It’s been said that going fast upwind in moderate and heavy air is all about fitness. Laser sailing upwind in a breeze can be extremely demanding when conditions freshen and even athletes at the highest levels experience fatigue and pain over the course of a windy race day.
However, in the quest for highest potential VMG, given that there is almost an unlimited demand for 100% physical output and a limited supply of it, we must maximize hiking effort when it pays the biggest dividends. Likewise, we should choose to take “breaks” when they will be least detrimental to performance, or even beneficial to performance.
Identifying these events and applying the correct action is crucial for winning beats, and is absolutely essential for people who are a bit lighter in the boat or weaker in fitness. This article will cover some strategies to do that, no matter how fit you may or may not be.
Note that the topic of energy conservation and expenditure is closely tied to changing modes and having the skill and option to sail both low and high modes very well. We apply more physical effort in a low mode, and have the opportunity to conserve energy in high mode. If you only have one mode, it’s difficult to take advantage of many of these situations. We cover how to sail different modes in our Speed Week and Custom Clinics.
Higher than Average % Gains Available: Apply Maximum Effort
Sailors who exert extra effort here with good technique will be well rewarded.
At and immediately after the Start
This shouldn’t need much explanation. During these moments, you’ll need to use maximum effort in breeze, hiking early and with a lot of power in the rig to come up to full speed and then punch out from the group or at least stay in the front row. Increase drive forces and get out in front early to maintain clear air and open up your race.
During Gusts OR Lifts
This is explained in detail here. If the opportunity to apply maximum hike is available, we must do so to accelerate the boat to it’s highest potential speed for the new wind. Don’t discard opportunity for speed gains by heading up too soon. Lifts are treated the same way – get the boatspeed up first with sheeting and hiking when it hits, then head up.
During Favorable Wave Refraction or Motor Boat Waves
Sailors who can identify waves upwind that are catchable/helpful will apply extra effort in combination with alignment to get productive surges or even surfs often resulting in incredible gains in speed and pointing.
Higher than Average % Losses Occur in Absence of Max Effort: Apply Maximum Effort
More hiking isn’t rewarded here with absolute speed/VMG gain necessarily, but without the effort, losses can be catastrophic. Sailors who don’t exert extra effort here will be punished with much lower than average speeds and increased leeway. If it’s not applied, often extra hiking force is required afterwards to recover the lost boatspeed resulting in greater fatigue overall. The boat is always more responsive to hiking when it is moving faster. In other words, the same hiking effort has a greater effect when you’re moving faster.
During closely spaced wave sets, chop and/or tacks with unfavorable wave skew
Hike hard through steerable wave sets, chop and/or when wave skew presents waves more head on. Increased loads help the boat “break through” the waves and keep it driving and powering through to help recover from bow impact drag. When any key drag component feels too high, try to accelerate with some quick focused hiking.
In sections where your sail is set up well, but you still have too much weather helm
Much loss occurs from rudder drag with sailors accepting too much weather helm. Try to take the opportunity to accelerate when possible by putting in some extra hiking effort and balancing the boat. Again, once speed is increased, the boat becomes more responsive to future hiking movements, thus conserving energy over the long term.
Gains Possible with Less Hiking: Apply Less Hiking Effort / Take a “break”
In Areas of Flatter Water
Sections of flatter water allow for some high mode sailing due to reduced bow impact drag. High mode sailing will require less hiking effort generally and provides an opportunity for physical recovery.
This is described in detail here. Correct response usually requires a body weight adjustment while you coast through the lull. Take the opportunity to recover, hike less, and increase VMG. Magic.
On Tacks with Favorable Wave Skew
This can be a good opportunity to sail higher mode or switch back and forth between low and high modes due to reduced impact drag.
Some Other Notes on Energy Conservation
While pinching, the boat ends up slowing down. When a recovery steer is made back down to course, AW is aft and the boat will not respond as easily to hiking – there are more side loads and this will be painfully evident, potentially resulting in more pinching.
Be Proactive in your Hiking
Anticipate when you’ll need to hike and be on top of it early. In accelerations, gusts, lifts, it’s very important to get the hiking loads into the boat BEFORE it reacts with any heeling. Once the boat has heeled and helm is induced, hiking will become more difficult and less productive.
These are great skills to practice and huge gains can be made in gusty and shifty conditions with the techniques described. Oftentimes it’s possible to beat sailors who have better “baseline” hiking by executing these methods – particularly if they are not reacting well to key events that provide an opportunity for gains or loss. Sail out with a training partner and see who can manage each more effectively. Besides performance increases, improving these aspects of your sailing can really make breezy upwind sailing more interesting, and a lot of fun.
For the most up to date theory and technical knowledge on modern Laser Sailing, come train with us and fellow sailors at our centre in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico this winter. We look forward to seeing you on the water.
This article is part of a four part series on sailing faster with less hiking. Don’t miss part 1 on steering, part 2 on sail set up and part 3 on gust and lull management.