Club racing fleets are like house plants: without care and nourishment, they wither away and die. We’ve all seen it. At Willamette Sailing Club (Portland, OR), where I’ve been sailing since the early ‘80s, I’ve watched a lot of one-design fleets come and go – Lasers, Tasars, Thistles, Lido 14s, Daysailors, Coronado 15s, C-Larks (to name just a few), all have gone through boom and bust periods. Some live to boom again; some are now extinct. The eternal question is, what separates the boomers from the dinosaurs? After nearly 40 years of observing this ebb and flow, I have some thoughts:






Tom Burton:

Hey. How are you?

Colin Gowland:

Good, man. How are you doing?


Yeah, not too bad.


Right on. What have you been up to?


Just obviously did some training for the World's and since then I've just been cruising, trying to do some other things, keeping busy. Did some yachting, and some boat work. I've got a new Moth coming in between a week and two weeks... Things like that.


Yea, good - we can't wait to see what the next big move is for you! Looking back a bit,  you won a gold medal in Rio, you’re a World Champion, 12 times Sailing World Cup medalist, the two time Sailing World Cup final champion, six-time Australian National Laser champion… there is a ton of other Laser accomplishments you achieved I haven’t mentioned. It's such a dominant record. Starting with the big picture, what’s your general philosophy of success in laser sailing - how did you do it?


From starting full-time Laser sailing in 2008… then we had our Australian sailing squad developed - I got involved in that sometime around 2009. At the time I was the youngest of a bunch of guys that were trying to do what we were doing, which was professional Laser sailing, and I think we all got on together really well - we all had very similar mentalities.

One thing that I remember just constantly thinking about, and saying to a few of the guys, was that I don't really care if I'm the best in the squad, I just want to try and be the best in the world and the best that I can be.

laser sailing


So even though there was always a tiny bit of rivalry between all the Aussie guys at that time, we were all pushing together - and it was pretty fun. We all wanted to be at the front, not just in front of each other… and we wanted to be all together kind of thing, all together, everyone. So, that was something that springs into my mind… and that kind of lead to a mentality to always keep pushing and having fun. Then I suppose in the end if you're good enough, and you work hard enough, you'll get the results.


Yeah. About “working hard” in laser sailing, and in all sports, and life in general… it's a necessary thing maybe, but I think that phrase can have a big range of output... it’s relative. So for example, somebody might think they're working hard, but if they're in a certain training group bubble, they might not even understand what hard work really is, or can be. Can you give people an example of what hard work means for you?


I was always doing a lot of hours and spending a lot of time at the fitness. Basically it's a full-time job, with my size and body type, my weight, and my height, I always thought that I needed to be fitter than most if I wanted to be fast in the breeze. Especially compared to the bigger, taller guys. That was something that would always be in the back of my mind, that I'd need to work especially hard.

I remember whenever I was talking to my laser sailing coach or a fitness expert, I would always refer to that concept of relativity. It's very difficult to know how hard you're working because compared to a fellow Laser sailor, you might be working really hard, but compared to an Ironman or a Tour de France cyclist, you're doing relatively nothing. I thought, surely if they can put their bodies through crazy stuff like that, I could work harder as well.

Sometimes you get caught in the routine of what you're doing…  or because everyone's doing it a certain way, copying it. Or thinking; I'm just going to go a little step above them, and then hopefully I'll catch up fitness-wise in a couple of years. I was always thinking bigger scale - how can I take it to an extreme level and work as hard as some of these guys in other sports. That said, in the end, you've always got to bring it back to your sport - and fitness isn't everything.

Compare it to cycling - it's basically whoever can put out the most watts wins, with a bit of tactic involved. But in laser sailing, sometimes it doesn't matter how fast you go - if you're going the wrong way it's not going to help you at all. There were many times where either my coach or another advisor was telling me to do less, recover more, and do less fitness. So, that was a funny place to be, where people think you're doing too much.


Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Yeah. But over time I've learned from my mistakes, and now I have a lot more specificity in the program to arrive at peak fitness compared to what I would have been doing in years past. In the beginning, I went through periods of time where I’d spend hours in the gym, and then didn't really feel the benefits…  I went through periods where I spent hours on the bike, didn't really feel the benefits.

There's definitely a bit where you can train too hard - and we often refer to it as junk hours. There's that saying, "Don't count the hours, make the hours count." You’ve got to be very sport-specific. You often see guys, they looked super ripped and shredded, but they're still not the fastest out on the water, so there's something to that, for sure.


Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And what do you think, to give a ballpark of maybe training hours a week when you think you were overdoing it, or your laser sailing coaches thought you were overdoing it - what kind of hours were you putting in?


I was keeping a log for a while and basically I think if I did over 25 hours for consecutive weeks I'd get sick. That's taking into account laser sailing hours as well.

I'd get a cold and just be run down. The hours were getting up there, but from my experience, you've got to be aware of where you are in your training program. Often I’d be doing extra fitness on top of the guys I was training with. I'd come to training and just get absolutely smashed. The guys would just be sending me all over the place. I'd get frustrated and you come in with the shits because you've just gotten smashed all day, and you feel like you're a laser sailing crap. But then I guess you've just got to realize you're practicing, fighting, in a very fatigued state, so then when you come to the day that you're fully fresh, you step up onto a different level a little bit.

I went through it many times where I was just getting smashed out on the water because I'd been run down. If you're in that kind of mode you've got the make sure that you sometimes, you really freshen up. You can't use “being tired” as an excuse for getting beaten all the time. You've got to freshen up and see if what you're doing is actually improving you. If it's not, then you've got to do something else.

You can't use “being tired” as an excuse of getting beaten all the time. You've got to freshen up and see if what you're doing is actually improving you. If it's not, then you've got to do something else.

So, you've just got to test it, and I've tested many types of training programs on myself and I kind of know what works best now, but I think it will be different for everyone.


Yeah. So, let's say you're training 20 hours a week in a certain break down of gym, cycling, and laser sailing... You can't just really prescribe that for everyone, right? They're all going to have different things that they have to discover through experimentation and coaching that gives them the best results. Is that just part of the process of becoming the champion, figuring out that formula for yourself?


I'd say so. No one can figure it out for you. No one knows how you feel, no one knows what you're thinking, no one knows how you're feeling energy-wise. No one knows what you want to put in. A lot of people spend a lot of hours doing the fitness that they enjoy, but they might not spend hours doing the bits of the fitness that they don't enjoy.

You’ve got to really see what’s giving the best bang for your buck. It changes for everyone. Guys that are smaller might spend more time at the gym, guys that are bigger might spend more time on the bike. When you're doing those different types of fitness, why are you doing those? Are you trying to lost weight? Are you trying to gain weight? Are you just trying to get stronger? Are you trying to minimize injuries?

There's such a vast range of reasons why you could be doing things and I think if you just gave someone a generic program, they're never going to get it. And if they can't adapt it, if they're waiting for someone else to adapt it for them, I don't think they'll ever be the best.


Right. So if you were getting started in this, you might try something, maybe go with what Blackers wrote in his fitness book, and just see, how's this going... Then you find your weakness and go after it? Or how would you coach someone to self diagnose?


I think trial and error can be good, but also it's slow and it's fraught with danger a little bit - if you're trying something that's not correct you could end up with injuries. So, I think the first place to start is identifying where your weaknesses are, but also learning a bit about training programs and fitness.

When I was younger, I did a personal training degree, so I went through courses in writing programs and stuff like that. Then obviously, within our team, we've got strength and conditioning guys that you can go and talk to and bounce ideas off.

So, you're getting input from professionals on your own ideas. You come up with the ideas, then go and get the input that's necessary. You're not necessarily making up things yourself and just trying it. An example could be - I think my weakness is endurance, but I'm too light still, so I need to get more endurance without losing any bodyweight. How can we adapt this program to achieve these outcomes?

If you're not confident, if you're expecting someone else to do it, you can still come up with the ideas and then go and get the information you need to help you move forwards.


Yeah, it makes sense. One of the things that people tend to ask us a lot, is about building up hiking endurance. It just seems to always be painful, and that's just the nature of it. People want to be able to do it longer and better. What would you recommend for them? Is it starting with cardio and building up in the gym and doing a lot of laser sailing, or combo-ing with the hiking bench? What's Tom Burton recommended approach here?


I think it really depends on what level we're starting at. For me, I was more into the hiking bench, just in terms of getting some more specificity. On the boat, you can cheat a fair bit hiking wise by either hanging on the mainsheet all the time and just sailing around the block to block… and don’t ease the sheet if you're fatigued. You just can't do that on a hiking bench. I've seen people hiking on the bench and holding a rope. So now we're training to hold our body up… but we're supposed to be training to use our cores and our legs… so I was never using anything like that if I was using the hiking bench.

I think it's all about consistency as well. It's one of the shittest things to do that I’ve done, but at the same time probably one of the best. I know a lot of Laser people and I'd probably say I'd be one of the people that use it the most. I know it's shit, and I don't really want to do it, but once you get in a routine of doing it, it's not as bad. As soon as you haven't done it for weeks or months, those first couple of days are more mental than anything to just get over it and get it done.

So, I think about consistency about doing it, but also being within yourself and using the good form - it's the same sort of thing in any gym program where you want progressive overload. But if you're not doing it well, stop doing it.

Set yourself a program - one that you can do progressive overloads, so just starting off easier and then every day adding just a little bit more so your body can adapt.

But, when I'm telling youth kids if they want to do it, as soon as they feel their form is going or their legs are going… and you're basically just hanging there now… and not hiking very well - just get off and recover.

Do it for less duration and have more rests in between, but it just comes back to the saying "Make the hours count, not counting the hours." There's no point just doing it so you can write it in your training log, you've got to do it properly.


Yeah. I hear you. You can make the hiking bench intervals like biking intervals - the programs are made to have enough rests to recover, and then you slowly build up the volume. I think a lot of people get the hiking bench and they're excited when it comes in, and then they use it too much in the first few days and hurt themselves…  then it goes under the bed for a long time.


Yea, many people with a hiking bench will get the advice "Do it for 10 minutes or 20 minutes." And it's like they think they're talking about 20 minutes straight…. and just hike on as hard as you can and just stay there. In a Laser you don't often just stay hiking static for 20 minutes and if you're trying to do that you're basically hiking 50% or less… and we don't do that in Laser.


You're hiking mainly flat out or close to but you also have things to make it easier, you have waves to sit up to go over, you have the main sheet to hold onto. All of those things help your ankles as well so I think you just need to tailor the program around how your body feels and what it's capable of.


Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, if hiking itself on the boat was the most specific type of training for hiking, and then hiking bench, what would be the next most specific or most important one? The gym or bike?


I'd say the next one would be the bike, going cycling. I think sometimes the bigger guys have a little bit of an edge because they're often on the bike losing weight - so they can kind of do the next best thing and it suits their program. In the end, I would only go to the gym if I was trying to maintain my body weight and monitor that. That's how I ended up looking at the gym towards the end.

Just to make sure that you're not losing too much weight and getting not heavy enough.


Mm-hmm (affirmative). And the cardio side, extremely important, moderately important?


I'd say it's extremely important. I remember the first couple of years I was spending a lot of time in the gym trying to get heavy enough. When I'd go out in the breeze I might be okay for one upwind, then I would just be fully gassed. So I spent many hours improving my cardio. Probably became one of the best in the Laser fleet on the bike. I think everyone's gotten pretty good on the bike now. Everyone cycles a lot, everyone is pretty handy at it and I think that's an area that everyone has stepped up a lot.


Mm-hmm (affirmative). We were talking about the philosophy of success... An aspect that we found interesting is the character traits of the champions - certain things that they do, beliefs that they have or things they don't do. Slingsby talked about things like just showing up on time and some basic things that you would do in normal life, but doing them every time and consistently, etc.

Do you have some ways that you live by or ways that you look at the world that you apply to your training and your everyday life that you think are mainstays or first principles that you live by that are important?


