In conditions where boat speed is faster than wave speed, we’re often looking for opportunities to overtaking waves.

Overtaking Waves

Here are 3 useful methods to execute this:

Overtaking Waves

Overtaking Waves

Overtaking Waves

Overtaking Waves

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Scott: I value Laser coaching massively.  I think too many sailors waste a lot of time sailing a lot without good technique.  Fast forward your skills by getting coaching so you know what to concentrate on when you are without a coach.

Vaughn: Congrats on your latest victory. You've now won 9 World titles! Is this the beginning of your legacy? Can you see yourself competing for many more years to come?

Scott: Won 9 world titles having competed in the last 12 laser master worlds in a row.  My intention is to try and continue to train hard, to travel and compete for as long as I can.  I still really enjoy competing, it's just a buzz being on the start line at the world champs having done a committed and tough training program, the anticipation for months, the build-up week at the venue and then the excitement of finally being able to do the business on race day when the horn goes signaling your first start.  Then that peaceful feeling as you have pulled through to the front of the fleet a few minutes into the race with the knowledge you are definitely fast and then buckling down to install the concentrated focus, being in the moment all the way around the track making the boat go to its maximum speed at all times.  Finally, feeling fulfilled at the end of the race knowing you have sailed to your very best.   The race is pretty much a blur as you were so highly tuned into the micro aspects of them now!

Outside the racing, I really enjoy catching up with all the sailors each year that I have met many times now (and feels like a family away from my family) and also meeting new and interesting sailors each year.  I see it as being quite indulgent and a real luxury to be able to compete and take enough time out each year to train and race so I feel really fortunate - it has become a big part of my lifestyle and yearly routine.

Vaughn: You put a huge priority on fitness not just for sailing but also for well-being. What advice would you give to other masters sailors if they had 5+ hours/week to commit to fitness and less than 5 hours/week to commit to a fitness

Scott: For people with less than 5 hours I would concentrate on time on the water, as that is the best bang for your time - especially if you have a coach/training partner(s) and good weather conditions for training.  If you can't get on the water I would try to simulate sailing as best as possible, like hiking bench and arm pulley reps, and I always do a lot of spin - intensive cycling at the gym. I generally get to spin about 30 mins before the class starts so I'm pretty knackered when the class begins and keeps going hard until the end of spin 60 minutes later.

For more than 5 hours (I do around 20 hours a week for the 3 months build-up to worlds) you have more time to cover more bases.  I do 3 hard cycles per week of around 1.5 hours covering at least 50km in each session. This is great for dropping the few kilograms of weight (I like to hit my target weight), gets me very cardiovascular fit and gives me the confidence I can sail two hard races easily in a day going full noise without concern.  I also do a lot of stretching and holds (prone holds, static squats, lunges) at the gym after cycling for around 30 mins.

Then I sail as much as possible, mixing up coaches, training partners, by myself, short drills, short racing, hike offs, short intervals and long intervals and of course normal club and regatta racing.  I am fortunate to have very good training partners in our NZ Olympic girls and NZ top youth sailors to train with right at my club - also some of the best coaches on the planet via our Olympic boys and the Olympic and youth coaches.  They are all amazingly supportive and everyone is willing to help each other out. Whenever the breeze is up during any part of the day I try to be on the water hiking (kind of over hiking) as hard as I can for sustained periods - just to continually reinforce to myself I can hike harder for longer.  If its light winds for more than 2 days I will come ashore and do onshore hiking for generally 45 minutes spending about half an hour actually hiking horizontal to keep my legs/torso match fit. I can end up with an injury when I load up the hours so try and keep on top of sore backs, hips, shoulders, neck, etc. with regular visits to the physio and chiro and rehab exercises at the gym so this can add a few more hours to the mix each week.

For the 3 months build up I take a lot more interest in my diet cutting out the bad stuff (biscuits, snack food, alcohol, caffeine (although I never drink caffeine anyway) and drinking a lot more water.  I tend to sleep a lot more during this 3-month period falling asleep around an hour (or two!) earlier than otherwise.

In summary, around 6 hours + in the gym cycling, stretching per week, 3 hours rehabbing and around 10-15 hours on the water or at the yacht club hiking per week.

My general philosophy is to do something every day in a row, as I know it's just a matter of time before I will get tied up with business, family or travel commitments that means I struggle for a day or two to get my training in.


Interview with Laser Masters World Champion Bill Symes

Vaughn: As a coach, you must have developed habits of 'working on your weaknesses'. How often do you go out with the intention to work on improving a skill versus just going out for the 'fun of it'?

Scott: Firstly, I never go out for the fun of it, I always train hard and always have a pre-planned program before I hit the water, I start with how long have I got, then how long will I do each exercise, and what I am concentrating on for each exercise.  With others sailing I will ask what they want help with and generally, we quickly agree on a session plan. Even by myself I set a strict plan and follow it (even when I am not up for it I will push through to do my last 20 minute upwind full hike practice so I know I can get up even when I am low on energy).   Having said that the wind is your master so you do need to be flexible depending on exactly what the wind does during your session.  I really enjoy learning new skills, like reversing out of the starting lineup became a new thing to do a couple of seasons ago, and lately, I have worked on my tactical gybes. Refining the skills I already have is where I concentrate.  I should also mention if the breeze and waves are way up I really love "for the fun of it" going for extended reaching.

Vaughn: Are you ever practicing specific skills for specific venues? How did you prepare for this win?

Scott: Yes, for sure, if the venue has particular features then I will go out of my way to recreate that at my home training.  For example, for San Fran worlds I gained weight and strength and sailed in very big winds and steep sea state about 5 miles up from my club.  I was often out in 30 knots and when I got to San Fran I found the conditions really comfortable. For Port Zealand, I concentrated practice on our offshore breezes closer to shore for flatter and shiftier conditions.  I lost weight as I knew flatter water I could be lighter, although I was hoping for a lot more wind than we got for the Port Zealand worlds I was prepared for the lighter shiftier conditions, concentrating on changing gears a lot and head out of the boat.

Vaughn: What do you think were 4-5 technical skills the winners at 2019 World Championships were most efficient at?

Scott: In my opinion, the single most important skill was being able to read the wind.  By seeing the puffs up the course and having your head out of the boat almost full time around the whole course was critical.  The macro of each leg was hugely important studying the puffs coming down the course (they were rather sticky so you had to sail to them rather than wait for them to come to you), but also the micro of saying every 30 seconds, do I want to go high now to squeeze up to the next puff or lower to meet the correct side of the next puff.  Also, how can I maximize my boat speed for the next 30 seconds, less outhaul, less vang? Then having a good sense of now is the right time to sail on a lowish heading (rather than tacking) because there is a bigger puff ahead etc. Staying patient and confident when in a light spot because you have already got your next puff insight and sailing to it with a strong purpose.

I think too many people got obsessed with compass angles and staying on a high tack rather than getting to the puff and only then being worried about the lifted tack. The long tack, to begin with, was always a default if in doubt. All the above is because the venue was dictated by pressure. I think I got this right (enough) in every leg of every race except the second beat of the 11th race.  In this race, the wind went too light to be on the side of the boat and I know in hindsight I was not looking up the course as I had been when I was sitting up and hiking out.  I also had the mindset of just ensuring a top 14 places to win the regatta - so I had an ultra-conservative start (I was sailing with a BFD) and sailed downwind ultra-conservative very mindful of R42 (I was also sailing with a Yellow).

My speed was fabulous on all points of sail and all breeze ranges and is fundamental in yacht racing.  Those that were not fast probably need coaching on how to get fast in all conditions and practice to be faster in a straight line.  There are many technical skills that make up speed, especially in different wind ranges and on different points of sail.  Once hiking, fitness is key as well as great technique and trimming.

The extra speed edge I had upwind in the breeze (we had two slightly windy races, races 7 & 8 which topped out at about 17 knots) was hugely satisfying, I won race 7 by a very large margin and was narrowly off first in race 8 even after starting last after I was taken out moments before the start, at the first top mark I was some hundreds of meters off first sitting about 15th out of the 50 in our combined fleet.  I gained around 1 minute on the leaders on the second beat through speed. Bearing in mind I had already used my drop with a BFD so after staring at last place 20 seconds after the start and getting back to 2nd was a key moment to set myself up for the title. All the training I'd put in made that race 8 comeback very satisfying,

Vaughn: What were a few standout tactics you were biased towards at the Laser Worlds in Port Zelande (e.g. shifts, pressure, start position) If it changed day to day, perhaps you could share some anecdotes.

