Thursday, October 27, 2005

Slip Slidin' Away

You might think that with 185,000 boats sold, 35 years of collective experience and dozens of books and CDs published, there is plenty of good information available on how to sail a Laser properly. Actually there is too much information and not all of it is consistent.

Take the advice on how to sail a Laser in light airs. Conventional advice is to sail a dinghy flat. Everyone knows that. Or do they? Not even World Champions agree.

Glenn Bourke in Championship Laser Racing says "in light air there's a great technique where you heel the boat to gives tremendous height."

Ben Ainslie in The Laser Campaign Manual says "the best trim for light airs is dead flat or a slight heel to leeward.......heel to windward is slow as it induces lee helm."

OK. So do these two champions really sail their boats totally differently? Or is one of them under some illusion and not able to accurately describe how he sails?

At the US Laser Masters in Annapolis a few weeks ago, I did experiment with slight variations in how I sailed the boat upwind in light winds. I noticed that, at first, I was sailing with a few more degrees of heel to leeward than the surrounding boats. I think I was unconsciously heeling the boat enough to generate a small amount of weather helm because I had become comfortable sailing the boat with that slight tug on the tiller.

So I tried flattening the boat until the feel of weather helm disappeared. Not so much as to get lee helm and certainly not heeling to windward as Bourke appears to recommend. It felt strange at first. Almost as if I wasn't really steering the boat. It was a bit like the difference in skiing between carving a gentle turn on your edges or turning straight down the fall line with the skis flat. Less control but faster. The boat seemed to slip and slide over the chop. And I was able to sail faster and higher than the boats around me and had some of my best ever finishes in a major championship.

So have I been sailing wrong these last 25 years? Maybe. But next time I go out in light air I'm going to see if I can recreate that same feeling.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always thought that you rolled the boat to weather when on a broad reach, and scooted as far forward as you could go. This gets some of the hull out of the water in the back, which gives the boat less drag, which means it's faster, but only in light air, and, dammit, when can we get to the rum?!

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