One of the first things that pop to mind, is that whenever I set myself a task, I find it very difficult to stop until I'm finished. It's probably one of the bad traits of mine. If I'm doing boat work or making something, or making a hiking bench, or doing anything in my moth recently, it wouldn't be odd for me to be out in the garage until midnight, until I get it done. I just can't... I find it difficult to stop until I've achieved what I wanted to achieve. So that's just “making something” as a basic example and that is magnified in terms of my training and what I do.


One of the things Slingsby mentioned in terms of motivation was his rivalry with Paul Goodison and that was something that fueled him. He also said that everyone has to have their own motivation.

Tom Slingsby Interview on Laser Sailing

It's not necessarily going to be a rivalry every time… but anyway, that was his. Did you have a certain motivation to do this other than you just wanted to, or was there something that was driving it, or something that, even if it was just the end result, that you'd wake up every day and think, "I don't want to do this but I'm going to do this because I'm dedicated to it for this reason?"


Yeah, I read that obviously having someone that you want to beat is a pretty good motivation to get up all the time. I can't really say that that's something I think about a lot. There's not one person that I want to beat, I just want to beat everyone and I think one of the things is that I got a lot of satisfaction and motivation off looking at how much effort and hard work I put in.

So, with those training logs, after a long time training you look back and you see how many hours you put in and you remember how hard that was and all the experiences that you've done, doing all of that, and that drove me on, and also that was the reason why I wanted to put in all the hard work at the time. I was thinking about, as it started to accumulate, how much time I spent doing it and also what it was leading to… and one of the things was I wanted to be known as was someone that was always hard to beat.

Even though I wanted to win, it's not the be-all and end-all. You always want to be in the game, you always want people to fear you a little bit and be like, okay, it doesn't matter how far Tom's behind in the regatta, he's having a bad day or a bad couple of days, you'll know that he'll be coming out the next day and he could easily win. And that's something I was working towards, that I wanted to be known as someone like that, with that kind of energy and vibe.


You said that fitness was a strength for you versus your competition. What were some of your other advantages? Do you think you had a speed advantage out there?


I think in certain conditions I probably had a speed edge. Maybe some conditions I didn't. But I think there are a few key things that I learned from numerous people… laser sailing a bit with Slingo and watching him sail. Laser sailing against, and watching guys like Paul Goodison in light air. Taking up bits and pieces, you see how some people do laser sailing and you try and copy their good bits and you just disregard the bits that you think aren't so good.

Everyone's got them. There are bits in my laser sailing that are probably really good and there are bits that probably aren't that flash. In terms of my technique… I think in five knots flat water I had some speed there for a couple of years that was the best in the world, and then also in 15 knots, there were times there that I definitely had a speed edge there as well. I guess, trying to make the most of those when you have them is the key thing.


Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). In terms of the racing side and putting together the regatta, even tying in the mental game, is that something that came naturally to you or is that something that you just absorbed over time or did Blackers work pretty hard with you on that?

Obviously you have to be fast, you have to be fit, but then there's the other part of putting the racing altogether, putting the whole regatta together. How did you develop the ability to do that so consistently?

Andrew Lewis (TTO)’s Comeback Regatta


I think that probably came more naturally than fitness and boat speed. I definitely probably spent way more time in my career just trying to focus on fitness because at the same time it's easy to say and you hear it a lot, a fast boat makes a tactician look like a genius. You've just got so many options. So that's why everyone is focusing on fitness so much, just to give you the speed which then opens your options up.

If you're going slower, and you'll see it from the guys from mid-fleet to the back of the fleet, there are no options for them. They can only go where they're allowed to go, and often that's the wrong way. For me and that's taking into account the laser sailing hours as well it came a bit more naturally like I enjoy playing games like chess where you've got to think one, two, three, four, five moves ahead. You've got to set a bit of a game plan and then execute it. Then you've got the be able to adapt to when things change and it doesn't happen like you think it was going to happen.

Yeah, that sort of thing I enjoy, and that's basically what laser sailing is. And then also, basically just learning on the job. So, every time you go through a situation, being able to remember what happened with whatever move you made last time… if it worked out then you put that in the memory bank and say "Okay, I'll use that move again." And if it didn't you go, "Well, okay. Next time I've got to do something different because that was crap."

In terms of debriefs and stuff, I'm not a huge note-taking person… so I don't really write down notes or anything like that. I always have the mentality that if it's important, I'll remember it, and if it's not and if I don't remember it, it's not important. So, yeah. Just learning and basically having it in my mind - it's a playbook of moves, so every time you come to a situation you can pick from a few different moves and you know the percentages of which ones are going to work, and which ones have a lower percentage.

... It's a playbook of moves, so every time you come to a situation you can pick from a few different moves and you know the percentages of which ones are going to work, and which ones have a lower percentage.

Then you've also got to have in the back of your mind what's the other boat is trying to do… or what's the situation of everyone that you have arrived in this situation with you? What are all their goals and what would you think they're trying to do?

Then you can decipher all of that, then make the decision, and then you've just got to adapt from what happens and basically it's just a rolling algorithm really - you make a choice and see what happens and at the end of the day you try and make the highest percentage decision to help your results - and that's where consistency comes in.


Okay, maybe shifting just a little bit more back to the era of the AST. Can you just speak to the dynamic, how it all felt or evolved between yourself, Blackburn and Slingsby… and they were obviously coming 2012 off Slingsby's Olympic gold and then there was the transition into your dominance. What was that environment like?  Was it competitive, was it cooperative, any crazy stories, stuff like that, that people might want to hear about?


Yeah, so basically I think it all started around 2009-ish. Obviously Slingo had just gone not very well in Beijing, so Blackers now went from radial coach to the full rig coach and the squad began. Slingo was more doing a lot of training overseas and just doing regattas to get more light air regatta practice I think was the key thing.

But, from the squad point of view, we were all at a level that wasn't high enough for Slingo basically. We were all at an equal level together but he was a big jump ahead of us all. So, Blackers was working with us as a squad in Sydney and then we'd basically meet up with Slingo overseas at events when we did a campaign.

Then basically it was just like a war of attrition and last man standing… so throughout 2009, 2010, there were many guys coming and going within the squad. There were different age groups, different guys at different parts of their life in terms of studying or not working, or working. A few different faces, a few different names, and then basically I got into AST in 2010 - so then at the time it was Slingo and myself in AST and then a bunch of the guys in the squad.

Then 2011, 2012 I made a big step up. Like, we were all getting better in the squad but I made a big step up in terms of World's results and things like that. Another guy as well, Ash Brunning did as well and in 2011 we had three in the top 10 which was a big improvement from the two years previous where we were a massive step behind Slingo, to being able to be worthy training partners.

Then in 2012, we were able to train more with him. At the same time, he had got the Olympic selection already so there was no threat there… so it was all upside really. We had strong training partners in Australia and there was no competition really left in terms of Olympic selection or anything like that, so then we got to do a lot of training with Slingo which was really fun. I did especially. Going between basically Weymouth and Garda.

I remember some pretty fond memories doing that and then basically after that he went to America's Cup and then I took over the reign from 2013 onwards and went on a bit of a dominant run. Ironically that's when they were changing a few of the formats, trying to change the regatta formats a little bit in terms of medal racing points and that sort of stuff.

I remember getting dicked a few times with that sort of point system but, yeah. Then, as the campaigns switch over into the next Olympic cycle, we had a bit of a turnover in guys in the squad. So, some of the older guys in the squad moved on and then we had younger guys coming up in the build-up to Rio and then I guess it was game as usual until 2015 where a very similar thing happened.

That I was doing the Slingo basically what Matt was doing to me - slow improvements, chipping away and then basically by the time it came to Olympic selection time, we were very close. So we still had a strong squad but then we had two guys that were really close at the top. Obviously, I got selected and then after that continued on and basically it was the same for another three years, with a lot of the guys in the squad improving and then two guys at the top fighting it out really.


When you and Slingers were battling and at the top, I guess you weren't a threat to the spot... but you were still trying to be the best Tom Burton you could be. Obviously he's a super driven guy and so are you. Do you think he was instrumental in pushing you harder or what was specifically his impact on you as a Laser sailor?


He never really said anything super special but just me being me, watching how he acted, watching how he sail, just watching his mentality, was all I needed to fine-tune myself really. Often, towards the end, as I started to get better results and a bit better speed, and I could do what I wanted when I wanted to do it, which is basically the level he had been at for many years…. we often found ourselves on the course. I’d be starting next to him in the middle of the line… so you reduce the risk, you're backing your boat speed, you're backing your fitness, and often people didn't want to start next to him because he was too quick -  so you would have half the line of space next to him and everyone else would be jammed up at the end and I just figured, oh, that looks like a good gap for me and basically I remember at one Weymouth regatta, every time I wanted to start, I'd be next to him and off we'd go.

But yes, some funny moments as well. He was more focused on the Olympics and trying to sort all of that out so I remember he had this dog of a boat at the time. We launched one day and he forgot to put his bung in so it was like 5 knots and we were going downwind and I was just sailing away from him and he was going, "What the hell's going on?" And realized he hadn't put his bung in, so he had the boat up on the rib, trying to empty as much as he could. Then we just continued offshore and out of the harbor way and joined a big group of guys. Had a good day and on the way in we swapped boats and basically if I was in my boat and even though I might have a little bit on him, and then if we swapped boats he would just sail away like it was just ridiculous.

So that was pretty funny. But yeah, just little things like that but there were other times that he just couldn't get it right and he'd snap his tiller extension and I'd sail off because I just didn't want to get yelled at. Those kinds of memories are pretty funny and just to see how much it obviously meant to him and how hard he must have been trying. How much energy you need to put in to try and improve on something and if it's not working, you're allowed to get frustrated, but you obviously can't let it go too far, you just get back on the horse type thing and keep going.


Mm-hmm (affirmative). Just going over to the Michael Blackburn part. Is there something that he helped you with the most, or if he had an impact on you in a certain way, what do you think that would be? Would it be on the technical side more or was it a fitness thing, or mental game or some kind of character building or logistics? What was his role in your specific time with him?


He is very good at logistics but often then I would just let him do that and I could just copy. [laughs] No it's not, I'd have to say the mental game. For everyone that knows Blackers, most people think he's a unique character, which he is. Something in laser sailing that's very important, some people have it and some people don't, but to be able to keep a level head no matter the situation. Something that he's very good at.

You could go and win a race at the World's and you'd never won a race before in your life and you'd be ecstatic and you wouldn't even be able to pick it from him. There's absolutely no change in his demeanor. Then, the next race you could come last by half a leg and he'd have the exact same demeanor when you rock up to the coach boat next to him.

So, it keeps you on a level head, you don't ride the roller coaster as much as what I would see other people do, with the excitement of getting something right and maybe winning and then the low of making a mistake and getting a bad result. You're just not on that rollercoaster as much. I think as athletes and sailors ourselves, we do that enough to ourselves. If we have a good result you get a bit excited, if you have a bad result you get a little bit down.

So, it keeps you on a level head, you don't ride the roller coaster as much as what I would see other people do, with the excitement of getting something right and maybe winning and then the low of making a mistake and getting a bad result.

Tom Burton Olympic Gold Medalist Laser Sailing

I think if you see that from the laser sailing coaches' side as well it just magnifies it and it's probably something you don't need. So, I think that's the biggest thing that you're just learning from the mistakes or the success of each race, moving forward to the next one. At the same time, just thinking back now from hindsight, it's one of those things, I remember people asking me how I felt after winning at the Olympics and stuff and I think without the lows you don't have the big highs as well.

When you start to... not suppress your emotions, but kind of look at everything as a level head, and keep everything very neutral so you don't ride the roller-coaster, sometimes potentially when you want to ride the roller-coaster, it's quite difficult to because you're so used to keeping your head level and not really letting your emotions take over. So, it's one of those things that you've got to learn and I think now, even just in normal life I'm very level headed because I've just done it for so many years and that's how I've just ingrained it.