Scott: As above pressure/puffs were the key factors, but every race was slightly different.  There were some key moments/parts to each race over and above long tack and pressure. For example, R1 a long 8-minute right phase came through on the second beat.  R5 and 6 were really shifty and up and down, R7 and 8 were boat speed races in the bigger breeze, R11 was a massive righty on the second beat.

Vaughn: You mentioned being rather aggressive on the start line. Did this strategy pay off in PZ? What's one thing you think you do differently to the rest of the fleet prior to 'GO!'?

Scott: I like to start right at the favored end or side, rather than too conservatively.  I don't like midline starts as a rule. I enjoy winning starts but at the Laser Worlds, this was not a necessity as the pressure and lifted tack were most important.  I guess overall my aggressive starts paid off as I was at the front end in most races. I was annoyed I got the BFD, I had a sailor go a bit early above me at the pin and I should have been patient for 1 more second, we both got BFD and I won the race comfortably in the end so didn't need that extra second advantage.  From race 3 to race 10 I pretty well won or was at the front at some stage in the races and I had a mixed bag of starts - so the starts at PZ were not a key at all. In more stable breeze venues the starts are far more important.

The key thing I do differently is holding my spot on the line, going head to wind a lot more than those around me.  It can be hard in the masters fleet (I do a lot of open fleet sailing) as those above me often can't hold up so I have to be watchful.  I also do not 'run down the line' giving up my leeward gap like some masters tend to do with time to kill just before the start.

Vaughn: How do you value Laser coaching as a tool for improvement? Is it possible to develop high-level techniques without coaching? If so, what kinds of things would supplement?

Scott: I value Laser coaching massively.  I think too many sailors waste a lot of time sailing a lot without good technique.  Fast forward your skills by getting coaching so you know what to concentrate on when you are without a coach.

I made the most significant improvements when I got some amazing 1 on 1 coaching about 10 years ago from the top Kiwi laser sailor Andrew Murdoch (Doc).  He would sit the coach boat just off my transom and give me micro feedback on each puff, each wave encouraging me to sail at a very high standard. It was really hard, to begin with for me (I did have self-doubt) but over a few months, I got pretty good even though I didn't realize it.  It wasn't until I was sailing against my normal peers and I would be winning by a lot that it showed me all the hard work had paid off. I can still hear Doc laughing and saying "wow" as big gusts would hit me I would keep the leeward deck dry.

Then hours and hours chasing another boat or more around tight short race tracks seems to work very well.

Vaughn: Any tips for sailors who want to make a considerable jump in their respective fleets before next year's Laser Worlds?

Scott: Talk responsibility for making it happen, dream big, get involved with good coaches and training groups, work really hard, don't shy away from things you can't do - make changes rather than doing the same stuff, get fit and be super kind to your supportive spouse/family!

laser sailing coaching

Nick Thompson ISA Coach

Train with Nick Thompson in Vilamoura, Portugal for the ISA Master’s Laser Sailing Clinic

Nick Thompson is a world-class laser sailor and coach. He is a 2-time Laser World Champion and Olympian with 6 years of coaching experience at the highest levels of sailing. At this point in his career, he says, it’s increasingly about giving back to a younger generation. In a recent interview with ISA coach Vaughn Harrison, Nick talked about his role as an elite laser sailing coach saying,

“I love when I have an opportunity to give somebody something that will either make them want to stay in the sport or get better at the sport.”

For Nick, the enjoyment of laser sailing coaching is in figuring out what makes a person tick and how to get the best out of them; a strategy he uses on himself. “Being in a laser for nearly 20 years you need to find things that keep you interested, fresh and motivated. I'm always trying to figure out new ways to get better or change.” A good coach gets the best out of you by seeing the big picture and keeping a plan in mind. When you know what the end goal is, he says, and how much time you have to work toward it then you can start figuring out where you can make the biggest jumps with your athlete.

What else do good coaches offer an athlete who’s working on developing peak performance to compete at world-class events?

Coaches can keep you moving toward your goals when you’re having a hard time staying motivated. “You can’t always have 100% motivation as an athlete,” he is fond of saying. A coach can help keep your motivation up. But every coach is different. Some coaches may use enthusiasm to motivate their athletes, while others may use a more balanced approach. Ultimately, Nick notes, it’s all about alignment. Are the coach and athlete aligned on the level of performance and working toward the same goals? This type of alignment helps a coach and athlete harmonize to find an approach to motivation that works.

For younger sailors just starting out Nick suggests that the best motivation to get from supportive coaches, friends, and family is focusing on a love of the sport rather than becoming a world champion. Too much pressure early on causes people to burn out and leave the sport.

Nick suggests that good coaches provide emotional consistency. “The best coaches I've ever worked with are the ones that are just consistent. The emotion is there, and they care, but they're not spiking and dropping. They're not screaming at you one minute and over the moon with elation the next. As an athlete, that's not what you need.” A coach who can provide that kind of emotional balance, he says, helps their athletes stay emotionally level, especially at regattas.

How do good coaches help athletes get good results?

Nick suggests that good coaches just give the facts as they see it and then let the sailor work out a plan. “It’s very important,” he says, “that you just give the facts as a coach.” Whether that’s a tidal gradient, wind shifts or line bias. This leaves room for athletes to learn. When a sailor can take those facts and work out a plan that’s where growth happens. Nick believes, “as a sailor, it's better to have a plan that might be wrong and execute it well than to have no plan at all.” A good coach might help clarify a plan by asking questions to help you consider the possibilities, but they won’t tell you what moves to make. “You're not learning from that,” Nick says. “That might work for that one race but is that going to work for your career in sailing?”

And when you’re on the water, keep it short, he says. You’ve covered the details before you hit the course so any discussion on the water should be focused on priorities. As a sailor, Nick says,

“all I need to do is go alongside the rib and have a 30 second conversation with my coach. That's enough."

"It doesn't need to be a full discussion about the day’s tide, what's going on in the water, the weather forecast. That's all been done beforehand.”

Nick’s holistic approach to laser sailing coaching fits well with the other coaches at the International Sailing Academy. At ISA we believe sailors need to develop the tools to someday become self-reliant. Often those tools require a certain language or system to eliminate unnecessary variables and distractions. Our concise delivery of the fundamentals helps you stay focused during your practice and racing sessions.

Nick will be bringing his experience as a world-class laser sailor and coach to Vilamoura, Portugal in November as a guest coach for the International Sailing Academy Master’s Laser Sailing Clinic. Learn more about our upcoming clinic and register.

laser sailing tips

Nick Thompson 2x World Champion

Train with Nick Thompson in Vilamoura, Portugal for the ISA Master’s Laser Sailing Clinic

Training for a master’s event? Hoping to improve your scores over your last event? Nick Thompson shares his laser sailing tips on how to develop a winning approach to the master’s sailing. As a Laser World Champion and Olympian with 6 years of coaching experience at the highest levels of sailing, including master’s sailing, Nick knows how to help master’s sailors succeed.

Here are Nick’s top master’s laser sailing tips.

  1. Find a focus

Master’s sailors don’t have as much time to apply to their craft as Olympic sailors, and Nick’s coaching approach takes that into account. If you know that you only have, for example, 50 days a year that you can sail, Nick suggests using that as a starting point to figure out what the biggest gains are that you can make at that time.

This is different for everyone, Nick says. “Every sailor is different and every skill set that they bring to the table is different.” And don’t get too caught up with advanced technical skills, he says. The biggest gains for you are personal. For example, he says, “I might gain two boats by having a slightly better tack, but if we focus in on my line awareness, that might be 40 boats. It's very easy to get too caught up in the skills of sailing a laser and actually it's a game of chess. It's more about positioning and awareness of the fleet.”

  1. Be obsessed

Olympic athletes obsess about their performance during a campaign. “But,” Nick says,

“you can do that at any level. It's about finding those things, those little gains that you can work on and doing them in the time that you have.”

You don’t have to be mounting a 4-year Olympic campaign to pull a performance focus into your daily life. Even if you only have 50 days a year that you can sail as a master’s sailor, Nick says, “I bet you have an hour each evening where you could apply yourself to something else, whether that's watching races online, fitness training, making sure your ropes are top-notch. Whatever it is, there's always something that you can be doing something to make yourself better.”

  1. Plan out your fitness

Having a fitness plan will complement your work on the water and Nick suggests, “don't be daunted. You’ve got the time and it really doesn't take much. If you could apply 30 minutes a day to fitness training for sailing, you're going to make huge jumps.”

