1. Rudder movement in Light-air/chop
  2. Laser conditioning
  3. Starting - initial requirements for success
  4. Upwind - fore/aft-weight

Rudder movement in Light-air/chop

The Prompt:


What about rudder in these conditions? Does all steering take place through weight transfer, or should the rudder be used to aid steering up the face and off the back of chop? At CORK, my 15 year old talked to a few of the top sailors about this, and one told him to steer so that his bow would move in circles over waves. This makes sense, but how much steering should bedone with the body, and how much with the tiller?


The response:

Usually in conditions below "max power" (full hiking), we are trying to keep rudder movement to a minimum to avoid drag. In our recent discussions about light-air w/chop, there will obviously be some helm movement required. I like to ask myself and think about the actual size of the waves - Are they just bumpy chop that slow the boat down, or are they "left-over" from recent higher winds creating "larger than the breeze" conditions?

The latter condition tends to deliver waves that peak over the lip of the bow, and can possibly send water back to the cockpit. As we all know, this is a SERIOUS detail that has a high priority to avoid. The rule is anything goes to keep the bow out of the water. Aggressive steering here is ok, sometimes even if it is out of sync with our body movements.

We also try to have vision of not only the wave we are cresting, but the next two waves as well. If we view the waves in these sets, we can do more steering AROUND the worse waves, even at the expense of losing some height (pointing). As I developed as a helmsman growing up, I constantly heard the great sailors talk about this "steering around" concept, but it took me several years to actually abandon my perfect telltale groove in quest for the smoother path thru the water. Of course when I did start looking at the sets instead of just "my" wave, my wave technique became a real weapon of speed.

Jeff's question above probably relates to waves that are not as large as the "over the bow" sets.
Tiller movements should relate directly to body movements and heel - Heeling to leeward to head up, flattening for neutral helm or bearing off. As we discussed in the previous post, keeping the leeward tell tale from stalling is key to maintaining speed. A typical cycle of movement would look like:

---approaching wave bearing off just slightly, small heel to leeward, slight ease on sheet. As wave passes underneath mast step, shoulder extension coupled with fast trim on sheet (power on w/sheet - speed forward thru wave by mast deflect and snap of rig), NOW glance at leeward telltale to see "where you are". If telltale is shaky or drooping, ease sheet, heel to leeward while beginning to head up. As boat speeds up, trim and pressure down with butt and shoulder extension. Anticipate next wave.

As long as you are in sync, even though there are helm movements the helm should "flow" or feel little resistance. Even though our body motions may be quick and assertive, we want too avoid "jabbing and pulling" the stick with force - save that stuff for the super physical upwind grind!

Luther Carpenter
US Sailing Team Coach


Laser Conditioning

The Prompt:

Excellent post re:light air on the Laser list server.

I just started sailing Lasers again after a long (6 year) layoff. I had great success at my first regatta (2nd at Buzzards Bay Regatta) and want to see how well I can do. It's really convenient for me because I work for Vanguard so I have all the gear at my disposal.

One thing I would like to work on is my physical conditioning. I haven't sailed enough in big breeze recenfly to know where my weaknesses are, but I have been looking around in the US Sailing website and other places to find good advice on what to do to get "Laser tough."

My next event is ACC's in 3 weeks. What should I be concentrating on between now and then? My general conditioning is ok, I sail a lot and ride bikes and swim. My legs are definitely stronger than my upper body and my trunk could probably also use work.

After ACC's I plan to do Pan Am Trials and Miami OCR, depending on how cool Chip wants to be.

Also, what is the good all around weight? I'm 6' 1"; and about 180-183 right now. I put on some lbs because I have been crewing in 505's, but have been anywhere between high 160's and low 180's in the past two years. What's the target?

Thanks for any help you can give and I hope to see you at a regatta soon.


The Response:


In my book, your size is optimal. I really think 180 lbs is the target, then fall on either side of that depending on your gain/loss habits at events. 6' 1" is of course and excellant bit of leverage to work with.

The best source to date for Laser training is Michael Blackburn's book "Sail Fit". The sailing world has been crying for a specific sailing book - Blackburn delivered. Some say they disagree with one thing here or there, but I say everyone should get it, read it, and use it in whatever way they want. I bought about 20 of them from the SailCoach guys (they have a web page and can also be found at the ISAF page). I distributed to most of our top guys in the US.

Blackburn likes the following sports and exercises for physical preparation for competition (ranked in order):

  1. Sailing
  2. Hiking Bench (I just finished making mine)
  3. Cycling
  4. Weight training
  5. Wall sit

Since I have not seen you sail, it's a little difficult to prescribe what to do in the next 3 weeks. I'd say that a surprising large percentage of US sailors have relatively poor hiking form starting right at the toes.
Hiking pants are a MUST! I recently got the Magic marine type and really like them.