I've spent a lot of time either living with Blackers or traveling with Blackers and that's just how his personality is. And it wasn't necessarily how my personality was but I learned to do that because that's what best suits my laser sailing and it carries over to your normal life so when something exciting happens at home sometimes you're keeping that level head at home, it's just one of those things you've got to manage. You've got to use it when you want to use it and you've got to try and turn it off when you don't want to use it.


I was reading in one interview that you played Rugby and some other sports when you were younger. Did those have any shaping influence on how you see laser sailing…. you mentioned chess, but the other physical sports, did they have any influence on your laser sailing in some roundabout way?


I think the obvious would have in a roundabout way. Like I played rugby to a reasonably high level, as high as you can when you're bloody 16 or 17.

The training behind that, you're training for three different representing teams so you're training most nights of the week and in terms of your expectations of how much effort you put into something. When I was that age, that was what you're training for, that was all I cared about. So, I guess when you then switch that off and go full-time laser sailing, to spend all the hours and everyday thinking about one thing is not too dissimilar to what I was already doing growing up, for rugby.

I guess from that point of view then it probably helped massively. Already having some coaches at different representative levels, transforming that into the laser sailing where you meet a new coach and you try and improve and you try and communicate with someone new when you're still pretty young. I'm sure that would have helped.

I worked with the general fitness, I don't think rugby fitness translates over the laser sailing at all but just in terms of some cardio fitness and stuff like that, I'm sure it would have helped.

Yeah, I think as well a little bit of, obviously going from rugby where it's a team sport communication to basically everything by myself, a little bit different but I kind of like that. I like having everything rely on myself and no one to blame except yourself really. I enjoy that.


If you could think of something technical about laser sailing that even you see guys at the high level, that they miss out on or they don't know, or they get wrong a lot? Like maybe at the bottom of the gold fleet or silver fleet or something like that, can you think of a technical thing or a tip that comes to mind?


No matter who I coach, often I'm just walking around the boat park and I'll look at things. It's hard when you're in that environment, it's hard to turn your brain off but I always say to people, with the Laser it's such a difficult boat to sail fast. It's an easy boat to sail, it's a difficult boat to sail fast so any bit of your energy you're trying to transfer it into making the boat sail fast. So, if there's anything that's not 100% on your boat, and you need to expend energy to either make it work better or fix it, that's the energy that you're not being able to put into making your boat go fast.

If your rudder is not down all the way or can't do down to the maximum then you might have more weather helm so that's taking some of your energy out. If your blocks and your ropes are old and you've got to put more energy into being able to pull vang on or cunningham on, that's the energy that you're wasting that you're not going to be able to put into making your boat go fast.

If your centerboard is coming up all the time, even though mine does, people will read this and be like, "Mate your centerboard comes up the most." Stuff like that where your hike and your centerboard come up and you have to kick it down, that's an effort in that you're not hiking and you're doing something else.

Little things like that, like if your main sheet is in a knot and you've got to spend time mucking around with that, that's time that you're not sailing your boat as fast as you can. All these little things, it's very difficult for anyone to really care about them on their own, but as soon as you add them all up, it's massive things that if all those things were going wrong at one time, you basically can't sail the boat.

Because there are so many things that you have to be fixing. Often there are only a few ways that you can set up your controls but people have them all differently. Basically, I was always trying to do the most efficient thing, the most simple thing and the things that could make the boat the easiest to sail. In terms of even when it comes to taller height. If your tiller is too high, your traveler can't get across as easy, it gets jammed, your tack is a bit slower, every time you tack it's a little bit slower than someone else that's got it optimally set. All those little things add up. Sometimes the difference between getting first around the top mark and tenth could be like a boat length because you're either going to cross someone of you're not.

At the end of the day, that's the amount of distance that we're fighting for and if you're not trying to fight for that distance then you're never going to hit the front because that's what the guys at the front are fighting for. It's metered, it's not boat lengths, it's just metered.

At the end of the day that's the amount of distance that we're fighting for and if you're not trying to fight for that distance then you're never going to hit the front because that's what the guys at the front are fighting for. It's meters, it's not boatlengths, it's just meters.


Fighting for meters. It seems like a good point to end off on!  Tom, it's been really interesting chatting with you.


Yeah thanks, Colin.


We'll be in touch. Thanks, Tom.

Check out Tom's thoughts on our new Online Course!

"I wish I had a course like this when I was younger, growing up trying to improve my sailing skills and before I had any access to coaching. I remember watching DVDs of sailing all the time but for someone to break each step down would have been very useful to progress quickly."


There is much skill-based, tactical, and strength-based importance to Laser Sailing. And while not exclusively an endurance sport, on a moderate or windy day especially, greater cardiovascular exercise will enhance a sailor's performance significantly. There's an unlimited demand for a Laser Sailors cardiovascular exercise overall due to short, medium and long term recovery demands of regatta racing, long-duration spent at or near thresholds, building up of strength training volumes over time, and more.

The below chart is not an exhaustive list of cardio benefits, but it should be sufficient to entice you into upgrading your cardio program if it’s not already a strong one. Remember, the wider the cardiovascular base, the taller your potential peak fitness can be. 


Cardiovascular Exercise

Meech is one of the fittest Laser Sailors in the game.

I do a reasonable amount of cycling to help me at threshold (which our windy races are) and to help with recovery over the week long event.

Sam Meech, NZ Sailing Team.


We divided the Physiological Benefits into 3 Categories: 


Metabolic Adaptations to Training: The breakdown of nutrients to obtain energy & the synthesis of compounds needed by cells. 


Cardiovascular Adaptations to Training: Adaptations that lead to increases in aerobic capacity and improved endurance performance. These are supported by changes in physical size and function of the heart plus improvements in oxygen delivery and it's use in muscles.


Overall/Health Benefits: A few bonus items that occur as a result of cardio training. 


Physiological Benefit Laser Sailing Practical Benefit
Metabolic Adaptations to Training
Increased storage capacity for fuel (muscle glycogen and muscle fat stores) Use glycogen for longer during extended training sessions and regattas. Be less reliant on putting extra fuel in your body ( energy gel etc.)
Shifts in fuel oxidation (better utilization of fat-based fuels) Preserve glycogen stores longer to be used with “sprint” hiking/low modes, and utilize fat for fuel when hiking normally
Increased muscle oxidative capacity Muscles are more resistant to fatigue, especially during higher intensity efforts. The body is using more efficient energy pathways, which means that high work rates can be sustained longer. 
Cardiovascular Adaptations to Training
Increased heart size and stroke volume The heart muscle will become much bigger and will be able to pump more blood with each beat. This is an important determinant of your physical capacity. Your resting heart rate may slowly become lower. 
Increased cardiac output Higher cardiac output responds to higher oxygen demand. This helps deliver oxygen to working muscles during higher intensity hiking. 
Increased ability to deliver oxygen to muscle through an increase in blood/plasma volume Longer hiking time at any given intensity, greater power, and less fatigue.
Increased maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max and functional threshold) These are major determinants of your overall aerobic capacity. Perform/hike at an overall higher intensity, sustain the intensity for longer periods without fatiguing, and recover much faster after each higher intensity bout. 
Increased ability to produce the same amount of work at lower heart rates Stay calmer and have better mental clarity during periods of high work rate. Results in better decision making on the racecourse. 
Improved ability to recover Short Term: During “resting” phases of upwind hiking, clear lactate from your legs faster and lower your heart rate quicker - allows you to use work mode again sooner

Medium Term: Recover more rapidly between races and be fresher for the next race

Long Term: Handle multi-day regattas more easily with higher quality recovery at night

Overall/health benefits
Improved recovery after training Recover faster from  training days and strength building workouts
Improved immune system robustness The immune system will become more resilient to training stress and prevent you from getting sick


You should be fairly convinced by now about the importance of a regular cardiovascular fitness program built into your training. This can be completed in the offseason and also maintained throughout your racing season depending on the volume of sailing you do.  The beauty of cardio training is that it can be based on an activity you enjoy. Cycling, running and/or swimming are 3 common choices of World Champions and Olympic Champions.

Nick Thompson’s Laser Sailing Tips for Masters Sailors

But you can pick any activity and apply good structure to it - ice skating, cross country skiing, aerobic dance (We’ve heard Slingers was big into Zumba), etc.  It’s hard to think of a dominant athlete in the Laser class who did not have an extremely high level of cardiovascular exercise. Depending on their periodization phase and amount of sailing on tap, top sailors will train approximately 15 hours per week, with a majority of that loading distributed towards cardio-based training. 


Cardiovascular Exercise

Nick Thompson ISA Guest Coach

Fitness won't guarantee a win, but you can't win without it

Nick Thompson, Team GBR

Of course, Laser sailing itself will build your fitness, but we can’t sail every day, nor can we control the wind...  and it’s nice to have a varied activity that can adhere to a more predictable structure (controlled HIIT, volume, timing, intensity of work, etc.) and therefore elicit very specific physiological adaptations.

Stay tuned for our next Laser Sailing Fitness article outlining the practical implementation of cardiovascular exercise programs for Laser sailing. 

In the right conditions, use a lee to lee jibe to stay in clear air and keep your options open on the downwind.

We cover gybes like this and their appropriate tactical and strategical applications in our Performance Clinics.

Watch the video on the tactical lee to lee jibe to learn more about it.



Use these tips to avoid capsizing during your bear away in a Laser.

Laser Sailboat Class Rules Update Compasses

Colin Gowland:           Hi, Bill.

Bill Symes:                     Hey, Colin. How are you doing?

Colin Gowland:            I'm doing great. How are you? You had a good trip/regatta?

Bill Symes:                     Oh, yeah. Yeah, it was great. The Worlds Regatta was great and then we spent a week touring around. We went to Northern Ireland and stayed at this cool little pub called The Brown Trout. I just did a little bit of rest and recovery for three or four days. And then we came back down to Dublin and spent the last three days in Dublin, just rocking out with the crowds. That place is party central.

Colin Gowland:           Really?

Bill Symes:                    Unbelievable. Yeah.

Colin Gowland:           That's phenomenal. I went there on a rugby tour in my youth. It was a great experience on and off the field.

Bill Symes:                    Oh, yeah. It's a fun town.

Colin Gowland:           Bill, what are you, a great grandmaster now?

Bill Symes:                    Yeah. I'm halfway through my great grand masterhood. 71-years-old, loving every minute of it.

Colin Gowland:           Was it a challenge to keep the body holding together during all that sailing?

Bill Symes:                    Amazingly enough I felt really good throughout the whole thing. It was a really windy regatta. The first three days especially it averaged around 20 with puffs around 30 and very shifty, puffy, challenging conditions. I don't know why but I felt really good. My energy level was high, my strength held up, and I just put it down to the fact that I trained more than 20 days in the gorge this summer, a lot of it was with Andrew Holdsworth. He moved to Seattle in August so he was coming down here every weekend and we were sailing two or three days out in the Gorge in almost the exact same condition that we had in Dublin. He's younger, very fit and very fast in a breeze. (Andrew finished 4th in the Radial Laser Masters Division at Worlds) It was windy, shifty, puffy. The sea state was very similar, big, short, chop. I think that by the end of August I had a pretty good comfort level in those conditions.

Colin Gowland:             What was your game plan? Did you have a speed advantage out there? It looked like you had some pretty dominant results. To me, just looking at that scorecard that's what I would think right away. Did you feel like you had an advantage in boat speed? Or did you have the strategy wired? Or did you just sail consistently? What was your secret to success or was it a mix of everything?

Bill Symes:                    I did have a bit of a boat speed advantage. You know what they say about how boat speed makes you look smart. It made it easy for me to execute everything I needed to do. I was always able to get off the line clear.

I was usually able to get on to the lifted tack right away and that was my game plan.