Apart from his laser sailing tips, when he’s coaching laser sailing clinics he helps sailors figure out a weekly, monthly or annual plan based on the time they have available and then builds a fitness plan into that.

He also suggests varying your fitness plan based on the time of year. The early season should be focused on endurance training, building up a strong base in aerobic fitness and core. But, he notes, the plan should be built for you. “It should be specific to the individual, but also specific to the time of year and what they're focusing on.”

  1. Stay steady

Success, Nick says, is tied to your ability to keep your emotions steady during a competition. He encourages sailors to avoid emotional “spiking and dropping” that leads to irrational decisions on the course.

Learning how to stay balanced emotionally gives you an edge over the competition because Nick suggests, this is a skill most other sailors don’t have. “I've done a lot of World championships now and generally I tend to do better at World championships. It's not necessarily that I'm raising my game a huge amount, it's that everyone else around me starts to fall off a little bit through the event.”

  1. Focus on the basics

Competing in a major event doesn’t require anything special to win. Nick suggests that focusing on doing the basic things in sailing well will see you through.

Focus on the race and let the expectations fade away, he suggests.

“You've got to remember it is just a sailing race. It doesn't matter whether it's the World's, or your weekend club race. It's the same thing."

"You're trying to read the wind conditions and position your boat the best you can around that racetrack using the best skills that you've got. And that's it. There isn't really much more to it. The fact that it's the Olympic games or whatever it is, is kind of irrelevant.”

  1. Have a plan and learn from it

Having a plan on the course helps you to focus on what needs to be done and ignore the stuff that’s not important. “You've got to have a plan,” Nick says. “Whether that plan is right or wrong, you've got to execute something well, whether that's just getting off at the biased end of the line, or the best start possible with the lane. And then figuring out the rest as it comes. You've got to have some idea of what you want to do.”

Evaluating how your plan is working in real-time and adapting is also critical for success. “The best sailors are those that are able to adapt; that learn the quickest. Every moment of a race is slightly different. It’s about adapting to that and learning the fastest.”

Nick will be bringing his experience as a world-class laser sailor and coach to Vilamoura, Portugal in November as a guest coach for the International Sailing Academy Laser Master’s Clinic. Learn more and register.

The 2018 ISAF World Championship was held in Aarhus, Denmark during the first two weeks of August. This was my third combined WC experience, the first two being Perth 2011 and Santander 2014. Both were located in fantastic sailing venues. Aarhus is no exception, however, it slightly differs being in the Baltic Sea and surrounded by land in every direction. This Laser Worlds experience racing more shifty and exciting. Having been to Aarhus once before, I had an idea of what to expect. High probability of 40-degree shifts, 30-knot winds with sideways rain, or 30 degrees and sunny with the light sea breeze.

For the Laser Radial the format was 3 days of qualifying, followed by a spare day, then 2 days of finals series, another rest day then the medal race for a total of 11 races. Yes, that’s 8 days to complete 11 races. Having come from the Laser Worlds North Americans in Long Beach, California, where the format was 3 races a day for 4 days in 15 knots, the WC was relatively less physically demanding. That being said, these longer regattas can be mentally and emotionally draining. It’s very hard to prepare mentally for something like this. They really take on the format of the Olympic Games in the form of televising, scheduling, qualification, accreditation, and other ways. Not to mention that this Laser Worlds was the first Olympic qualifier event, where some of the top finishing sailors could qualify their nation's spot at the 2020 games in Tokyo. From a psychology preparedness perspective, it’s ideal to have your training and races embrace a similar feel and emotional arousal as the peak events. For this event, however, it was not easy to do this.

My team’s goal was to qualify Canada for the Olympics, which meant to finish with the top countries. Having finished 5th and 12th at last year’s WC in Medemblik, Brenda Bowskill and Sarah Douglas were ready for more.

We had a mix of conditions early on in qualifiers with the first day sailed in the sea breeze and the second offshore. The westerly offshore was a condition we had seen a lot of in practice and typically blew for several days at a time with strong winds and big shifts. The biggest notable difference was that every time we had trained in this we had altostratus clouds (dark, grey and overcast). However this day 2 of racing brought cumulus turned cumulonimbus clouds, which we hadn’t seen with the offshore frequently in the past.

The difference was that we had been used to 5-10 minute oscillations that were fairly predictable, but now these isolated rain clouds brought much longer and less predictable shifts, making some legs of the course persistent/favored, and others with 1 or more 30 degree shifts. The only pattern we could deduce was that clouds approaching meant a shift to the right, and clouds passing meant a shift back to the left.

The next day was similar but the clouds were lower, denser and moving faster... and our windward mark was closer to land. All of this made for a very high frequency of shift, especially toward the top of the beat. Leaders were often doing more than 15 tacks per beat, specifically on the second upwind. Sarah scored a 6-1 which put her happily in the top 10 heading into finals racing.

In the last two days, the skies cleared and invited a light sea breeze. We managed 1 race on live TV in 5-8 knots. Sarah showed off her impressive downwind speed after hitting the windward mark then rounding the bottom in 2nd. On the final day of fleet racing, the wind picked up to a promising 10-12 knots and appeared to be a steady sea breeze. After 9 races, Sarah was sitting in 3rd place and only a handful of points out of the top spot. A few unfavorable shifts in race 10 shook up the leader board, leaving Belgium’s Emma Plasschaert in a favorable position for the gold.

laser worlds

For a great recap of how the medal race unfolded, take a look at Sarah’s page

“My plan was to sail my own race, sail fast and ask coach where I fell on the overall leaderboard once I crossed the finish line.”

Link to medal race here.

Sarah was in a great position to grab the bronze medal in the regatta. She needed 2 boats between her and Anne Marie Rindom of Denmark and 1 boat between her and Paige Railey of USA, and to beat Monika Mikkola of Finland.

15 to 20 knots offshore is a great condition for Sarah. She was very quick in training so we knew her best chance in getting the podium spot was to sail smart and try to win the race. It was pretty advantageous having two of the fastest sailors in the breeze, Maria Erdi and Alison Young in the medal race, but not in contention of overtaking Sarah. That way it could be easier to get a few more boats in between. Emma only needed to stay within 5 boats of Marit to lock up the Gold so we guessed they may match race but in the end, the conditions did not favor it. The shifts were so big that luck could have you go from 10th to 1st in a blink. Rounding the 1st windward, Sarah was in position for the bronze medal but it changed when the umpire boat flagged her for rocking downwind. She recovered well and rounded the second windward in 3rd, but Anne-Marie right behind her was now holding the bronze. Sarah struggled to control the inside of the course for the final downwind which ended up costing her 4 boats, including Monika and Paige, giving up 4th place in the regatta. It’s always bittersweet to know how close you made it, but with this result and momentum, it will be easy to motivate ourselves to work harder for the next one.

Next, we're off to Japan for the test event, then we'll do some training at ISA before the winter regatta calendar kicks off. Hope to see you there!

Canadian Team members Sarah Douglas and Brenda Bowskill train regularly through their winter schedule at the International Sailing Academy. In 2017 they completed four weeklong performance training blocks at ISA’s facility with ISA's Head Coach Vaughn Harrison to improve their sailing and fitness in preparation for the Laser Worlds Championships. They have been attending clinics at ISA Since 2014.

Sailing a precise angle upwind is paramount for good boat speed. Angle is critical to ensure optimal VMG and airflow and water flow on the foils. Without the proper angle upwind your boat reduces in performance dramatically and suddenly, and without correct telltale placement and use of it, it can be difficult to maintain a perfect angle.

Being skilled at reading the water and wave angles helps keep you on track. Understanding gust and lulls and how they affect the direction of the apparent wind also helps. But most importantly, having good telltale placement will ensure your sail is always working properly. It’s important to understand what to look for on your telltales.

When asked, 95% of people who visit ISA give the incorrect answer when asked what the telltales should be doing. Sticking them on in an arbitrary position is also incorrect. Also after some regular use, the luff of the sail will be very deep, and the telltales can be moved slightly closer to the mast to get the same visual cues. Too close to the mast and the separation bubble will make them dance too frequently.

Upwind Closehauled Angle Detail

Here’s the ideal placement:

Measure from the foot of the sail, and all the way at the front of the luff sleeve.

Full Rig: 31” up, 23” in. & 60” up, 17” in.
Radial: 31” up, 20” in. & 53” up, 20” in.
4.7 Rig: 27” up, 19” in. & 47” up, 15” in.