Back to form - sail with a strap that is tight enough to force your foot straight with the toes pointed. Strive for as straight a body as possible from your toes to your hips. For many, the 3 major change is going from the loose strap and toes pointing toward the boom, to straight posture. Many find it uncomfortable because their ankles can't support the tension or load. I think developing flexibility in the ankles can really speed this process along, so stretch the tops of your feet and ankles (this will also give you greater comfort and movement in the cockpit downwind for more speed). Working on your hiking bench will give you plenty of relaxed time to perfect posture (that way you can focus on technique when you finally get that hiking breeze).

The other technique to develop is to spend time hiking off of the three power modes your body offers:

  1. both legs
  2. aft leg
  3. front leg

Roll from each position as needed to encourage blood flow back into each leg as you hike. Developing good transition while keeping the weight out is very important, and something we don't talk about enough. You need to give each leg a little break as you steam up the beat, but without actually easing too much pressure off the rig.

The whole subject of hiking is a very psychological game as well as physical. This year, I decided that I was going to hike out - I mean really hike out! It will now be my weapon instead of my dreaded activity.
This attitude gets you serious about training for the activity. When I sail in breeze I go for maximum extention and try for great posture. I'm always amazed that just when you think your body has no more, it can deliver with just a short break.

Steve Bourdow told me once about his attitude on hiking:

"Why would someone lean in? Because it hurts? I don't care if it hurts.. .hike out! What, you can't? Why not - are your legs going to break? There's no excuse for not hiking hard"

Steve's tone of this discussion is clear - we all really give up long before our bodies do. If we can learn to stay positive about hiking and can train ourselves in short-term recovery on the water, our performance will surely increase. And as hiking becomes an advantage, we find ourselves doing more and more to take advantage of that - like eating and sleeping tight, and having only one beer before a big day on the water.

Check out Blackburn's book, build your hiking bench, rip upwind! Sounds easy! Sounds Fun!

Luther Carpenter
US Sailing Team Coach.

Starting - Initial requirements for success

The Prompt:

Woa, that is great great information..
All four of my Laser Events have been light air and still suck at it..
What about starting.. I got waxed so bad at Laser Canadians it was not funny..

What are the things to look for?
What are good practice Drills?
How many other boats do you need for good starting practice, what drills?

Excellent excellent stuff, D

The Response:


Glad the post was helpful - thanks for the kind words!

Starting is a subject that of course requires a whole list of skills. Your interest will spark me into stealing Gary Bodie's lecture on starting and print in Laser Sailor. It will cover the starting area, the flow of action on the line, what to expect and how to contend with most icumstances.

Between Gary's lecture and my thoughts, you must look at starting in this way: 95% of your success rate is on YOUR shoulders. Blaming a poor start on some jerk who crashed into you or was over early on your breeze is not acceptable. Most of the time you can see situations such as these developing, and with this proper identification, you can bail out of a sketchy situation and make the best of what time is left. Stay tuned to Laser Sailor for more

NOW, on to what you can do today! Here's some facts:

  1. Poor starters tend to sail their boats at speeds of around 75% and 0% - all or nothing.
  2. Great starters have the ability to:
    1. sail at 10% speed (or chose from a wide range of speeds)
    2. change course dramatically with or without speed
    3. drop the bow down and accelerate at ANY time
    4. because they have great control at low speed, they can sit virtually on the line without "freaking out" and blowing it.

From the list above the homework is clear - practice at least 20 minutes per sail of total downspeed manuvering. At first just luff up and let the boat come as close to a dead stop as you can with out losing forward steerage. As you approach the "stall zone" (losing steerage and starting backward drift) bear off to beam reach while easing the sail to avoid accelerating. Sit at this mode for at least 20 seconds, then back up to near head-to-wind. Transition back and forth several times, each time lasting as long as possible in the high mode, but bearing off (just) before losing steerage.

Next extend the exercise into deeper dives to leeward (to broadreach angle - sail way out) WITHOUT accelerating when bearing off, and then accelerating when heading up so that the boat has drive and speed to drift about 3 boatlengths while directly into the wind, repeat several times.

Now repeat those exercises, but combine those skills with huge acceleration as you are bearing off much like trying to close the gap on a port-tacker coming for your hole. As soon as you achieve 50% speed, slam the baot head to wind while pushing the boat out to SLOW the boat down quickly. Don't hold the boom too long here or you won't be able to last in the high mode for very long. Back the boom as a brake and then release and glide forward. You can always back the boom slighly again if you still have too much pace.

All this sounding easy? We're not over yet! Now start working on your double tacking skills while sailing at 10-20% speed. Roll the boat like a normal tack but RESIST flattening and accelerating out of the tacks, especially when tacking from port to starboard. You should try to tack from beam reach to beam reach smoothly, with excellant steerage the whole time, but never accelerating above 20% speed. As you complete your tack back on to starboard continue holding high as long as possible before losing steerage.