It was basically to try and get clear starts, get onto the right track, and then just cover the fleet. In most races, that's what happened. I was able to kind of jump out if not into the lead at least into the first group and stay there to the weather mark. I had a pretty big speed advantage downwind so if I wasn't first at the weather mark I was usually first at the leeward mark. I think that, especially in the Great  Grandmasters fleet, the top guys are pretty fast but a lot of guys are just in survival mode. I mean, it was blowing pretty hard and the downwind was pretty crazy, but I was used to that from my training in the Gorge. I mean, that's the conditions we sail in so I felt very comfortable. I was still racing, doing my turns and going for more and more speed downwind. I think that made a lot of difference.

Colin Gowland:            You live in Portland so your home venue really is the Gorge. That's got to be a massive advantage given all the training you did this summer… and over past years.

Bill Symes:                     It certainly was for this venue because the conditions in Dublin turned out to be very, very similar to what I sail in here.

Colin Gowland:            Usually when you look at successful sailors in big breeze, they are typically either the biggest or the fittest or both. You don't do much traditional fitness outside of sailing, right? You just go sail in big breeze and that's sort of your formula?

Bill Symes:                    Pretty much. I'm not really big on going to the gym or doing any kind of fitness-specific exercise. I'll ride the bike as much as I can, try to work on some aerobic fitness, but mostly I just sail.


Masters Laser Sailing Clinics at the ISA


Colin Gowland:           Right. Do you put together sort of an annual plan about how your sailings going to go for the whole year with the World's like a goal or are it just something you start thinking about a few months before?

Bill Symes:  

I have a goal and a rough game plan which, as you know, it's to spend two or three weeks in Mexico in the spring to jump start my training program. Then, I have a goal of doing 80 days on the water which I reached - just. (sailed my 80th day the day before Worlds!)

Colin Gowland:           80 days, how did you come up with that number?

Bill Symes:                   That's just a rule of thumb that I've developed over the years that if I can sail that much especially in challenging conditions I will definitely… well, maybe not definitely… but I will generally have reached the level of hiking fitness and sailing confidence that I need going into Worlds. I mean, it's worked for me over the last few years and so that's kind of the recipe I follow.

Colin Gowland:           Yeah. And then, you said you did some training in the spring. What about November, December, January, and February?

Bill Symes:                    I don't do much. Between now and the new year I probably won't sail too much. Maybe here in Portland. We have a Sunday race with our local fleet, Sunday series. I'll do that stuff just for fun but I won't do any serious training until spring. That usually starts with March or April in Mexico.

Colin Gowland:           It's interesting. I mean, I think since probably you were young you've probably been getting good results in sailing but my observation over the last four years is that you're still getting better. I don't know if you feel like you are or not. You mentioned in a past interview that learning is something that keeps you coming back and having fun with it. Can you just speak to that and if you feel like you're still making progress at 71 years old, knowing all that you know already?

Bill Symes:                    Definitely. I think I'm sailing better now than I probably have in my life. Of course, the problem you have as you get older, is it's like walking up the down escalator. You have to run faster and faster just to stay even. Yeah, I just wish I had known what I know now back when I had the body of a 20-year-old. Aside from just being competitive, I find it enjoyable again because I am making gains in my sailing speed, especially downwind. I think in the last couple of years the coaching that I've gotten from Vaughn and from Brett and yourself has just made a huge difference in the way I sail downwind, and I've practiced those techniques a lot - I've spent a lot of time in the Gorge just working on that. It has definitely made a difference. Plus it's fun.  it's made Laser Masters sailing more fun because I'm more comfortable in the boat in more conditions and I just really enjoy sailing it that way.

Colin Gowland:           You’ve been around the Laser Masters' fleets at your home club and internationally and seen a lot of guys train down here. If you were their coach and they were the average laser masters sailor, let's just say, what kind of advice would you give them in terms of should they do to be successful?  Replicate more or less your plan like training 80 days at a minimum? How should they do go about it? Do they identify weaknesses, they get coaching, do they just go race? What do you think is the best strategy for them?

Bill Symes:                    I don't really know any other way to do it than the way I do it, and so I would recommend that. The base of my program is lots of sailing; not just sailing, but training in good breeze and just logging the hours. I don't race that much. I used to try and hit all the big regattas, I don't do that anymore. This year I just hit a couple. I did a couple of winter regattas down in California, I did the Laser Masters' North Americans in San Francisco and I did the Laser PCC's in the gorge and just a couple of other local regattas in the Northwest. I don't travel that much, not as much as I used to.

Bill Symes:                    This is not to say that it isn't important to sail in big competitions, because it is. But I don't think that has helped me as much as just the training I do with a couple of fast training partners. I've been lucky to have Andrew living in Seattle now, and also Rob Hodson and Dave Jursik, a couple of other local guys who were also training for Worlds in the Gorge.

We just go out and beat each other up out there and that has, I think, helped me more than traveling around to all the big regattas. You know you'll find a lot of guys that take sort of the opposite track and try to hit all the big regattas. I'm sure there's a lot of value to that, especially for improving starting skills, because that's the only way to really practice starting.

Bill Symes:                    But you know, I think I'm a pretty strong starter anyway. I don't feel like that's a huge weakness, but certainly going to the big regattas helps that part of your game.

Colin Gowland:           Yeah.

Bill Symes:                    I mostly focus, my focus the last few years has just been on boat speed. I figure if I'm confident in my boat speed, that pretty much takes care of all the other issues.

Colin Gowland:           Right, yeah. Yeah, it is a race after all.

Bill Symes:                    Yeah, [laughs].

Colin Gowland:           I guess when you say, maybe you don't do so many regattas, but you do training, and you said focusing on boat speed with good training partners, but, what do you do? What do you guys ... When you go out to train let's say, what do you do out there?

Bill Symes:                   We do focus drills, kind of like you do at ISA. We will do lineups, upwind lineups. This summer, Andrew and I did a lot of reaching because we both felt that was an area we needed to strengthen. We did a lot of heavy air reaching, and I definitely improved in that area as a result. We worked on trim and sail controls. We practiced different vang tensions, different downhaul and outhaul tensions, different trims, different ways of steering through the waves.

Colin Gowland:           Yea that deliberate practice is something we really promote here. What else?

Bill Symes:                    We just banged away at it. We'd reach across the river, we'd stop, and regroup, and reach across the river again. We'd do this nine or ten times in practice. Like I say, we do the upwind lineups, we do short racing, we do lots of long downwind. We do like five-mile downwind going through the different wave conditions in the Gorge. You've got short mostly flat water at the top of the run, and then as you get down - actually upriver, but downwind - you get into much bigger, almost oceanic waves. We had a range of conditions, a range of wind speeds. The training went up and down, and up and down. We did a little bit of starting practice, focusing on acceleration and holding a lane, we pretty much try to practice all the fundamentals.

Colin Gowland:            Yeah, it sounds like a pretty productive session. I think what a lot of guys tend to do is go out once every couple weeks in the spring/summer/fall, probably that’s being generous, and then they go out and just race on Sunday, and do six, seven races, whatever it is, and come back in. You look at those fleets, and who's at the top, and who's at the bottom, and who's in the middle, and it's very rare to see much of a mix up over a period of years with that kind of approach. I think this is because mostly everyone is sailing the exact same way they have in the past focusing on “strategy/tactics” when there is still so much boat speed and boat handling available for them to learn.

Bill Symes:                    Yeah, I think you nailed it with that analysis. It’s common to see that mentality in Laser fleets.

Colin Gowland:            I understand you have a new winter residence now?

Bill Symes:                     Yeah!

Colin Gowland:           That's great. Why did you decide to set that up?

Bill Symes:                    Well, as you know, we've been coming down there for the last three or four years and training at ISA. I just find the clinics enormously helpful and enormously fun. My wife, Laura-Lee, has fallen in love with the town of La Cruz. It's just a nice environment. It's a beautiful site, right on the north shore of Banderas Bay. I don't know,  we’ve always sort of had it in the back of our mind, that it would be nice to have a winter getaway spot, because, in Portland, Oregon in January and February can be pretty bleak.

That just seemed like the perfect spot. It's warm, it's beautiful, it's close to great Laser Masters sailing. The quality of the sailing is fantastic. It's affordable.

It's certainly easier to buy a beachfront residence in La Cruz than it is in Oregon or California.

Colin Gowland:            No kidding. We’re really happy that you made that decision and that we'll get to see more of you down here, and do a bunch more training together and whatnot. It’s really awesome, congratulations. I’d expect to see more dedicated sailors making similar investments as the years go on.

Bill Symes:                     Yeah, we're looking forward to it.

Colin Gowland:            How many clinics did you sail last year at ISA to prep for Worlds?

Bill Symes:                    I think I did two in Mexico.

Bill Symes:                    And one in the Gorge, or most of one in the Gorge. I also had that little half session in the summer with you and Jonathan Sherretz.

Colin Gowland:            Yeah, that's right.

Bill Symes:                    Which, you know, it was a really good year for me in terms of sailing in Mexico. We just had a lot of opportunity to get down there and conditions were great. Even the last one in June we had good conditions.

Colin Gowland:             That was nice, people don’t know necessarily that our wind can stay really nice here all the way through July.

Bill Symes:                    That was great. I really look forward to more of that in the future.

Colin Gowland:             What do you think beyond what you do just training on your own, what do you think what is the value in the clinics that you attend here?

Bill Symes:                    I think it has pushed me to think about Laser Masters sailing in new ways, think about Laser sailing in new ways. You know, it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and I've been doing this off and on since the '70s.

It's (attending clinics) forced me to take a much deeper dive into how to sail a Laser, and what are the factors that you need to be considering to make it go faster.

Laser Masters World Championships 2018

I learned a lot from Vaughn, who really sort of brought home how important apparent wind is. I always, I think most competitive sailors understand apparent wind and think about it when they're sailing, but he has really helped me understand how important it is, and how you can use it in the way you think about sail trim, and angle, and all that.

Colin Gowland:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bill Symes:                    I think that was a big breakthrough for me. And clearly the downwind stuff, Vaughn's technique varies a little bit from Brett Beyers, but I think both of them have helped me to develop a better understanding of how to sail the boat downwind. Vaughn's emphasis on creating the energy through turning, and Brett's just a little more nuanced I think, just pressuring up the rig, and then using that pressure to take it down to the wave angle. Those are techniques that have really changed my whole sailing style, and in many ways forced me to break the old mold and learn a new one.

Colin Gowland:            Yeah it’s nice to have different coaches giving perspectives on technique. You mentioned the conditions here which are obviously a nice thing. What about the other people's training and sort of camaraderie of it? Do you enjoy that part, or are you more just down to put your nose to the grindstone and get your training in? What's your perspective on that aspect?

Bill Symes:                    Definitely I value the friendships and the relationships that I get through laser masters sailing. Really, that's what keeps me coming back to Laser Masters World, more than anything, is just that I've gotten to be so close to that group of guys that I would hate to miss it. It's like our annual party. Most of these guys I only see once a year and this is our opportunity to get together, socialize, eat and drink together, and just have a great time. It's wonderful.

Colin Gowland:            It seems like those friendships, really, they go pretty deep. It seems like a really important aspect particularly in Laser Masters sailing, but you see it in all types of sailing.

Bill Symes:                    Oh yeah, yeah, you see it in all different classes, and different kinds of competition, in Laser Masters and open competition. The Laser Masters, is in particular, is really just an extraordinary group of people. These are guys, most of whom have been sailing all their lives in one boat or another.

Many of them have achieved very high success in the Olympics or World Championships. The level of competition is still very high, but competition isn’t the only reason they're there. We hang out together after the races. We're able to have a beer and enjoy ourselves...

which is a little different than it was when we were sailing in the open fleet - there wasn't so much of that aprés sailing fun going on.

Colin Gowland:           Aprés sailing fun you say. Any funny anecdotes from the world? Anything notable that happened that you wish to tell?

Bill Symes:                    Funny, tragic maybe. In the third race and the 10th race, I don't see very well and when I'm sailing in those conditions I can't wear glasses, because they get too messed up with the spray. So I have trouble seeing the marks. In the 4th race, I had a pretty good lead coming around the leeward mark and going up to the second weather mark, I couldn't find it. I sailed a little far off to the left, and the next thing you know I rounding a mark, but it turned out I was on the outer loop of the trapezoid course when I was supposed to be on the inner loop.