As seen in the article, Focus on Angle, ideal telltale behavior would have the upper set of telltales in the green and sometimes yellow zone. The bottom telltales would be mostly blue. The trick is to be on the exact angle where the upper windward telltale flicks forward slightly at the crest of the waves.

Bigger swell will be confusing because boat speeds may increase so much from surfing the backside of waves that both telltale sets are in the yellow or even red zone for moments.  It’s important to recognize if this is momentary because correcting by bearing away could result in a stall while climbing the next set of waves.

In flatter or choppier conditions, being diligent in using your telltales to sail perfect angles can result in huge speed gains. We recommend looking at them every 5-7 seconds. Also, look every time you feel something change. For example, a loss in power doesn’t always require a change in direction.

Keep your sail happy, and sail fast!

Having solid strength in the Laser is a must. Without fail athletes of all levels come off the water and will remark they were fast or slow because of their “fitness levels”. The immediate following thought is “I need to get stronger” or “have more endurance”. Unless you have a coach or a trainer who knows the demands of the Laser many people will just go and knock about in the gym without a plan or direction. This article is aimed to arm you with a basic strength laser sailing fitness program to make you stronger in the boat and stave off injury.

Some important things to note:

Professional advice

When it comes to fitness seeking professional help is always important, it’s a lifelong journey improving form and gaining strength and if you lack experience a keen eye can get you going on your journey faster and safer.


It is nearly impossible to do the movements correctly without adequate flexibility throughout the entire body. It also promotes safety and recovery so it is highly recommended that every strength session begins with a solid warm-up and stretching and then again at the end.


While this deserves its own piece it’s important to remember that adequate nutrition is paramount for any athlete. If you are in a caloric surplus (eating more calories than you burn) you will gain weight, and if you are in a caloric deficit you will lose weight. Mass will gain or lose as a combination of fat and muscle.


It is far more important the exercises are done correctly and through the full range of motion rather than increasing weight or reps. Talking with a professional, training partners, or analyzing videos of your workouts are great ways to ensure you are constantly working on improving your form.

For this laser sailing fitness program, the focus will be gaining muscle mass and the concept we will employ to do that is hypertrophy. This is literally defined as the increase of the size of a muscle or organ and is done by adapting to a volume stimulus. For the context of this article, we will discuss it in terms of weights and volume used for the exercise. For the movements that require weight we will be working with 60%-75% of your one-rep max (1RM) and completing 6-12 reps for three sets. Don’t know your one-rep max? Chose a weight that you can do with the solid form for 10 reps

Principle of overload, each week we look to add on 5-10lbs to ensure our body keeps making adaptations to this planned overload. If we stay always doing the same weights out body will adapt and not grow.

The workouts will be separated into two days, workout A- Push days, and workout B, pull days


Laser Sailing Fitness while Traveling


Workout A - Push

Back squat - 3 sets x 10 reps @ 60%-75% of 1RM, Make sure you are hitting full depth i.e quads are parallel with the floor and spine is straight and core is braced

Incline press - 3 sets x 10 reps @ 60%-75% of 1RM, On an incline bench with either dumbbells or barbell, spine flat against the bench

Single leg extension- 3 sets x 10 reps @ 60%-75% of 1RM, On leg extension machine using one leg at a time, accelerate forcefully upwards and controlled down. No swinging!

Standing strict shoulder press - 3 sets x 10 reps @ 60%-75% of 1RM, Core and glutes braced only using shoulders and arms move the bar to an overhead position

Back extension - 3 sets x 10-20 reps, Brace core and keep a neutral spine, this is to strengthen lower back but should be felt primarily through glutes. When 20 reps become to easy hold weight to increase the difficulty

Workout B - Pull

Deadlift - 3 sets x 10 reps @ 60%-75% of 1RM, Neutral spine, braced core and focus on pulling with glutes

Pull Up - 3 sets x 10 reps, For those who can’t do a pull up jump up to the top position and slowly lower your self. For those who have ease with 10 reps, either add reps or add a weight belt. This is an important exercise for the laser.

Single leg hamstring curl - 3 sets x 10 reps @ 60%-75% of 1RM, on hamstring curl machine using one leg at a time accelerate hard on the up pull and controlled on the down portion. No swinging!

Hanging leg raises - 3 sets x 10 reps, from a neutral position and keeping legs straight, raise legs to 90 degrees and make very controlled on the way up and down, if they get too easy to try and toes to bar. No swinging from the bottom!

Ab wheel rollouts- 3 sets x 10 reps, start on knees and fully extend. Extremely important to keep back straight, if you can’t extend all the way stop where you're from begins to break down.

For these workouts, they should be completed 3-5 times per week and rotated each week. For example week 1, ABA, and week 2, BAB. For the purpose of overload keep adding weight and volume for three consecutive weeks. The fourth week should be a “de-load week” Please keep in mind that you are still doing the workouts this week but at only 50% of the load and volume to allow the body to refresh and recover but still maintain strength gains.


The most important thing is the quality and consistency you train with, this laser sailing fitness program is a guide to give you the well-rounded strength you need in the laser but will not be helpful unless you put in the work week over week and month over month. If you nail the consistency and workout with quality you will see a big change in the boat.

Travel is an integral part of our sport, and whether you’re headed off to a regatta or an awesome week-long training camp in Mexico, it’s good to have a plan to keep up your laser sailing fitness while you’re away from home.

When you’re on the road your diet, sleep habits, hydration, and local resources are thrown off all of which can affect your performance in the boat. The following are basic laser sailing fitness tips that can help you stay on track while you’re on the road while requiring minimal equipment and packing space.

What to bring with you

Healthy snacks: beef jerky, nuts, dried fruit all travel well and will help keep your energy levels up.
Exercise gear: Shoes, shorts, shirts, etc. Your sailing watch can run as a timer.

Water bottle: a refillable bottle will give you plenty of volumes to keep hydrated and the ability to refill along the way. Having water on hand at all times helps stay away from sugary drinks. Pro tip: When traveling by air, carry the bottle empty through security and fill it at a water fountain when in the terminal.

Recovery: Mobility/stretching equipment. A lacrosse ball for self-massage and a rubber band to stretch take almost no space and can make a huge difference. Bonus points for a hollow foam roller that you can fill with clothes etc.

What to do

It’s good to take a look at your normal program and see what you can keep up and what might be tricky. Depending on your destination, you might be able to fit a suitable gym or Crossfit Affiliate, but this might not always be the case or your schedule might prevent it.

Be prepared to adapt, and if not we will recommend here a variety of bodyweight workouts that can be done anywhere.

Travel Work Outs

Print these out or save them to your phone, they are quick, efficient and require no equipment. Following is the laser sailing fitness program you need to adopt.

7 Rounds for time
7 burpees
7 squats

3 rounds for time
20 squats
20 burpees
20 push-ups

100 walking lunges

As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of
5 push-ups
10 sit-ups
15 squats


5 rounds for time
200 m run
10 squats
10 push-ups

5 rounds for time
3 vertical jumps (as high as you can)
3 squats
3 broad jumps (as far as you can)

4 rounds for time
25 jumping squats
10-second rest

When we are training and competing we want to maximize everything we do on the water and on land. So often when we consider recovery we think of food and light spin on the bike. While these no doubt aid in recovery the most important thing we can do to feel fresh the next day or instill those new techniques is sleep hygiene.

So how does sleep affect our recover and training? During the four distinct sleep cycles one gets in a night the recovery really happens in stages three and four. During the slow-wave sleep we get in stage three, blood pressure drops, respiration slows down and blood flow to muscles decreases. This is the most important stage for athletes as the secretion of human growth hormone peaks which stimulates muscle growth and repair.

Waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day decreases stress as the body knows what to expect and when.

After this we retrace our steps and move into our REM cycle, the important thing to note here is that this is where memories from the previous day are solidified. This includes muscle memory, so all those tacks you worked on? This is where it comes together and locked in.

Now that we know how the body and mind recover during sleep what does a good night of sleep look like? Athletes below the age of 26 should be getting nine and a quarter hours of sleep in a night. For athletes over the age of 26 seven to eight and a half hours are required. As we ageless sleep hygiene is needed however we still need to hit out requirements to function optimally.

While the amount of time sleeping is important, arguably more important is the routine of sleep that you get into. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day decreases stress as the body knows what to expect and when.

