When I started Lasering... some time during Reagan's first term when Abba and Kenny Rogers were still cool... going downwind in a Laser was pretty simple. Just point the boat at the leeward mark and try not to death roll.
In the intervening years, all sorts of discoveries have been made on how to sail a Laser faster downwind. Now it's all about sailing fast angles by the lee and and on broad reaches, carving, up-turns and down-turns, treating the Laser more like a surfboard than a boat.
For many years I sailed downwind with my weight on my butt and my knees. I had my back leg jammed across the back of the cockpit and my front knee on the floor of the cockpit. I felt linked to the boat. My center of gravity was low. I felt stable.
But "stable" is not necessarily the same as "fast."
Coaches started trying to persuade me to adopt the Knees Up sailing style downwind.
So I spent several years trying to learn to sail downwind with my knees up and my feet on the floor of the cockpit. It felt very strange at first but I am pretty comfortable with it now... except when it blows over 20 knots and then I cower in the bottom of the cockpit just like I used to in the old days.
But most of the time I sail with my knees up and my weight on my butt and my feet. Maybe 90% on the former and 10% on the latter.
But recently I came across this article by Andrew Campbell on the Laser Class website.
Apparently it's been there since 2007.
How did I miss it until now?
Apparently I'm still doing it all wrong.
One of the sections in the article is entitled "Get off your butt."
Next step to better downwind sailing is to use your legs.
“What!?!” You may be asking yourself.
No joke, and I hate to break it to you, but you may start feeling the burn in your legs on the downwind legs now too. And, it is for the better. By concentrating the majority of our body weight in about eight knots or more onto the balls of our feet instead of our butts on the rail we can drastically improve the kinetic power of the boat. Taking the weight off the rail under your butt and putting it into the floor under your feet can make a significant difference in how you feel your boat’s natural rock and turn in the waves and water.
In lighter wind conditions in may indeed be necessary to hook your leg under the hiking strap in order to heel the boat over. That is fine, but in breeze where the boat will heel itself over just on by-the-lee pressure on the mainsail, it then becomes necessary to actively counter that energy with pressure from your toes and legs into the bottom of the cockpit, and maybe a hand on the leeward rail at times.
Finn sailors and Laser sailors alike have the same conundrum, and I heard this concept from a Finn sailor, and did not even realize that I was doing it. Whenever you feel as though you are getting slow, often times it coincides with a moment of sloth in your body’s activity level. If we shift the weight off of our rear-ends and into our feet we can then sail deeper and with more pressure against our sails.
This is seriously bad news.
It's bad enough working like hell upwind until your thigh muscles are on fire and the pain becomes intolerable. But at least I can give my legs a rest downwind. Or I thought I could. Now Andrew Campbell says you should "start feeling the burn in your legs on the downwind legs now too." He says I have to put my weight on the balls of my feet.
Damn you, Andrew Campbell.
Now I am going to have to spend another two or three years trying to perfect this technique so that in 2016 or so I will be sailing my Laser according to the most advanced techniques known in 2007.
But god knows what new tortures the fast kids will have discovered by then.
I think I will go and work out on my hiking bench now.