Colin Gowland:           Good strategy. [laughs]

Bill Symes:                    Weather mark when I should have been going to the inner. I turned a first into a 29th in that race. I thought, "Oh, okay, I've burned my throw out, I've made my big mistake, I won't make that mistake again." Then in the 10th race, I had another situation where I was leading after the second beat, I took off on a screaming, fire-hose-in-the-face reach, but again I couldn't see the marks, didn't know where I was going and wound up heading for the leeward mark instead of the reach mark. By the time I got back in the boat race, I was 20th(which I had to keep in my score). With two more races to go, I was pretty sure I’d snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. That was not a happy night.

This is what happens when you get old and feeble. Your faculties start deserting you. Boat speed was great, but the brainpower was a little bit impaired.

Colin Gowland:             I’m not sure what kind of training we can do for that one Bill. Maybe some compass work! I wonder if it was too much Guinness the night before? Any wild antics from the streets of Dublin, or are those all sworn to secrecy?

Bill Symes:                    Well, some of that's classified, but all I can say is a very good time was had by all. We usually gather together in informal mobs and go out on the town and eat and drink until the wee hours. We did not skimp on the social side of things. It was a lot of fun.

Colin Gowland:             Sounds like these laser masters sailors know how to do it right! It’s a great community, and we’re always happy to have our Laser Masters World Champion hard training for sailors and having fun here at ISA too. All right Bill, thanks for taking the time. I think we covered some good ground here. I look forward to seeing you soon down in Mexico for some training and relaxing in the near future!

Bill Symes:                       Yeah, thanks to Colin, we’ll see you soon.

The Sailboat Rigging video shows how to properly attach your rudder to the tiller on a laser sailboat so that it never accidentally rises. 1mm of rising can result in significant speed and handling issues. This is very, very common with beginner/intermediate laser sailors and is a controllable variable we can easily dominate before even hopping in our boat. Most recreational sailors do not have their rudder properly secured and the line stretches resulting in excessive weather helm.

In the sailboat rigging video, we used the Marlow Excel Racing 3mm line to attach the rudder to the tiller.

With this setup in place, you can leave your rudder attached to the tiller under your boat cover - this also saves time for each sailing session.

Laser Sail Telltale Placement

Brett Beyer is joining us as a guest coach for three laser sailing clinics between April 15 and May 6. The first two are already sold out! Here are the top 7 reasons to take part in this amazing opportunity:

  1. Results: Brett is one of the most highly regarded Laser coaches and successful Laser sailors on the planet. He is not only one of the most highly respected Olympic Laser coaches, but he also consistently wins the Laser Masters Worlds (he's won 13 out of 15 attended, and podiumed the rest). He has been involved in the last 5 Olympic Games as Fitness advisor and Laser/Radial Coach.
  2. Three coaches: a maximum of 16 lucky sailors will enjoy a lot of attention from some of the greatest minds in Laser coaching.
  3. In North America: Brett’s schedule keeps him busy on the water near his home in Sydney, Australia, and he spends the rest of his time traveling the world to train top sailors and events. This open clinic in North America is a rare opportunity.
  4. The timing: The March 31 to April 14  dates are just ahead of the start of the busy North American sailing season. We can’t think of a better way to shake the rust off than to spend 6 days in amazing conditions with the best coaching on the planet.
  5. The incredible ISA facilities: The International Sailing Academy is the only all-inclusive Laser sailing clinics in the world. Sailors are housed next to the marina, fed amazing meals, coached and brand new Lasers are provided. Oh, did we mention it’s in super beautiful and tropical Mexico?
  6. The conditions: May is one of the best months of the year for sailing here (though our whole season is pretty awesome..). Because of our afternoon sea breeze, we’ll be able to time our sessions to work on everything from light air to high teens and waves. The launch ramp is about 100m from the open ocean.
  7. The camaraderie: meet and train with other great Laser sailors; fight hard on the water and play hard on land with ISA’s pools, beach access, and thriving live music scene in town.

Laser Sailing Clinics spots are selling fast!  Don't miss out, book now!

Following a class vote, it was recently announced that all four proposed rule changes had been approved. The new laser sailing class rules allow for:

Electronic digital compass

A digital compass may be mounted on the boat, and an additional one may be wrist-mounted. It may be integrated with a timing device. The compass must use only magnetic input and cannot be able to display or calculate speed, weather or position information. This means no GPS or weather input functionality is permitted.

There are a few options on the market such as :


Raymarine Tacktick

Boat or Body Mounted Camera

A sailor may now mount a camera on the bot or their person. While this has been done in training very often it is now permitted in racing. This could be useful in protest situations, however, remember that the rules specify that a jury should take video and images with a grain of salt as depth perception and angles may not be portrayed correctly.

Shock Chord Inhaul

There are no longer restrictions on the attachment points of the shock cord inhaul system for your outhaul.

This direct attachment solution is simple and effective:

Adjustable Hiking Strap

It is now possible to add a floating cleat and a turning point to the hiking strap support line. This could make for more reliable adjustments to the hiking strap system. It remains to be seen what the most popular rigging method will be! Share with us your thoughts in the comments.

Will you be changing any of your systems?

Full laser sailing class rules-language:

These laser sailing habits are seen around top sailors and will help you perform better and enjoy the sport more. Check these out to help align your priorities.


A good sailor is prepared and schedules their regattas, trips, and training appropriately. Being prepared also means carrying the appropriate spares, and making sure everything is ready, such as having your numbers installed on a new sail ahead of a regatta (not the day of!) and testing out and breaking-in new gear before racing with it. Developing a training plan will help you plan your events and sailing habits, from which equipment, regatta entries, and travel can be scheduled.

Time in the Boat & Training

A good sailor does more than just regattas. Spending time in the boat is an old adage but exists for a reason. Time in the boat will keep you sharp, in better shape for hiking, and will stop that feeling that you’ve finally got things figured out by the last race on the last day of the regatta! Going out sailing and training will make all those race days more enjoyable and your performance better.

Self Sufficiency

A good sailor is as self-sufficient as possible - you’re comfortable rigging and launching your boat, you plan well and can do basic maintenance on your boat. You carry spares and tools with you and know how to use them.  Of course, it’s not always possible or safe to sail by yourself, but reducing missing time on the water because you’re looking for someone else can be avoided.

Health and Fitness

Taking care of yourself will keep you out there longer and more often! This means many things. Keeping up fitness as much as possible is obvious, but also carrying enough hydration and nutrition on the water and wearing adequate sun protection. It means stretching and taking time to recover after sailing to make sure you’re as fresh as possible for the next day.

Knowledge of the Rules

The RRS can be complicated and situations can develop fast - but always take the time when you’re unsure to review situations with fellow sailors and approach more experienced sailors, coaches or consult the rule book and internet resources to get the best answer.

Learn Related Skills

The beauty of this sport is that there are many things beyond just the sailing. Learn how to splice line, do minor repairs, spend time doing race committee, etc. All these activities will make you more well rounded, connected to your sport, self-sufficient, and allow you to help others to grow the sport.

Don't Reinvent the Wheel

Keep things simple. The Laser has been around for decades, and though the gear is evolving all the time, get a nice and proven set up and stick with it until you’re fully comfortable with the boat. Your priorities should be reliability and ease of use.


Hi, Tom. It's Colin Gowland phoning from ISA.

Yes, hi.

How are you?

Good, thank you.

Okay. Awesome. Hey, thanks a lot for having a chat here.

No problem.

Everyone's been really excited since you made that announcement on Facebook about coming back into dinghies.

Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. Good to just get out there and do some slower but normal laser sailing again.

Right on. I don't know if you’re aware, but on a daily basis we have a lot of masters and youths coming through and we're often using you as an example, like old footage from the Perth World's or Weymouth to illustrate the technique. I guess you should just know that you're still affecting people trying to get better at Laser sailing on a daily basis.

Yeah, that’s nice.

Are you going to be hitting up some events now that you're back in dinghies?

Yeah, I'm not too sure, really. The plan is just to get out. I'm just sort of taking it day by day. I've got a couple of boats at the club, and, yeah, I'm just going to be getting out in the Finn and the Laser and the Moths, I'm sailing Markstrom 32s, and on the weekend I'm sailing yachts. So the plan is just to get out and sail, and if I get a bit of training in, a bit of laser sailing in, I'll consider going and doing a couple of local Australian events. If that goes alright, and I've still got time, I might head overseas. I'm just going to play it by ear, but yeah. Everything's changing in my world. I'm in a bit of limbo with America's Cup and stuff, so just waiting and seeing how it all goes.

I hear from you. Well, it was cool to see your comment saying you were looking forward to “having fun”, because I think sometimes it seems like with the campaigning athletes that come through, and wannabe campaigners, that they oftentimes lose the fun part in the intensity of the training. It’s rumored that you sailed in the heat of your Laser campaigning a lot more than most people, and so I was wondering about if there's a close link between that importance of having fun even while you're training hard, and how that kind of links up with the motivation.

Yeah. No, for sure. I made sure I sailed other classes, and I was doing a lot of yacht sailing. I'd sail Moths. I'd sail A-classes. Even when I was Olympic campaigning, I always tried to keep the enjoyment in the sport. If I sailed Lasers every day and that's all I did, I would have gone quite stale, I think, and I would have lost a love of the sport, whereas I was moving around a lot, and I did sail yachts, and Moths, and all the other boats. Even the really exciting boats like the Moth or the A-class, you still do miss the Laser sailing, how pure it is, how it won’t come down to boat work or boat design, or things like that. It comes down to the ability of the sailor.

Even the really exciting boats like the Moth or the A class, you still do miss the Laser sailing, how pure it is...

I think actually, it worked positively for me in a couple of ways in that I kept fresh and I kept enjoying the sport doing all different things, but every time I did do some sailing outside of the Laser, I did miss it. I missed just how pure the class is.

Yeah, I can appreciate that. When you go out and train in your Laser, Tom… I guess probably it's a little different now, I'm not sure, then it was back in your prime, but say… like an intense training day on the water. What does that look like for you?

Well, yeah. I haven't actually been out in the Laser yet. I've got to put it together. I've been out on the Finn a couple of times, but back when I was sailing an intense day on the water, I saw a lot of people would go out for four or five hours sort of thing. The way I and the Australian laser sailing team have always done it is a session may be to three hours… we'd be at it… and everything after that you're getting... well, I think it's easy to train bad techniques when you get tired, so that was another reason why I enjoyed my laser sailing so much. I wasn't doing five, six hours on the water each day training. I was doing 2.5, 3 hours, sometimes 3.5 hours and the sessions were shorter and sharper. I think you enjoy your training a bit more when you know you're not going to be out there the whole day. You can get a lot more done, and you really can be specific in your drills.
Get on the water and then get off - and then obviously you're doing a training on shore; your fitness stuff and your debriefs etc. You've definitely got to keep a good balance, and if you just think that you just go out on the water all day for six hours, that's not an effective way to use your time.

On the water, you get out there with your coach and your sparring partners, do you guys focus on a lot of racing or drills and racing together or? Obviously, it’s different each day but can you give us some insight generally speaking?

Yeah. Obviously, though it's been a while since I was doing the Olympic training, I remember we'd go out with a goal for the day. We always say the goal was today to, let's just say, improve our high mode upwind, to be able to hold tight lanes. So we'd set up a drill where one boat would start ahead with the other one tight on his hip, and he's got to hold in that position as long as he can to simulate off the start line or the bottom mark. We'd go out and we'd do that drill quite a bit.
We'd usually start with some straight-line speed tests and get everyone locked in, and then go into this drill. 95% of the time we would always finish with racing, short course racing, sort of high intensity. That was always fun for people because you come in and you got bragging rights for the day. You beat your mates out there, and then so we always finished with racing no matter what. Sometimes the day was just purely racing focused and would have a group goal. It's was just, okay, today it's short course racing, improving our skills, and then you might have a personal goal inside that. Say, I want to make sure I improve my bottom mark tactical scenarios. I want to pick up a boat at the bottom mark each time through positioning and setup and all that sort of stuff. Yeah, always having a goal, but we always made sure we did a lot of racing.