The next logical thought that comes to mind is napping, if I sleep more can I recover faster and better? Yes and no, the way sleep work is like a credit card. Your body keeps account of how much sleep you owe and what cycles it requires. If an athlete is optimally rested there is no need for a nap. However, if some sleep time needs to be paid back the napping can be a very helpful tool to recharge. Remember that sleep hygiene is one of the secrets to winning the start.

It is common for people to say the napping makes them tired or groggy. This is due to the fact that they wake in the middle of certain sleep hygiene cycles. To avoid this naps should be kept either 20 minutes or 90 minutes. Naps lasting between 20 and 90 minutes should be avoided, so a timer can be helpful.

Traveling across time zones the de-synchronization of the body's natural cardiac rhythm is hard on athletes; when it’s more than two times zones we call this jet lag. When an athlete becomes jet-lagged they are less powerful, lose endurance, and see a decrease in alertness. It is a good idea to arrive early to adjust to the new time zone to adjust to the new clock.

If that is not an option then copying your anticipated new time zones prior to travel is a great way to pre-adjust, but make sure this is done gradually and you leave well-rested. Important things to note when arriving at a new destination are getting natural sunlight to synchronize your body clock, avoid high-intensity activity (light activity is fine), and hydrate well on the journey. It is also important to nap as you are likely to sleep-deprived, in the short term it is much better to have enough sleep than be on a perfect routine.

An area that is often overlooked for those who struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep is sleep hygiene. Essentially these are the factors that make it easy for us to fall asleep and include:

Your bed should not be associated with anything other than sleep or sex. Some people do all these things and can still sleep well but for others, it is very important to avoid these common mistakes.

We all know that sleep is important and hopefully this article clarifies why and offers some strategies to athletes to get more out of their training and competition!

Originally published in Sailing World.

One rule of thumb is to ease your sheets when you're feeling slow, but the goal should be to never get slow. Here's how.

Getting to full speed can be simple, but maintaining that momentum is a different story. This much became apparent to me in my debut on the international Laser circuit. During one race at the European Championships in Estonia, I rounded the leeward gate ahead of a group. Another competitor rounded right behind me. He dove another couple of boat lengths to leeward until he had a clear lane below me, and within 30 seconds of choppy and gusty chaos, he sailed all the way in front of me and was starting to pinch me off.

Until that moment I had no idea it was possible to make so many mistakes in such a short distance, but the experience provided some pretty conclusive evidence that my biggest mistake came from having too much mainsheet tension at the wrong time.

Whether you’re sailing through a gust, lull, pinching, footing or through chop, knowing the proper time to ease your mainsheet can give you a big edge over those who are not. Here are five reasons why sheeting out can increase your upwind boat speed.

Ease When Footing

Sails require the airflow traveling to leeward of the sail to reach optimal sail force. Feeling and acknowledging this flow will allow you to stay focused on always trying to keep the backside of the sail working. When airflow detaches from the back of the sail, it is called stalling. One major indicator of stalling is when the leeward telltales fly straight up or forward. This happens after other parts of the sail have already stalled, however. Most commonly, the top quarter of your sail will stall first. By the time you’re visually aware of it, you will already have lost the sail’s optimal sailing angle.

ease your mainsheet

Ease When Footing: Sails require the airflow traveling to leeward of the sail to reach optimal sail force.

I often see this with people who like to foot, i.e., sailing slightly below closehauled. The windward and leeward telltales may look perfect, but other parts of the sail have already stalled. It’s a lot more common to see detachment in lighter conditions. The moment you see the leeward telltales not streaming across the sail, ease the sheet first to get the sails producing optimal force and attachment, then head up to your angle. Avoid stalling any part of your sail. For good measure, in my Laser, I like to see the windward telltale dancing downward about 50 percent of the time. This indicates that I am sailing high enough not to stall, but not so high that I am pinching.

Ease After Pinch

Suppose you sail into a header and are not quick enough to react. It doesn’t take long for the luffing at the front of your sail and the growing separation bubble on the luff to slow you down. All indicators point to pulling your sails in tighter to get rid of the luff, optimizing them for the higher angle. However, once you’ve established that your course is too high and make the adjustments back down to your optimal upwind angle, your boat speed is slower than a boat that never pinched. That pulls the apparent wind aft. Easing the sheet will momentarily relieve the stall induced by being slow. Then trim your sails to the new apparent-wind angle until you’re back up to speed.

ease your mainsheet

Ease after pinch: Easing the sheet will momentarily relieve the stall induced by being slow.

Drag Comes Easy

There are two components of drag when sailing; underwater drag from hull friction that can be increased by chop and swell, and drag that comes from a sail setup that is too deep and has excessive leach hook. Once your boat has reached top speed and your apparent wind moves forward, trimming your sails to have less leach hook will decrease drag in some conditions. In the moderate wind, it’s useful to keep the hook, as it helps to power through chop. In light wind, the impact of drag on the boat should slow it, causing the apparent wind to shift aft. By the time you notice the leeward telltale standing upright, the sails have stalled and have already realized a big loss in force.

ease your mainsheet

Drag comes easy: Once your boat has reached top speed and your apparent wind moves forward, trimming your sails to have less leach hook will decrease drag in some conditions.

Sheeting out before the boat has slowed will maintain a force in the sails and help you stay at speed. In windier conditions, this stalling is perceived in the helm as a lift. Immediately following the impact of your bow hitting a wave, the apparent wind moving aft heels the boat and gives you the feeling of heading up. In bigger swells, it’s OK to steer up to keep your heel angle consistent. However, in most conditions, this extra weather helm is actually telling you that you have slowed and have the potential for more speed. Again, ease your mainsheet for the new apparent-wind direction is a crucial part of re-acceleration.

Ease in the Gusts

Properly easing the mainsheet into a gust can be the biggest contributor to improving your speed. When sailing into gusts there is a lot of feels, unlike sailing into lulls or sailing in light wind. Gusts are indicated by the heel. The boat heels up as true wind force increases and pulls the apparent wind aft. Resist the urge to treat this puff as a lift. It’s tempting to take the initial gains the breeze offers and point your nose closer to the wind instead of accelerating. However, no sooner will you reach the new apparent close-hauled course, then your sail will indicate pinching. An instantaneous pinch and return to the original course can be costly, especially since your speed is still relatively slow compared to the new wind strength. Instead, ease the main when the puff initially hits, thus trimming the sails to the new apparent-wind direction.

adjusting gusts

Ease in the gusts: Ease the main when the puff initially hits, thus trimming the sails to the new apparent-wind direction.

Lulls and the Ease

When sailing into a lull, your boat’s apparent wind moves forward. This is indicated by the sail luffing, windward telltales dancing or an obvious loss in power. You can see a lull coming by noticing the lighter shading on the water. A header would likely have a bigger impact on luffing the sail. In a header, bear away to maintain flow across the windward side of the sail, which instantly gives you more power. Don’t bear away in a lull. Your apparent wind will stay forward as you bear away, making it difficult to find more force in the sail, and easy to stall and sail extra distance. Typically, in boats that carry more momentum, you can sail into a lull and momentarily sheet on, blading the sail to reduce drag as your apparent wind moves forward. This option to ease your mainsheet will vary depending on what type of boat and how drastic the drop in wind velocity is. After slowing, the apparent wind shifts aft and requires a more forgiving sail setup that provides more power. On dinghies where mainsheet changes mast bend, sheet out to increase camber in the top of the sail. On boats where it affects leech twist, ease your mainsheet to open it increases the velocity across the leeward side of the top of the sail.

Speed in the lulls

Speed in the lulls: In boats that carry more momentum, you can sail into a lull and momentarily sheet on, blading the sail to reduce drag as your apparent wind moves forward.

Stay active with ease your mainsheet, easing it for optimal sail force and apparent wind direction changes. The boat is most affected when these things are happening and we either don’t see them or are late to react.

Improve your upwind speed in the breeze by adjusting your body position to get the most out of your hiking. At our clinics, we provide the topmost laser sailing tips in which one of the first things we do is figure out how each sailor can tweak their hiking positioning and posture. The most important factor to hiking is not necessarily how low you can put your shoulders to the water, however that can be a strong contributing factor. But rather how close you can get your knees to the gunwale edge.

This is directly related to your righting moment. Yes, there’s plenty of technique, sail settings and fitness that can contribute to helping your average speed, but in windier conditions, people who're hiking position is better will have much less weather helm.

laser sailing tips

Consider the edge of the boat as the fulcrum and your body as the lever arm producing effort, We can measure the effects of hiking as the force on the gunwale edge. It is maximized by shortening the distance and amount of bodyweight inside the cockpit and deck (Load), and increasing personal body mass on the opposite side of the fulcrum - over the water (Effort). This lever arm as a starting point should optimize and increase the pressure you would feel on your hiking pads as they connect to the boat.

