Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to Sail a Laser Downwind in Waves

When did all the Laser kids start zigging and zagging downwind in waves?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've known for ages that it isn't fast to sail a Laser dead downwind. You need to get some flow on the sail so sailing by the lee or on a very broad reach is faster than a dead run.

And of course it's good to catch rides on waves if you can.

So I usually set off down the run on a broad reach or sailing by the lee and then, if I get too far to one side, come back on the other angle.

But now all the fast sailors seem to be weaving up and down all the time. They talk about "up-turns" and "down-turns" and change direction every few seconds.

I guess it's faster because they are catching more rides on waves. Often it seems they are using a faster point of sail so they can accelerate and then turn down to catch a ride on a wave that they wouldn't otherwise be able to achieve.

It was a wonderful evening for Tuesday night racing in Bristol yesterday. Around 12 knots I would guess. (But then I'm not very good at knots.) There were four full rig Lasers and we usually arrived at the windward mark pretty close together. I was even in the lead in some races.

But then I was usually blown away downwind. The other three were faster than me. Was it because I was the fattest and heaviest? Maybe. Or perhaps they were just better at catching the waves?

Over dinner and a beer (or two) in Redlefsens afterwards there was much discussion about downwind sailing and how to catch a wave.

One of our party went on a sailing clinic with Clay Johnson and Kyle Rogachenko last year so was tutoring us on all the latest advice on Laser downwind speed. I was only half paying attention as I concentrated on my Fettucine a la Bolognese and Warsteiner. Something about upturns and downturns and how to see what the waves were doing and what to do with the tiller, I think.

"Miss, can I have another Warsteiner, please?"

Perhaps I like beer too much?

I tried to catch up on what I missed by watching some videos on YouTube today.

Here is John Emmet turning in waves...

And here is Brendan Casey sailing downwind in the Gorge...

What can we learn from these videos?

How do their techniques differ?

How do they initiate the turns?

Where are they looking?

One thing that really puzzles me about all this is how do you know which way to turn?

Does the wave look more juicy on one side or the other?

What are you looking for?

Would you see the waves better if you looked backwards or forwards?

And most importantly, should I go for the Warsteiner or the Köstritzer Schwarzbier next Tuesday?


Sam Chapin said...

Look ahead. Go to the low spot in the water.
As you begin to move down the wave turn to the right or left to stay of the face of the wave. Roll the boat to help steering.
Do you need to practice?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sam.
Hold the tiller like John E in the video and steer by heeling one way or another and let the rudder follow. And practicing this is so much fun. You can leave the straight-liners for dead.


Tillerman said...

Thanks Sam for the advice on looking forward. One topic that came up over dinner on Tuesday evening was where to look when sailing waves. I always look forwards but one of our party advised looking over the aft shoulder occasionally to see the waves approaching. That was one reason I checked out these videos - to see where the experts were looking.

I still think it's good to look back occasionally if only to see where the wind is stronger.

Tillerman said...

Thanks R for raising the issue of how to hold the tiller.

John holds the end of the tiller extension but does use his forearm and elbow to "lock" the tiller in place when he is steering straight (which isn't very often.)

It's a bit harder to see what Brendan is doing but it looks to me as if he slides his hand down the extension to hold it where it joins the tiller at times - again presumably when he wants to go straight and minimize tiller movement.

I like your advice to steer by heeling and then letting the rudder follow. But I'm not sure John's technique is a very good example of how to do this. When he bears away he does heel a little more to windward and then lets the rudder follow. But it looks to me as in most of his up-turns he is still heeling to windward and is using the rudder to initiate the turn. Brendan does some much more positive leeward heels to initiate his up-turns - big one at 1:28 for example.

Tillerman said...

What can we learn from these videos about fore and aft movement in the boat?

Brendan keeps talking about "rocking forwards", "lunging forwards", "weight on the front foot", "going forwards in the reach". When is he going forward? After he has already caught a ride or to initiate the ride? Is he doing the same when reaching and sailing by the lee?

Sam Chapin said...

Everybody is going to be doing their own thing. A lot will depend on how much wind and how big the waves and what kind of practice you have put in. I am not very good at waves. In Eustis, Florida we don't get good ones very often. In Key West we surfed J 24. My favorite was a 50 mile run from Marathon to Key West in 5 hours.
That is 10 miles an hour in a boat with a hull speed just under 7. I had a 13 foot Boston Whaler that I surfed in waves. I took the Laser out in Hawk channel occasionally, but surfing a Laser is a little different game.

Anonymous said...

I find it easier to bear away with a windward heel than to head up with a leeward one. When heeling to windward there's always the danger of dipping the boom, especially in waves, and that can be the start of a real mess. I haven't thought about it but maybe I use more rudder heading up too.

I wonder if the footage of Brendan at 1.28 is also part of a gust that heads him up. Possibly not but it looks very dramatic.

Won't it be great to see footage of one's own technique?


Anonymous said...

I picked up on that too. I can only imagine that it's go forward to get the centre of gravity of the boat over the crest so that you get onto the back of it and start picking up speed.

Then, as you begin to increase speed, move aft to bring the bow up.

But I'm guessing.

Neither of these guys give the main a "pump" to initiate planing. Is that still legal? (I should now but....)


Tillerman said...

Sheeting in can also initiate a leeward heel of course, with or without much movement of body weight. It actually looks on the video that Brendan is doing both - sheet in and move to leeward. But he doesn't heel for long before he flattens the boat and accelerates. And certainly not a big enough heel to get the boom in the water.

Tillerman said...

I think you are right about the timing of the move forward.

One pump per wave is still legal (as far as I know.) Brendan's rapid sheeting in as he turns up is effectively a pump. But he doesn't seem to pump to catch waves by the lee. (I've been doing that but maybe I'm doing it wrong?) It also looks to me as if Brendan sometimes gets a reverse pump (with a little rapid sheet out and then stopping the sheet) as he turns down. You can see his leech flicking when he does it.

John, sailing in lighter conditions, is very easy and smooth with his sheeting in and out all the time. Nothing I would call a pump.

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