Yeah. It kind of tends to lock in the skill in more of a real-life racing situation.

Yeah, exactly. It's like anything. You've seen this scenario a hundred times in training… then it's not a surprise when you get to that in a real race situation. We really believed in that philosophy.

About success in a Laser, I have two components here. The first is, I guess if you look at, and you've been around the scene for a while, but looking at the mid-pack, you know there are guys and they're in the 50s, 60s, 70s in the ranking, and they've been on the scene for years, and years and they're working super hard to achieve their dreams in the gym, on the bike, in the water, traveling around and doing the whole singularity of Laser training thing… but a lot of them just can't break through and get to that top pack. I'm wondering if you noticed that, and what you see then as holding them back and how they could breakthrough… or if you have a bit of a story to tell there or any insights.

Yeah. Obviously you do see a lot of guys who are sort of ... becoming a bit stagnant in their position, and they aren't breaking into their top group. For me, you've got your two different types of people there. First of all, you’ve got guys who really are happy enough to be there. They've got sponsorship and they can afford to ... they're sort of living their lifestyle. They've got enough money to survive from their federation or sponsors or whatever, and they might be 50th in the world, but they're happy enough doing that. And then you've got the guys who are really trying to break into the next level and break into the top 30, 20, 10 in the world.
If you’ve ended up locking into 50 or 70th in the world and you're trying to improve but you're not really getting any better and it's been a couple of years, for me it'd just be you got to change your training program. Say “that's not working”, and you've got to mix up the way you set your goals and how you achieve them. You've got to change your training group possibly. Travel to a different part of the world and train with a good team... Yeah.... you do see that quite often, and I often wonder why this guy's been outside the top 50 for the last four years. He's paying a lot of money. He's traveling the world, and personally I think that ... I mean, sure your skills might only get you so far, but I think a lot of people just don't train in the most effective way that helps them.
I was always moving up, fortunately, when I was younger, but I did get locked in the 30s in the world for probably a couple of years. I was very fortunate that those were the years when Michael Blackburn had retired. He was an Australian Olympian, and then he made a comeback into sailing and started training with me out of Sydney. Just the ability to be training with him (emphasis). He was the top 3 in the world and just seeing how he trained, seeing how dedicated he was, it really changed my focus, and without him, I wouldn't have ... I might not have ever broken through, and I may have left the sport, but just seeing the way he really was dedicated to the sport, it was a real eye-opener for me, and we started training together, and then all of a sudden I came up to his level, and I was very fortunate that he came back into laser sailing.

Yeah. And sailing was very fortunate, too - a lot has changed between now and then. What are the kinds of things that you guys modified... that made that turning point a reality. You said he had like intensity and dedication to the approach, I guess, but is there anything else…

Yeah. I mean, for me I think I was young. I was 18, 19 years old. He came back. He stopped after the Sydney Olympics and then he ended up coming back for the trials for the 2004 Olympics. I think myself and my friends who I was training with, we were all extremely naturally talented, but we had no idea of what professionalism really was, and going down with Michael… he used to say it's 1:00, off the dock, and at 1:00 on the dot, he'd be pushing his boat in the water - and I'd still be getting changed. I'd head out 10 minutes after him… and then he wouldn't wait for me the whole way out. He'd sail out offshore and he'd sail for an hour, 10 minutes ahead of me, and I could never catch up to him, and I remember just losing my mind, thinking, "Why is he not waiting for me?! We could be doing really good training here."
He was just teaching me that you've got to be professional. You've got to be disciplined, and if you say you're going to do something, you do it, whether it's getting up and going for your morning cycle, getting your leg strength, or you're going to get up and go to the gym. If you say it's 1:00 off the dock, it's 1:00 off the dock. Fortunately for me, I remember at first I took it the wrong way, and I was like, "This guy's a bit of a prick." Eventually, I realized... well... I was lucky my competitive nature took over and I said, "Okay, I'm going to be there. I'll be on the water five minutes before that," and making sure I was. I took the right lessons from it, and all of a sudden I became a lot more dedicated to it and no longer was I just naturally talented but I had this professional work ethic that went with it - that if I said I was going to do something, I was going to do it. That really set me off in the right direction.

You've got to be disciplined, and if you say you're going to do something, you do it, whether it's getting up and going for your morning cycle, getting your leg strength, or you're going to get up and go to the gym.

Nice Tom. I guess from there you pretty much employ the same formula, like all the way up to the top or is there something… you know.. because you have the top group… but then how do you make it to the very pinnacle, you know? What's the difference there between everyone in the top 10 and then only the one or two guys in a decade that come all the way up to the top?

Yeah. I mean, it's hard to know. I mean, eventually, if everyone's 100% professional and dedicated and doing all the training, the correct training, and this and that, then it's really going to come down to natural abilities that you're born with and, I mean, I got to the top and I think it's just the striving ... You're not trying to copy someone else's path. You're trying to set your own. I remember I was chasing Michael Blackburn for so long, and then I eventually beat him after the trials in 2008, and then I didn't do well in the Olympics then, but after the Olympics I said, okay, I finally achieved my goal of A, beating Michael Blackburn, and B, I've been to the Olympics. I didn't do well, but then I had to sit down and reassess.
Okay, so Michael's retired. He became my coach, and then I had to set my own goals of, okay, I want to win every world title from now to London. I wanted to be a world sailor of the year. I wanted to basically… I said, “I don't want to lose any events in the Laser anymore”. I mean, obviously, you've got to be focused and driven, but at times I think I took that to another level. I remember reading a quote from a guy I admire in Australia…. a surfer named Mick Fanning. I read a book of his and the quote was, "When a man embarks on a mission, he can become impossible to stop." I remember chatting about that quote with my dad, and it's interesting. I had got it in my head if that… no one's ever going to beat me and I'm not going to let anyone. A lot of it comes down to drive that sets you apart from the other guys who are top 5 in the world. I remember I said to myself “I'm never going to let that guy beat me again”, and I would focus so heavily on it. It got me up in the morning. For me, I always had a big rivalry with Paul Goodison, and I remember saying to myself, I'm not going to lose to him anymore. I did lose to him again in certain events, but still just waking up with that drive in the morning of getting up, and you're going to do the extra bit, or go out cycling in the pouring rain, because I was thinking he's not going to be out there, so I'll go in the pouring rain. I'm going to do it. It's blowing 35 knots. Okay, I'm going sailing because I know he might not be out there laser sailing. He wouldn't train in this. I would sort of fixate on certain things.

I remember reading a quote from a guy I admire in Australia…. a surfer named Mick Fanning. I read a book of his and the quote was, "When a man embarks on a mission, he can become impossible to stop." I remember chatting about that quote with my dad, and it's interesting. I had got it in my head if that… no one's ever going to beat me and I'm not going to let anyone. A lot of it comes down to drive that sets you apart from the other guys who are top 5 in the world.

I remember I spoke to a sport psychologist at the time, and she's said that's probably not healthy, fixating on that, but what it did is it got me training harder than anyone and more dedicated than anyone, and I don't think it really matters what your drive is as long as it's positive and it gets you doing the right things. I think, all of a sudden after all this training and dedication, I went back on the circuit and realized I was a level above everyone else.

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. You’ve got to find your own. You have to find one, but it has to be your own. As you said, carve your own pathway.

Yeah. Exactly.

Okay. Just moving over to the technical side a little bit. It's well-known I guess that you've had a speed advantage during your top level of Lasering. Also that you have a bit of extra gear in the high wind. Do you believe that to be true and can you describe that extra gear, why, how, what the whole deal is?

Yeah, I was definitely fast. Obviously, the higher the windier got, to 20 knots, 25, I was really quick high-end, but really my speed advantage started as soon as you were fully hiking, so you're comfortably under the foot strap hiking. That's where I said, okay, now as the wind kicks up, I'm only going to get stronger here. For me, when I got into Lasers and when I was able to race at reasonably high levels, say around the 30s, I was working with a coach Arthur Brett, and we started. Back then it was always looking for height, block to block. The game in a Laser was all about getting height out of the boat.
I remember, Arthur Brett and I were training with Brendan Casey from Queensland… we started experimenting a lot more with lower modes, easing sheet and laser sailing faster modes, and if you're able to get a good set of waves or you could pump, things like that, you could really go low and get the boat on the plane and then take your height from there slowly, but whilst taking the boat sort of planing upwind, and we developed this technique more and more. We did it outside of racing, just in a small training group, and it got better and better. I think the reason it all started is because of this outside thinking, thinking outside the box. This lower faster mode instead of a higher mode that everyone liked, which we actually got to work quite well… we just developed it and got better and better, and that's where it all originated from.
Then, obviously, we had to keep it hidden, and in the end, I always had others or chase boats watching at that time. At times, I would have 10 chase boats from other countries filming me, watching me, and there were times I would play games with them. There were times we would be serious. I often had a little radio when we were training to my coach Arthur, and he would tell me when someone's looking, so I didn't even have to look back if someone was filming me. I never had to look back. I could just change my technique without them even knowing I had noticed them.
Yeah, I mean, I definitely did have a speed advantage. In general, I was a bit bigger than everyone. I like to run around the 83 kilos, 83, 84 compared to the conventional 80 kilos. In the light, obviously, you pay a price in the light wind, but to me, it was more technique and laser sailing and finding a little gust in the light winds to make a difference, and in the stronger winds it was oftentimes that you couldn't beat raw power and speed… that more so making a difference than getting little puffs here and there. That's why I like to be heavier than everyone.

I think the reason it all started is because of this outside thinking, thinking outside the box. This lower faster mode instead of a higher mode that everyone liked, which we actually got to work quite well… we just developed it and got better and better, and that's where it all originated from.

Sure. Yeah. It must put a smile on your face, I'm sure, when you get to that, beyond the first stages of hiking, and you have that power advantage just waiting to be unleashed, right...

Yeah. It was. It was a confidence thing, as soon as ... and it meant you could sail lower risk higher percentage laser sailing. You didn't have to start on an end. You could start midline and then know that you're going to just chip away. You're going to be quicker than other people. Yeah. I was very glad. It all started back in, I don't know 2005 or so, and laser sailing with Brendan Casey and Coach Arthur Brett just developing this technique and it went all the way through to my London Olympics. I still had a speed advantage there.

laser sailing

Tom Slingsby Olympic Champion

Right on Tom, thanks for sharing all this – our clock has run out but we really appreciate the interview. Good luck to you, and maybe we'll catch you down in Mexico or another part of the world sometime soon.

Yeah, sounds good, thanks, Colin.

We receive a lot of comments about our videos and Rule 42, specifically on the run. Sailors look at a piece of downwind footage and wonder aloud “Is that even LEGAL??”. Or maybe they’re doing the laser sailing downwind and hear a whistle behind them - they might feel mistreated based on their interpretation or misinterpretation of the rules vs. the jury's. They could be sailing on that fine line between legal and prohibited. Perhaps the jury's angle caused them to make a bad call. Or maybe, intentionally or not, they're just cheating. Look through the Rule 42 penalties at the Worlds this year and you’ll notice 14 downwind rocking related flags issued by jury members to top rated, world class sailors. It's the most common "rule breach" after the start.

So what’s legal and what’s not? Does anything lie in the “grey area”? What about subjectivity or pack behavior and it’s impact on 42 related rocking penalties? Do we need to push the limits of the rules to be competitive? Why do sailors with bad technique get flagged more often? These are all questions we'll try to address in this series on Downwind Rocking and Rule 42. You can view the sources for the Rules, Jury Interpretations and Common Breaches through the links at the bottom of the page. Note class rules could affect/trump Rule 42 but in Laser, none apply.

Let's start by examining Rule 42, its interpretations, and exceptions related to rocking/rolling to determine what's technically legal. The World Sailing interpretations are important because they are the lens juries use to view the rules through.