For a 6 foot tall 180 pound individual every inch outboard equates to about 7 lbs of righting moment. There’s a bit of a 'Ah ha' moment when I tell the sailor, "that's what hiking is meant to feel like".

Very often we see sailors who can drop their shoulders and appear to be hiking hard. Except that their quadriceps muscles are hardly activated, rather they are only using their core muscles to maintain body erectness. While outlining the laser sailing tips, this is one of the first things we try to change. Once we determine the physiological restrictions, be it height, leg length, calf thickness and fitness we try to adjust the hiking strap to maximize the lever arm by basically attempting to get the knees as close as physically possible to the edge of the boat but without losing partial contact of the calves to the grab rails inside the cockpit.

Sometimes this requires a very loose hiking strap that can be pulled outboard with slight flexion in the ankles, with that you can gain an extra 1 to 3 inches of naval (center of body mass) further outboard. For a 6 foot tall 180 pound individual every inch outboard equates to about 7 lbs of righting moment. There’s a bit of an 'Ah-ha' moment when I tell the sailor, "that's what hiking is meant to feel like".

laser sailing tips

Without having to loosen his strap, the sailor slides out a couple of inches further onto his toes. We estimate 15-20 lbs of the extra righting moment in the bottom photo.

If the strap is too loose your calves will elevate too much, putting a lot of strain on your knees, and forcing unwanted hinging in the lower back. You need to have very good quadriceps, hip flexor, core and glute strength to keep your butt high enough from the water. This is something that needs to be built up as you strengthen those muscles to get used to the loads. Injury may occur if the strap is loosened too quickly and muscles are not strong enough.

Pro tip: in the lulls, shift your feet to the front of the hiking strap, near the main block to get a tighter setting and more connection. In bigger breeze shift aft toward the middle of the cockpit to have the looser strap setting, and hike off the widest part of the boat.

Tweaking hiking strap tensions can take years of experimentation. Within minutes we can diagnose your hiking weaknesses and make some pretty simple suggestions for how to adjust to your new settings.

In dinghy sailing the calendar year revolves around your world championship, with this season wrapping up we look to take away what we have learned and what skills we need to build. While many have a strong desire to improve, few systematically organize their training to maximise their potential. The annual training plan (ATP) is a key tool in preparing for the coming year and keeping focuses and goals in check as the season progresses.

At the core of the ATP, we are looking at the events that matter the most. This could be the Olympics or a club championship and requires some thought when determining what your most important regatta is. We will refer to these as “A” events, and we can only realistically select two of these in a season. The reason for this is because they require a high level of freshness as well as a build and taper period leading into them. Typically the events will be space withing 1-2 months of each other.

With that said we need to sail more than one event a year in order to keep racing skills sharp and gain experience. We rate these other events as “B” and “C” regattas. A “B” regatta is still an important competition such as a continental championship or Europa cup and requires a will have a taper leading into it. Schedule permitting we can do one of these a month. A “C” regatta we consider as training and can be done potentially every weekend, again schedule permitting.

Now that we have laid out the events we will be doing on the calendar it is time to work backward from our “A” events and figure out what volume of sailing and training we are to do by calculating our weekly average training time. This is done by summing the total time spent training during an average week and will include sailing, gym, cycling, etc. For example: sailing five days a week for 3 hours/day, three gym sessions at 1 hour/day, and three cycling sessions for 2 hours/day would bring the weekly average to 24 hours of training per week.

The reason we need to calculate our weekly training average is to figure out how each month will be structured for training. When we look at a month typically we will see training volume rise for the first three weeks and then offload the fourth week. Following our previous example the training time of 4 weeks a month will look something like this:

Week 1- 21 hours
Week 2- 25 hours
Week 3- 28 hours
Week 4- 13 hours

As we can see the volume increases throughout the month and culminates with a deloading week to facilitate recovery.

Now we know what events we will be doing and how to structure our weekly and monthly training but what does year actually entail? For this part, we will take the case of a full-time athlete who has just completed their final “A” regatta.

Typically the year will start with a large amount of time off, in the neighborhood of one to two months. However time off doesn’t mean being sedentary, yes it is a time to recharge but fun activities such as big boat sailing, cycling, and light gym sessions should be done to maintain fitness as much as possible.

With creating an annual training plan before the start of your season you have set yourself up for success. With measurable goals and planning it takes a large part of the guesswork out of training.

We then move into the base phase of the season and the theme is volume. On the water we are focusing on: long iterations of straight-line boat speed, boat handling, starting skills are developed in this block. Essentially any technique we don’t want to worry about come race time. In the gym, the focus is gaining as much strength as possible, typically done with hypertrophy training. On the bike long rides with low effort are done to build oxygen efficiency. This phase typically takes three to four months to complete and sets the foundation for the season.

Next is the build phase, this arrives during our main regatta season. The focus here is building racing skills both in and out of the competition. We are still working on other skills but there are more practice races built into the training. The sessions are slightly shorter but the intensity is increased. In the gym we move into a strength cycle, we add weight and decrease volume and move toward more explosive exercises. Interval training is implemented on the bike to increase high-end outputs. This phase can take three to four months and takes place during the main concentration of regattas.

Finally, we reach the zenith of the season in our peaking phase. The water session is kept shorter and mainly focus on practice racing and any fine-tuning that is required. The goal here is to keep the body awake but also fresh for the upcoming “A” event. Gym work consists of explosive movements and fast circuit training to ensure the nervous system is awake. On the bike, only shorty rides are done and they are very high-intensity short intervals. This phase requires a solid taper but that is a whole other discussion on its own.

Laser Fitness Tips: Losing 20 lbs to Sail Radial

For those who are not full-time athletes, the recommendation would be to split the annual training plan into two parts. Non-sailing and sailing seasons. For the nonsailing season one should follow the fitness piece from the base phase for the first half of the time, and the build phase for the second half of the time. For the part of the season where you are sailing it best to follow the build phase for sailing skills and the peaking for the fitness part. It is important to note that sailing takes priority when you have the opportunity to do so.

Writing it out in an agenda can be taxing and limit the ability to change when alterations need to be made. It is worthwhile considering software such as training peaks or google calendar to input events and training to keep you on track with ease.

With creating an annual training plan before the start of your season you have set yourself up for success. With measurable goals and planning it takes a large part of the guesswork out of training. It is important to speak with your coaches and training partners when planning to gain as much perspective as possible. The plan is not set in stone and can be altered as the year progresses. Don’t go overboard with changes though, it is important to have faith in the process, sailing takes an immense amount of time and experience.

The 2017 Laser Radial Worlds was sailed Medemblik this past month. It’s a really great venue close enough to the Schipol airport in Amsterdam and very accessible to sailors from all over. The popular Dutch summer vacation spot, Medemblik, offers plenty of options for accommodations. There are several large bungalow parks that get packed with sailors during the summer. In two weeks the venue hosted over 600 radial world sailors, which is an impressive feat. The women’s Olympic class was the last to compete with 100 of the best sailors. My team of Brenda Bowskill and Sarah Douglas from Canada finished 5th and 12th, their best result yet. Another shoutout to Sail Canada team member Isabella Bertold for finishing 19th.

View Results

We spent over 30 days there this year getting to know the venue of laser radial worlds. It’s one of the trickiest places I’ve ever sailed and coached because picking apart the shifts requires you to have an open mind to many variables. The most common direction is off land directly from the club. I would say 80% of our training was between 210 and 260 TWD often with a mixture of sunny skies and isolated rain cells.

radial worlds

A common low-pressure system sits over northern England for several days providing strong westerly winds across most of southern England and oftentimes accelerated through the English Channel and straight over the flatlands of the Netherlands into the IJsselmeer.

One of these systems faded the day before the regatta, leaving us with a light cross-shore gradient from the direction of 105 degrees.

