering, the happier they are.

Is the roll tack what was wrong with your upwind technique, or was that something else?

Tillerman said...


Something else, that is.

Andrew said...

My uncle is called Leslie.
What I find most interesting in your post is the idea of 'maximising distance to windward'. I'd never thought of a tack as an opportunity to do that - but maybe that's more interesting than roll tacking.
Something to think about on the water next Sunday. Thanks.

harrymvt said...

Here's one Yank who understands "Bob's Your Uncle" (and also has 2 Uncle Bobs). My generation can thank Monty Python, this generation can thank Guy Ritchie.

Litoralis said...

Some of the first things I got yelled at about when I started sailing in college was rolling the boat to leeward slightly before a tack (to help the boat turn, I thought) and for rolling to windward too early (must wait until the sail starts to back, apparently).

Tillerman said...

Yeah, I'm still not entirely clear why a slight "pre-heel" is frowned on by coaches. You would think it would help the boat to turn with less rudder and also make the windward roll more powerful. But Kurt was insistent on sailing the boat flat into the turn. We also practiced tacking with out using any force at all on the tiller which is easier than it sounds.

And my old style was also very much doing the windward roll too early. It makes sense to me that this is bad... partly because it counteracts the natural tendency of the boat to turn through the tack and partly because it is of much more benefit when the sail is starting to back.

Mal's Team Gherkin said...

At least you've got all summer to prefect it :)

jbushkey said...

Bob's your uncle has an interesting

Greg and Kris said...

I kinda follow this concept, which surprises me, since I'm sort of a dolt in the whole 'efficient sailing' realm. However, I've been playing around with standing in the cockpit of the h170 to ride out the boat wakes easier and in the process find myself shifting weight side-to-side to make my tacks. I lean on my windward foot as I turn the rudder, and then duck under the boom and shift my weight with it as it comes across.

I think I'm due for a sailing class.

Pat said...

Don't think the shoulder bump is going to get much respect from the Etchells, but there is the idea of sailing flat into the turn that might help.

Tweezerman said...

Not wonkish.

My failed attempt last year documented.

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