INTERPRETATIONS OF TERMS USED (shortened for clarity)

Roll - A single cycle where the mast goes to leeward and back to windward or vice versa

Rocking - Repeated rolling of the boat

Repeated - More than once on the same area on a leg


RULE 42.1 Basic Rule

Except when permitted in rule 42.3 or 45, a boat shall compete by using only the wind and water to increase, maintain or decrease her speed. Her crew may adjust the trim of sails and hull, and perform other acts of seamanship, but shall not otherwise move their bodies to propel the boat.


BASIC 2 A kinetic technique not listed in rule 42.2 that propels the boat, and is not one of the permitted actions covered in rule 42.1, is prohibited.

BASIC 4 Except when permitted under rule 42.3, any single action of the body that clearly propels the boat (in any direction) is prohibited.

The "clearly propels" phrase referred to here crucial. If the action in and of itself would propel the boat, then it is not legal. Note that this exception regarding rule 42.3 does not grant all rules under 42.3 (including rolling to facilitate steering) the permission to "use a single action of the body to propel the boat". It only allows for this in the 42.3 rules which specifically address this type of propulsion - clearing from a grounding, sailing instruction overrides, helping another in danger etc.

RULE 42.2 Prohibited Actions

Without limiting the application of rule 42.1, these actions are prohibited:

(b) rocking: repeated rolling of the boat, induced by

       (1) body movement,

       (2) repeated adjustment of the sails or centreboard,

   or (3) steering;

This specific section refers to rocking and it is clearly prohibited if initiated by a body movement, repeated adjustment of sails/blades or steering. Note that rocking is "defined" here as "repeated rolling of the boat". This is important, because it implies that a single roll of the boat induced by these actions is not prohibited in this rule so long as it does not "clearly propel" the boat. The interpretations below explain more.


ROCK 1 A roll of the boat caused by a gust or a lull followed by corrective body movement to restore proper trim is permitted by rule 42.1.

ROCK 2 One roll that does not clearly propel the boat is permitted.

ROCK 3 Background rolling is permitted. A boat is not required to stop this type of rolling.

ROCK 4 Adopting any static crew position or any static setting of the sails or centreboard, even when stability is reduced, is permitted by rule 42.1 and is not prohibited by rule 42.2(b).

ROCK 5 A single body movement that is immediately followed by repeated rolling of the boat is prohibited.

So given all that, we can maximize the natural tendency of the boats rocking if desired with our body position. In the right conditions, being more intentionally "reactive” to gusts and lulls is legal and potentially beneficial. We can also use one roll that is not propulsive in and of itself without issue.

That's the key - the judges will/should only flag if they are sure that the body movement is directly responsible for the speed increase.

If there's a beneficial natural rock happening due to swell/wave action, it's no problem to let it continue. We cover the details of these technical skills in depth in our Laser Sailing Downwind Clinic.

42.3 Exceptions

(a) A boat may be rolled to facilitate steering.

This is the big one as it relates to rocking. The interpretations below back this up but restrict us to a limited cadence if we do not have waves.

ROCK 6 Heeling to windward to facilitate bearing away and heeling to leeward to facilitate heading up are permitted. The heeling of the boat has to be consistent with the boat's turn. 

ROCK 7 Repeated rolling not linked to wave patterns is rocking prohibited by rule 42.2(b), even if the boat changes course with each roll.

This exception turns off the previous restrictions on rolling with the caveat that you must be facilitating steering and your roll must be linked to the wave pattern. You are absolutely PERMITTED to ROLL the boat to facilitate steering. If you need to bear away, you are clearly allowed to heel the boat to windward. If you need to head up, you may facilitate this by heeling the boat to leeward. However, note that ROCK 6 limits us to a heeling consistent with the turn.

 So we cannot initiate huge leeward heel and flatten with only a small course change (down the middle rocking), even with large waves.

Still, this exception is massive because it allows us to use the good technique that is completely natural to the boat and fast, as highlighted in this article on Tillerless Sailing - all while staying within the limits of the rules. This exception gives us more flexibility with rule 42 and provides another tool for the effective laser sailing downwind. Sailors are expressly permitted to roll the boat to facilitate steering, repeatedly, as long as it is linked to the wave pattern and does not clearly propel in and of itself, and so long as the roll is proportionate with the wave size.

This chart summarizes what's legal and what's not regarding Rule 42 and rolling downwind in a laser

This chart summarizes what's legal and what's not regarding Rule 42 and rolling laser sailing downwind.

 In our next article on Downwind Rocking and Rule 42, we'll discuss what juries are looking for, permitted actions that may get you flagged if viewed from certain angles, the grey area, pack mentality, the reality of prohibited actions at the top level, and more.



Rule 42

Rule 42 Interpretations[15083].pdf

Common Rule Breaches, Laser[16804].pdf

Dave Perry, Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing 2017-2020

Dave Perry, Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing 2017-2020

Choosing the right mainsheet can often be a decision that can make or break your day of racing. Factors to consider are length, thickness, and material.

First off, the length is important to consider. If you’re unsure, as when buying all lines, buy it a bit longer and cut it down to your taste after a few sails. It’s good to sail with a roll of electrical tape so you can mark where you think you’d want to cut it and try it out during practice. A mainsheet on the short end will mean that on a windy day if you lose your sheet your sail won’t get too far away from you. However, in by the lee conditions, you may not be able to sheet out far enough. The ideal length seems to be between 42 and 46 feet.

The thickness of your mainsheet will affect both the grip you can have on it and the amount of friction as it goes through the blocks (a thicker line will have more friction). What this simply translates to is that in stronger winds, you’ll want a thicker mainsheet for better grip, and since the loads in the sail are higher the increased friction through the blocks is negligible. A common thin mainsheet is 6mm while a thicker, heavier air sheet will be 7mm.

Laser Rigging Tips: How to Maintain/Repair Laser Spars

Mainsheets come in different styles and materials and it’s important to get a strong and long-lasting mainsheet. Constantly sheeting will put a lot of wear on the sheet, and you also need something that’s comfortable to grip and not slippery in your hands. A nice polyester cover is great, and having a strong core such as Dyneema can help prevent stretch and breakage.

Note that new mainsheets often come with a protective coating that is very slippery, so it's good to break it is far ahead of an important event!

Close-hauled. What is it and where is it anyway? Some sailors seem to be able to find it and stay in it, all the time. Others pass through it, but can’t seem to hang around for very long. Some tend to practically live on the pinch, never allowing the sail to fully enjoy great flow and power. It’s very common when assessing speed and “pointing” problems, to find that sailors are not sailing on proper angles for some percentage of their upwind sailing time.

When defining close-hauled, it helps to first define what close-hauled is not. If the sail is luffing (there is a visible bubble somewhere on the luff) you’re too high - this is not close-hauled. If the sail is stalled, IE, your leeward telltale has dropped assuming correct mainsheet tension, you’re too low - not close-hauled either. Just on the edges before this are the extreme limits of the upwind groove.

Now let’s investigate what close-hauled IS, and the various geography inside it. Imagine this as more of a region, comprising a few different zones.

Upwind Closehauled Angle Detail


If sheet tension is correct for the condition, and both telltales are just starting to fly straight back, you’ve hit the low side of the groove. Again, a nice place to visit periodically, but only used for situations where we need to gain acceleration and power, or for tactical reasons. Otherwise, rarely will you stay there for very long.

Any further down from there, is too low and no longer closehauled in our definition. We can consider this angle to be “footing”, requiring an ease of sheet. This is really only useful if we know there’s a shift or pressure ahead. It's more of a strategical/tactical decision rather than a VMG one. Note there can be a fair bit of range between when telltales “first begin to become straight/even” and "just before stalling" when the leeward telltale starts to detach.

In the depicted “green zone" the leeward telltale will always be straight back. The windward telltale will range from pointing straight upward, going back at an angle upward, pointing down and back at an angle, or hanging down. If you’re going to stay in one place, you might as well stay here. And keep the luff as close to “twitchy” as you can get.  In the reality of peak optimal performance, many conditions dictate driving between low, middle and high - and then resetting back again to repeat.

In waves, you may be all the way down to the bottom of our blue zone momentarily with a big tiller pull and probably all the way back through the green and touching into orange at the top of the wave. These angle changes depend mostly upon the size of the wave. But we never want to end up in the red or grey zones even when making big steering changes to reduce impact. Note that on the MKII sail, any forward windward telltale behavior indicates that you are too high. It should almost never go forward on the MKII. On the radial, a temporary forward behavior is acceptable.

While telltales are a very important guide in detecting optimal angle, there are times when they are not very effective. Maybe they get stuck, or get wet or you can’t see them because of the sun angle…. or they’re placed badly. Here we can concentrate on being sure to see the luff get twitchy fairly often to give us our high side indicator. We know our middle angle/green zone should be just a little bit down from there. If we can’t see our leeward telltale, at least we can know that we’re not too low or stalled with just this one indicator. Another great way to tell is by reading the water.

The actual total amount of closehauled range, also known as “groove”, can vary quite a bit depending on your rig setup and conditions, but these indicators explained above will still remain the same. This “closehauled”  area in the diagram could range from about 2 to 6 degrees.

As far as placement of telltales, the primary set should be a few inches forward of the window - away from the turbulence of the mast but not too far back as they become desensitized for our purposes when they are aft. In terms of height, you want them in the meat of the sail, higher than the window. Most sailors also add a second set higher up. Copy the pro placement. 

Note if you’re off of target speed for the wind speed, telltale behavior can sometimes be deceiving. Telltales are most informative when they have good air flow. Particularly in light air, make sure to get fully up to speed before using telltales to dial in your angle - in other words, avoid being overtrimmed while trying to make things look right if you are slow.

While telltales are a very important guide in detecting optimal angle, there are times when they are not very effective.

Swell is another time when telltales can lead you astray. You can experience many “"velocity” headers and lifts in swell that occur due to apparent wind changes in your rig. The swell is affecting the movement of your boat in the water and causing these changes while the true wind could well be remaining in the exact same direction. It’s very easy for sailors to get “lost” in these conditions. Many make the mistake of steering up and down instead of absorbing these changes.  This “chasing” has the effect of too much drag. You can make small sheeting adjustments instead to keep good flow through the changes.

In terms of staying on angle more often, this can require an incredible amount of attention and concentration depending on conditions. Sailors should be looking at telltales or their luff roughly about 1/3rd of the time they are sailing on average. A good time to check them is when you feel something in the boat change, but you should be checking in every few seconds to verify great flow and angle. The best sailors probably sail with perfect telltale behavior about 95% of the time. Set up a camera on board and see how you do, or ask your coach to film you and try to quantify this once you know where you should be.

Hopefully this information can help you stay on a better angle more often and have more angle awareness on the water. Experiment on your own or let us help you dial in your upwind performance at one of our All-Inclusive Sailing Clinics this winter! Our Online Courses cover angles in detail with videos and performance checklists you can administer yourself. Check them out to really dial in your upwind angles. See you on the water.

Hydration seems like such an obvious concept in our sport. We are outdoors and in constant exposure to the wind and sun. Everyone knows they need to be well hydrated yet few understand when they are optimally hydrated or are starting to become dehydrated. In this article, we will discuss the importance of hydration, performance factors of dehydration, how you can stay away from it, and strategies to ensure you are getting what you need.

How does dehydration affect our performance? When we become dehydrated our blood plasma decreases causing thickening of the blood. This leads to the heart and body taking on a larger workload to move the more viscous blood (an increase of heart rate). Losing about 2% of your body weight in fluids (a very small amount) will result in a 4% decrease in performance in both muscular strength and endurance.

In a given day if we are sedentary a 160lb person will lose about 2 liters of water, most of this is through urine and the remainder is sweat in breath. If we are racing in a hot and windy conditions this amount significantly increases. For example if a 180lb person were to forgo fluids on a 4 hour race day they would lose close to 4 lbs of fluid body weight resulting in a 4% performance decrease of their physical output.