The orange circle shows the course area. In only 7 knots of wind, the furthest right shift was from 110 and didn’t provide much pressure. It looked like the wind was trying to carry over the land and also bend around the corner. The adverse angle created by the land effect was preventing the bigger left-angled pressure from entering the bay entirely. Essentially the further left you sailed the more pressure you’d find. It was particularly evident on the outer course. Eventually, the gradient backed to 060 later in the day and the course became very skewed. The best strategy was to treat the left side as a persistent, which meant starting toward the pin was critical to avoid traffic heading left. Canadians Isabella Bertold and Brenda Bowskill won their first race in qualifier series!

radial worlds

Day 2 and 3 were practically the same but with slightly more wind. The downwind legs were borderline pumping and rocking conditions. The Jury was enforcing this. Some sailors were being forced to retire by acquiring their 2nd yellow flag for rule 42 infringement as early as race 4. We observed the fleet bias to go left became so strong that the pin end became quite crowded, even when the boat was favored. As long as the wind had enough right angle in it you could pick the right opportunities to sail to the left from the boat end. When it works it provides you a nice clean air lane on the port, leading the fleet out of the left corner. It’s a very useful strategy in onshore conditions, especially thermal if you can time it correctly with the long oscillations.

Day 4 switched to the wild offshore 15-knot breeze we had seen so many days in practice during the radial worlds. This was the condition everyone had practiced in the most, so we knew the racing was going to be quite difficult. Without any rain clouds, it may have only been 20-degree oscillations, but rather quick-moving storm cells threatened both left and right side of the course every 5-15 minutes. The race committee called off the first race because they had reports of 60 degrees variability across the course. Eventually, the rain clouds disappeared the wind started oscillating just quick enough that a simple “get off the line and on lifted tack” strategy ruled the day. I didn’t think it mattered too much where you had to start, more that you prioritize heading toward the next shift. The dutch team put together great races in this, in particular, Gold medalist Marit Bouwmeester who finished the day with a 1, 1 on her scoreboard.

Laser Sailing Tips: Selecting The Best Mainsheet

Day 5 was the first day of finals racing, where the top 50 qualified women got the chance to sail against each other at the laser radial worlds. The forecast was pretty lousy so the race committee attempted to get us going early in the morning, but it was too light to race. The wind finally came around 3 pm so they sent us back out to see a new wind direction of 135 (SE). Slightly further right of where our first few days were sailed. The distinct difference in this day was the giant dark cloud sitting over the top right side of the course. We guessed is that the TWD was not 135, but actually still 105 like our previous days and this cloud had dragged it right. A lot like the other days, there was more pressure further left that was not able to creep into the course because of this cloud. We figured that as long as the cloud was there, the angle and pressure would favor the right side. During the sequence, the cloud had mostly broken apart. The left side was very dominant during the first half of the beat but somehow a few big shifts to the right kept the playing field even. The Canadian girls, including Vancouver’s Isabella Bertold, rounded in 2, 3 and 15 and finished the race in 2, 3, 6. An amazing first race of finals for them.

Day 6 was a nail biter as we spent several hours on the water waiting to see if the conditions improved enough to start a race. For the most part, the wind was about 1 knot under the required average of 5 knots. By the end, I was disappointed that we didn’t get a chance to do at least 1 more finals race during the regatta. I was also anticipating a great battle for first between Evi Van Acker from Belgium and Marit Bouwmeester for first. Judging by the scoreboard if Evi had the chance to match race Marit, she could have closed the 9 point gap by picking up their drop races (15) and Marit (27). It was a great effort by the race committee to make sure the regatta was fair and made every last attempt to race us before our time limit of 3 pm. The sounds of the AP over A for the Gold fleet were enough for Marit to win her 3rd World Championship. Congrats to the medalists: (1ST) Marit Bouwmeester, (2ND) Evi Van Acker and (3RD) Manami Doi from Japan.

Having superb timing to the start line in the boat racing, great boat handling and effective defensive tactics are all part of the sequence leading up to the beginning of a race. Failure to execute any of the major components will result in a poor start. However even if perfectly done, it’s not guaranteed that your start will be successful. Something happens during the last 10 seconds of the start sequence that changes everything, and not many people know about it.

The most important aspect of a great acceleration in the boat racing is approaching the line faster than the boats around you. This is not the acceleration; it’s what you do before the acceleration. Even if you don’t have much distance to the line, in the dying seconds of the sequence you must have some movement if you expect your acceleration to be impactful. On a square line the person who is moving fastest at 5 seconds to GO is often the one punched out after the start. Here are 3 reasons why:

  1. You will inevitably create turbulence around your foils if you try to accelerate from a dead stop with maximum effort. Turbulence means drag and drag creates leeway. From a dead stop you are likely losing your hole to leeward
  2. Movement forward is more easily transitioned into full speed in boat racing. A boat approaching the line at 3/4 speed vs 1/4 speed will have a quicker transition to full speed as the bow crosses the line giving them a slight advantage. The faster you can be going, will make your acceleration quicker, more effective and with little leeway.
  3. If you don’t have movement forward your timing is varied and unpredictable. A boat that is not moving forwards or backwards and is head to wind lacks control. Trying to factor in the time it takes to scull down to your close hauled course to create acceleration is much harder from a stand still and even harder when moving slightly backwards. Even if there’s 2 knots of windspeed different or bigger waves it may take 2 to 3 extra rudder movements than planned, which could lose you one valuable second. Having forward movement means your only variable left to control is speed, angle and timing toward the line.

Focus on ANGLE: A Key to Upwind Performance

It would be nice to just make a perfectly timed full speed run at the line then, right? Unfortunately that is not advisable in the Laser fleet as you lose line awareness and clear air if you approach from behind the pack. Sitting bow back also has added complications with boat handling maneuvers as the close proximity between boats is constricting. We recommend to prepare bow even with your competitors. Getting forward movement before the boats around you is crucial but also dangerous. Move too early or move too quickly and you may get called over early or bear away into your hole chewing up that hard earned space. It all comes down to technique and practice.

Book a clinic at ISA and we will teach you exactly how the mechanics work, and how to effectively execute the most practical starting skill. Improve your starts dramatically with this easy trick!

Cover photo: Christy Usher

Rarely, and for only short periods of time, can you experience a balanced helm during a 20+ knot heavy air downwind. Helm exists indefinitely; it’s just a matter of how much. As the wind increases so does the factor of helm influenced by the center of effort vs. the center of lateral resistance, heel angle and boat speeds. If you can recall having to hold the tiller extension by the universal, then you have no doubt experienced erratic helms where the boat rocks seemingly out of control.

Using the rudder to stabilize the boat is a band-aid solution. Each time the boat wants to respond to helm, the un-read message is that the sheet tension is too tight or too loose for the current angle and speed. Making corrections based on feeling is confusing and is the main reason you may resort to using your rudder for security. Understanding the best solution for each helm at different moments can help you prepare for the constantly changing battle.

During heavy air downwind, being under sheeted causes lee helm. As the wind passes behind the sail the force is directed across the boat, heeling it to windward instead of pushing the boat forward. With lee helm the boat feels like it wants to bear away constantly. Heading up with your rudder adds weather helm into the foils to combat the heel of the boat but it’s only enough to keep the boat in limbo. Any increase of speed exacerbates lee helm and can become too much to fight with the rudder and often end in a death roll.

Having your sail sheeted in too far can feel the exact same way as being under sheeted. If the sail is over-trimmed it can easily stall, especially when slowing down (climbing a wave). The apparent wind can shift so far back that the sail loses flow across the back of it, decreasing sail force dramatically. When that happens the boat heels to windward and gives the feeling that it wants to bear away. This one is dangerous because we want to react as if we’re under trimmed—sit to leeward, sheet in and head up to get some weather helm.

The moment air can travel across the back of the sail it will be injected with a greater amount of force due to the slower speed of the boat, your recovery angle and sheet tension. The insurmountable weather helm effect will be similar to attempting a gybe and having your boom hit the water. What’s the easiest way to recover from broaching? A hard rudder bear away will stall the sail again, flattening the boat, giving you a momentary band-aid solution and reset the cycle of imbalance. If you can determine if the sail is stalling and sheet out to match the new apparent wind angle you won’t have to change your body position or use your rudder.

Laser Sailing: Downwind Strategy Seminar Vaughn Harrison

The sensation of lee helm is increased when the boat speed is faster. Swinging the apparent wind forward reduces the amount of lateral force. In essence, it’s easier to death roll when surfing a wave. Conversely the weather helm can be increased if the sheet trim is accurate when climbing a wave. This is where you want to find your balance in big breeze. If you can always access some weather helm, but not too much with good sheet tensions, then you can sit on the weather side and lean back, affording stability by balancing your weight against the heel of the boat.

heavy air downwind

Before climbing the wave, the sheet trim is accurate and boat is balanced with little helm.

heavy air downwind

After climbing the wave the sheet is eased about 3 feet to adjust for the apparent wind going aft. This keeps power in the sail, prevents stalling and allows for the skipper to keep their weight outboard.