Losing about 2% of your body weight in fluids will result in a 4% decrease in performance in both muscular strength and endurance.

With this much water being lost being lost is seems intuitive that our body would constantly be craving fluids. Unfortunately, this is not the case and by the time our body sends a signal to drink, dehydration is well underway. Because we don’t fully retain what we drink in order to replenish fluids it can take between 24- 48 hours to rehydrate if thirst alone is the controlling factor.

So how much should you be drinking on the water? In moderate conditions with heat 750ml/hour is a good number to be hitting. There are many factors that can change this but this is a great place to start. If this isn’t cutting it and you find your weight dropping use that every pound of fluid lost an additional 500ml/pound lost should be consumed.

Of course when we sweat not only water is lost but also waste and nutrients are excreted as well. Most popularly among this list are electrolytes. Adding and electrolyte mix or tablet (such a GU or NUUN) to what you consume on the water is greatly beneficial. If you are on land and in between meals regular water is fine. Pre-made sports drinks? Due to the high glycemic index of most of these beverages, they are not ideal to consume in large quantities and should be left to post-exercise in moderate amounts.

The Secret To Winning The Start

With all of this in mind, how do we gauge our level of hydration? Outside of overall good feeling, a much more objective way of assessment is done through examining our urine. Importance of hydration can also be judged as it affects our urine. A visit should the bathroom should be made at least once every two hours and urine should be clear to light yellow. If this is not being met then additional fluid need to be consumed.

How do we ensure that we are able to drink when we are on the water? Well, a support boat holding on an ample supply of your fluid is ideal however this is not always realistic. Some sailors leave loose bottles in their cockpits however this compromises performance and risks tangles or simply losing the bottle. Others attach to their masts but again this can be somewhat in the way. Our preferred method involves creating a loop through the two eyelets of the hiking strap and around the travel cleat. This straightforward method is out of the way of your lines, feet and sight and doesn't interfere with sailing the boat optimally. It can accommodate bottle sizes of up to 2 liters which is ideal for a two and a half hour training session.

importance of hydration

Rigging a bungee behind the traveller cleat and through the hiking strap eyelets allows the water bottle to be out of the way and accessible.

With the importance of hydration as a contributor to performance and such a controllable process it seems silly to be overlooked when rushing out onto the water. Drink up my friends!

importance of hydration

As the Laser’s rigging evolved and sailors’ techniques got better, the sailors get fitter and heavier, stronger sails are built and low stretch line is used, more and more load is being put onto your Laser spars. Repair laser spars is quite important to safe a life.

Repair Laser Spars

Typical corrosion shown at the mast fitting. Photo:

Maintaining your spars correctly will ensure longevity, and knowing how to repair them and having the tools and parts on hand will allow you to miss as little sailing as possible.

One of the most important things to remember about taking care of your spars is that most of the load bearing fittings are stainless steel and the tubes are aluminum. Once you add salt water to those dissimilar metals, galvanic corrosion occurs. Since aluminum is more reactive than stainless, the mast tube around the stainless rivets will begin to corrode and weaken. This leads to the tube weakening and either the fittings pulling out or the tube breaking. Once the holes are corroded becomes very hard to keep up with.


The best practice is to repair laser spars with fresh water every time you sail in salt water. Make sure to pay special attention to all the fittings, and to especially rinse out the inside of the bottom section by filling it with water, placing your hand on the open end of the tube and moving the water around the inside of the mast. While doing so, take a close look at your rivets and fittings. If you start seeing white crust, spiderweb cracks, discolouration and movement, it is important to monitor it and consider replacing your rivets with some anti-corrosion paste as soon as possible to try to slow down the process.

Laser Sailing Tips: Selecting The Best Mainsheet

Though we haven’t had to repair rivets on carbon spars, galvanic corrosion can occur with carbon as well, so we’ll have to see how the spars handle it.


When it comes time to repair laser spars, like a loose rivet or you observe corrosion starting to develop, having a few tools on hand and some knowledge can go a long way and allow you to sail more and prolong the life of your spars.

Tools needed for your spar repair kit:

First, identify what type of rivet you need based on the fitting. All the plastic fittings can use cheaper and easier to use aluminum rivets. The other advantage here is that there is no risk of corrosion by mixing aluminum, plastic and more aluminum. If the fitting is metal, like your goose neck or a metal eye strap, a stainless steel rivet is necessary. All rivets on the Laser spars are 3/16“ x 1/2" inch for maximum hold.

To remove an old or damaged rivet, first try to drill it out by pointing your drill directly vertically into the head. Aluminum rivets are much softer and easier to remove than stainless rivets. Your goal is to remove the head only, or at least loosen it from the rivet body. After that, you want to remove the head either by picking it in the centre and lifting it off or prying it up with a flathead screwdriver. Sometimes you can also slide the flathead screwdriver under the head and chisel the head off with a hammer.

Repair Laser Spars

ISA_PryOffHeadRepair Laser SparsOnce your rivet is out, inspect the fitting and the mast. Give the area a good wipe down with alcohol or acetone and insert your new rivet covered liberally in Lanacote or another anti-corrosion paste or grease.

Be sure to use an accordion rivet gun to make the stainless riveting easy and to drain the used rivet bits out of your spar when possible.

“Tillerman” will hate love the sailing drill for downwind technique.

Apart from joining our Downwind Clinic where we coach you for 6 consecutive days downwind, covering over 15 miles per day, there are some great drills you can learn sailing on your own.

A powerful example is tillerless sailing. It’s impressive how much one drill can reveal about a sailor's downwind technique, even at Olympic levels. This drill highlights rudder errors, sheeting mistakes and body position errors rapidly. It also provides a different, and great, sense of feel and connection with the boat. We recommend it for coaches as well.

Here's how to get started:

1. Start in a light breeze, 4-7 knots
2. Setup by the lee with the boat balanced, and the tiller feeling very light, no helm
3. Let go of the tiller extension and let it sit on the leeward deck
4. Control the boat directionality using body weight, body position and sheet tension
5. After feeling control of directionality, work on your upturns, downturns, slow presses, even windward and leeward mark roundings, all without using your tiller

For theoretical background on how to control your boat without using your tiller, read on below.

Controlling Boat Directionality by moving CE/CLR Forces Laterally

When sailing deeper angles downwind, the moving forces on the boat are manipulated best in a more lateral fashion. Instead of directional changes or helm occurring primarily from the separation of CE and CLR fore and aft, there's more emphasis on their relationship laterally. IE, the forces moving further apart from each other in an outboard direction create turning force (helm) in the boat.

The downwind technique is to control these lateral forces with the heel of the boat. Press weight to leeward to head up. Heel the boat to windward to bear away. This manipulates lateral separation of the two forces.

Note: We always use the term leeward to represent the same side that the sail resides on

Laterally, forces are aligned and boat tracks straight. 

Laterally, forces are aligned and boat tracks straight.

Boat is pressed flat (or passed flat) and CE is to leeward/port of CLR: this offset force causes weather helm, boat turns up

Boat is pressed flat (or passed flat) and CE is to leeward/port of CLR: this offset force causes weather helm, boat turns up

Boat is heeled to windward more than when forces are aligned, and CE is to windward/starboard of CLR: this offset force causes lee helm, boat bears away

Boat is heeled to windward more than when forces are aligned, and CE is to windward/starboard of CLR: this offset force causes lee helm, boat bears away

Sheet tension can indirectly affect this turning force described above by dumping or creating power, which will initiate heel and result in the affect described above.  This is oftentimes desirable - the change of sheet tension combined with resultant heel will turn the boat - they work and should work together. Adding even more active heel with your body in combination with a sheet drop will further enhance the effect.

Controlling Boat Directionality by moving CE/CLR Forces Fore/Aft

Sheet tension can also directly affect the turn of the boat, even without heel changes, as viewed through the forces of CE and CLR from above. This is particularly intuitive on broad reach and DDW angles and  more pronounced on hotter angles/windier conditions.

Sheeting in from a broad reach angle or DDW causes weather helm as CE moves aft

Sheeting in from a broad reach angle or DDW causes weather helm as CE moves aft.

CLR can also be moved dramatically with body weight adjustments fore and aft. To move CLR back, we can move our shoulders back and down towards the rudder (not outboard!). This cancels out weather helm and/or initiates lee helm. You can use this technique while tillerless sailing as well to get the idea of it’s effect.

Sheeting out from a broad reach angle or DDW causes lee helm as CE moves forward.

CLR can also be moved dramatically with body weight adjustments fore and aft. To move CLR back, we can move our shoulders back and down towards the rudder (not outboard!). This cancels out weather helm and/or initiates lee helm. You can use this technique while tillerless sailing as well to get the idea of its effect.

Shoulders AFT (not outboard) moves CLR aft reducing weather helm, freeing the bow and potentially initiates lee helm.

Shoulders AFT (not outboard) moves CLR aft reducing weather helm, freeing the bow and potentially initiates lee helm.

Once you’re by the lee, we have a reversal of flow and thus force direction. Most of the time by the lee, particularly at deeper angles your sheet tension affects heel. And since lateral forces are dominant here, this heel affects your directionality the most. For example, drop sheet deep (narrow/close to DDW) by the lee and this allows the boat to heel more  - now lateral forces twist the boat away more BTL to your new angle.

One interesting phenomenon is that when sailing hotter by the lee, sheeting out can actually cause heading up. This is explained in the diagram below. Because of the reversed forces on sail/blades, more side loading, and the leech so far forward, it tends to push the bow back towards DDW.

downwind technique

You may find that a sheet drop while by the lee tends to cause a bit of momentary weather helm. This is explained in the diagram above. CE is now traveling leech to luff, and as it moves forward, pushes the bow to windward (towards DDW).

Boat Spinning out on Upturn

Sometimes while tillerless sailing, the boat will have a tendency to get moving up too fast and you’ll get stuck on a beam reach. Anticipate more. Start movements and sheeting earlier than you think. Be gentle with your press/initiation. Moving your upper body AFT towards the rudder, will move your CLR back and help cancel out weather helm. Do it early.

If you’ve done that and keep spinning out to beam reach, be cognisant of driving too high with your sheet out TOO FAR. This is paradoxical because the mindset is typically to ease the sail in order to bear away. However, if the sail is luffing at the leading edge, this is now an extreme case - the CE has moved back and become more leech dominant - and the boat won’t bear away again until you TRIM IN with a bit of windward heel.

Theoretical understanding how boat forces work will compliment downwind technique and help solve many issues. Refinement of tillerless techniques will give you a better kinesthetic feel of the forces and how to manipulate them. Do a few minutes of tillerless work each light wind session. It will translate into less and more efficient rudder use, better body movements and more accurate sheeting - and will definitely improve your downwind speed over time.

For more downwind technique, tricks, and tips, personalized coaching with video review, technical briefs and debriefs, warm water, delicious and nutritious food, new lasers, carbon top sections, drone footage, high resolution media packages, boat rigging and de-rigging services and more, join in on our Laser Clinics in Mexico this winter. See you on the water.

Take a peak at one of ISA's seminars on downwind strategy - a perfect video to watch on those low wind days that will change the way you think about downwind sailing.

The seminar was filmed at the Gorge in Oregon in June 2017. Though you'll hear some specific tips for the Gorge, you'll learn how to identify and execute a solid downwind strategy for your next race. We go over downwind VMG in the Laser, course skew, wave skew, wind shifts and pressure and how to prioritize what will help you achieve the best gains.

We use real world examples of drone footage at the 2016 World Championships and the 2012 Olympics to demonstrate the concepts.

Being able to get the right amount of boom vang on while you're sailing, and getting it set correctly and quickly is not only beneficial to your speed and sailing but will also allow you to get the right amount of control on when you are tired.

To summarize: use high quality lines and block, make sure your floating block goes all the way to the boom vang key when it is off all the way, set your max off knot at the right tension, use a plastic handle, and mark your vang line for 90º, block to block, depower 1 and depower 2.

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