Keeping the foils aligned is critical to maintaining the hard earned balance from sheet tension and weight distribution. As an example — imagine sailing straight in heavy air downwind, completely balanced, then push and pull the tiller back and forth across centerline. You should hear the daggerboard in the trunk thunking up against the walls each time you change direction. Pull the rudder to windward and the force direction change to windward on the daggerboard will be immediate. Push it back to leeward and the daggerboard will again load the leeward side. Every time this force direction changes we upset the air and foil balancing act.

It would be cruel and unusual if you were sailing upwind while someone is taking your daggerboard completely out of the trunk then putting it back in the trunk every few seconds. The same thing happens downwind if you are sailing a loose broad reach then quickly bear away with the rudder. The opposite side of the daggerboard force will load and the boat will quickly heel to windward. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your sail configuration was incorrect, rather the amount of overall force stabilizing the boat has been reduced making it feel unbalanced.

Using your rudder is a quick fix but you have to pay attention to what the boat is asking for. Erratic rudder movements lead to more erratic rudder movements and in big breeze all we want to do is avoid the big helms that happen by mistake. Stay safe, keep sheeting.

Sailing downwind in Laser is an art. In big breeze, it’s survival. Some people make it look easy, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t working hard. The effort in balancing the boat is lessened if you understand what it wants to do.

In light wind, you ease sheet so that your boom is beyond 90º relative to the centreline of the boat, and loosen your boom vang so that the leech goes beyond that. The sail is baggy, twisted open, breathing and inducing lee helm. When the boat has lee helm it wants to bear away. Bearing away is great and helps to increase force in the sail by reversing the air flow across the leeward side of it. The same forces that produce Lee helm also give the boat windward heel during downwind in laser. This allows the sailors to press weight to leeward which helps create speed

downwind in laser

In this light air set up, the boom is slightly beyond 90º from the centreline (red) and the leech of the sail opens up beyond that (blue).

Tillerless Sailing Drill for Downwind Technique

The windier it gets the more sensitive helm becomes. A slight change in angle, sheet tension or boat speed and the balance of the boat can change. Knowing or predicting these changes will give you proper control. Setting up the same way we do in lighter winds will amplify the lee helm, making it more tipped to windward and want to bear away quicker. Instead, in windier conditions we would prefer to setup with more weather helm; giving us a larger range of angles, and comfortable body position.

In breeze, weather helm is best combatted by moving your body aft.

Mainsheet trim should be the main catalyst for inducing weather helm. In breeze, helm is amplified. With enough sheet on and the boom at approximately 65º-85º relative to the centreline line of the boat, the centre of effort (CE) in the boat will be aft, producing sufficient weather helm. With the boom vang eased, the leech should be twisted forward, giving the sail several angles of attack. At the top where the leech is most open, the force direction will be producing just enough lee helm. This will allow you to sail low angles and not gybe, nor capsize to windward.

downwind in laser

In this heavier air setup, the boom (red) is roughly 70º from the centreline (blue) but we can see that the leech still opens to 90º (green).

Now that your leech is open and sheet trimmed in, the sail is forgiving and the chance of a deathroll is minimized. With this setup, you will feel a lot more weather helm and the boat will try to round up. How do you combat the weather helm without having to give up the sail trim? It’s easy, weather helm is best combatted by shifting your body aft. Moving aft puts your weight over your rudder, which shifts the centre of lateral resistance (CLR) aft and prevents the boat from wanting to round up.

downwind in laser

Sitting aft in a stable position in heavier breeze shifts your CLR aft to prevent the boat from rounding up.

Stay balanced by putting one foot under the front of the hiking strap, and the other one across the boat. Keep your butt attached to the edge of the gunnel instead of sitting on the flat part of the deck. From this position, you should have a good range of angles through downwind in laser.

Having proper marks on your outhaul will allow you to set your sail correctly in the heat of the moment. Here's how and why to mark it. Learn the laser rigging tips.

How and where to sit is key to being able to control your weight placement downwind. Here we look at various body positions downwind across all ranges.

Sailing is a sport where feel is very important. If you are doing something wrong, the boat feels bad. We come to recognize these feelings and associate them with corrections. Over time, our set of corrective activities can become so in tune, that you can sail the boat without ever getting a bad feeling. That’s anticipation. People like to think that anticipation comes with practice of feeling the boat, which is partially true. But there is more than one way to handle each error detected. It is the reading the wind on the water.

Without understanding the problem people sail from one error to the next, bouncing off of the extremes to determine the correct path. Maintaining optimal course upwind is like walking down a dark narrow hallway without bumping into the walls. People that do it well come out unscathed, while others requires using their hands to navigate the path.

The only way we are fed different stimulus is through changes to helm in the boat. Weather helm makes the boat feel like it wants to head up, and lee helm when the boat wants to bear away.

Here’s where judgment is required:

How you react can be the difference between maintaining top boat speed and errors that get massively amplified over a race course.  Each of these situations has a different method of handling it and identifying them has very subtle differences.

Get the Most out of Your Boom Vang

Developing a way of reading the wind on the water is the ultimate key to making the best judgement before your speed is compromised. Most people that have sailed their entire lives do this intuitively, but I’m always amazed at how many people when I ask “how do you know where the wind is coming from” repeatedly tell me “telltales or wind vane”.

They have never trained their eyes to look at the ripples on the water. What is so telling about the water that you can’t see in the wind vane? Water tells you what is coming. Water doesn’t change when your boat changes. It isn’t affected by the rocking of your boat. Water you can see upwind and downwind.

Water can give you ladder rungs, puffs, lulls, shifts, line bias, tacking and gybing angles. Looking at the water is like drawing a map of what could happen, whereas signs on your boat are an indicator of what has happened. Remember: any tool used on your boat will only show you a change in apparent wind that has already happened.

The best example of this is people who struggle in light winds. Something I see commonly are people who in light wind cannot find optimal sailing angle. They are quick in the breeze because they love to sail with feel. In light wind there is no feel, so they go searching for it. If they get more pressure in their sails, they head up without questioning lift or gust. When they get high enough - too high, they pinch and go over flat. Losing power means bear away! Regardless of considering it as a lull or pinching.

To their credit, they are sailing with quick reaction to the stimulus they have learned over years, but what they aren’t realizing is that without change in direction of the wind, there should be very minimal change in direction of the boat. 9 times out of 10, they are sailing through small pressure differences- that if they were looking at the ripples on the water, they could see that their optimal upwind angle isn’t changing. The boat is asking for an adjustment of weight, not course, or an adjustment of sail settings, not heading.

Here's what to look for:

As wind breaks the surface tension of the water, it makes small ripples. Over time and distance, ripples become waves. Even when there are waves, ripples will exist as long as there is still wind. When wave direction is not lined up with wind, ripples can be more confusing or harder to look at. When trying to determine the wind direction by looking at the water, look back and forth across a horizontal plane about 10-15 meters long right in front of you. Try to see how the wind is making small 2-4 inch wide banana shaped curves. One curve connects to another almost creating clear horizontal lines.


Using the index finger of one hand, indicate on this image where you think the wind is coming from. Notice how you have to look at the whole image several times to make sure all horizontal lines are consistent with each other.
wind on the waterIf you thought from the very top of the page that is correct.

  1. Now try to imagine using your hand as a pretend boat: what does close hauled angle on starboard looks like? Now find port tack.
  2. Picture a boat sailing straight downwind, then try to imagine what the boat would look like by the lee.

You will notice the more you use your hand to find the right boat angles, the more you are looking at the ripples, creating a visual angle between the ripple lines and your boat’s sailing line.

Seems easy enough to try?

The most critical use of this is lighter wind. Next time you get a chance, go out and practice just watching the ripples. Not just in front of your bow but try to look several meters upwind and 180 degrees across the wind. Then try it downwind. See how the angles of the ripples approach your leech when sailing by the lee, then try to guess the opposite by the lee angle without gybing.

A few mobility exercises can get you back hiking to full strength. Use a large ball, like a soft ball (Justin is using a SuperNova) and a smaller ball like a lacrosse ball. These are ideal because they are hard, effective and easy to travel with to regattas. If your feel lower back pain while sailing then this tutorial is for you.

Follow the exercises in the video whenever you feel tightness, and enjoy better posture, less pain, and stronger hiking!

Laser Sailing Tips: Importance of Hydration

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