Final phase to practice is actual trim and go technique. Do a few explosive big bear aways into the hole to leeward and then trim and flatten (with power and force!). Immediately sail the boat dead flat and very high, inside telltale kicking straight up. Hold for 1 minute staying perfectly flat and high.

OK, that acceleration was a dream - we never get to bear off THAT much at the line so slowely lessen the angle that you drive off for speed. Always finish by sailing super flat with the inside telltale kicking, keeping your steering precise and the boat powerful by sailing super flat. Here is where straight and loaded legs pay big!

One great thing about the Laser is that playing the Centerboard on the line is a major tool. Work thru the above scenarios and experiement with the different heights for:

  1. sliding sideways down the line
  2. When heading up from a Beam reach with speed, a high board deadens your speed as you make the turn, then push down for flow and creep forward.
  3. max down for super high luffing
  4. half up in yang conditions (yang eased as well) for a much wider range of options in course selection.

Well these drills should get you started. Work hard on the mainsheet trims and eases at all times to keep the mainsheet straight and ready for anything! If you truly can work on your arsenal of downspeed techniques, those nasty bottled up spots on the line become easier to stomach as nerves set in with the watch ticking down. There is nothing worse than being right there on the line and then "spasing out" because you don't have the tools to maintain position (I speak from experience).

Let me know how your next practice goes!

Luther Carpenter
US Sailing Team Coach

Upwind - Fore/aft weight

The Prompt:

One thing I would like you to dicuss, would be the fore and aft mouvement or rather the aft and fore mouvement as a wave hits.
It seems to me that at every S or 6 waves the stern shoulders would drop down and back, and after the wave passed would come back to the normal position.
Your comments please.

Good winds Good sailing.

DD 137848

The Response:

D's message above asks for a discussion on fore/aft weight upwind. Ed Adams article in Sailing World on Robert Scheidt identifies many of the key components of this motion.

I have found it very helpful to state and experiment with the raw effects of weight movement regardless of waves:

Putting weight forward pushes the bow down in the water, increasing the waterline. This tends to create more weather helm and power - both great for pointing. The boat should feel like the groove is tight and narrow with the bow pressed down in this manner. Most of us load our forward legs in the hiking strap and lean our forward shoulder down and forward to acheive this mode. The downside of this mode is that the boat can slow down quickly if we make a steering or hiking error.

Shifting weight aft shortens the waterline by raising the v-bow out of the water. This gives us a loose/wide groove, which is great for producing the fast forward mode. The boat feels lively and accelerates forward vs rounding up. The most common stance to acheive weight aft is to load the aft thigh, and roll the shoulders OUT and back. Emphasize the out!

The next time you go sailing in puffy, full power flat-water conditions, experiement with these two different modes. You should find that the aft shoulder mode will enable you to sail thru the puffs with less mainsheet ease, than when you are leaning forward.

Guess what the slowest mode in breeze upwind is? Mediocre hiking forward in the cockpit, leaning forward to rest while easing the mainsheet. This is exactly what all of us do when we get tired. Knowing and reminding yourself of these facts help to force you to rotate you hiking from leg to leg, for increase in blood flow - and better balance between speed and height modes.

Lets pretend we are sailing upwind in a 12-18 knot offshore wind. The chop is realitively short, but the puffs/lulls are severe and quick. We read an approching puff, and pull on anticipated yang tension required 1-2 boatlengths before the puff strikes. As the puff hits, we discover it is a lift, and quickly reply with a sharp hard hike on our aft thigh as we steer up. We ease the mainsheet only during the 1st boatlength of the puff, and then come block/block as our new course in the lift settles down. As soon as things are stable and the helm neutral we roll into equal tension on both legs and continue to hike thru the puff.

As the puff dies we ease the yang while leaning forward, loading the forward leg. Depending on the chop, we continue either slightly heeled or flat. The slightly heeled/weight forward mode is extremely effective for pointing and power in the lulls and chop. The bonus of this position is that it keeps your butt out over the water, and the load on your front thigh gives the aft "power thigh" a break in anticipation of the next puff. As the next puff approaches, get ready 3-2-1 wham! aft thigh loaded shoulders held STRAIGHT OUT and aft. Truck thru the puff, feel the burn of your stomach and legs, enjoy the spray as you blast upwind nice and flat!

Once you understand and feel this technique in an offshore wind condition, you can slowly develop good technique in larger waves. Impact with the waves requires an aft/speed mode, while using the flat "spaces" in between the waves for pointing/forward weight. Ed Adams points out that the loading of the aft thigh quickly, helps to push the bow deeper into the wave as you crest over it - keeping the bow from "crashing" back down into the water (it shouldn't catch air). We all know that keeping the bow traveling thru a smooth track of water is fast - pounding bows is hateful, and tends to scoop water into the cockpit.

The hardest part of developing good technique is that most of us lack the power that needs to be delivered to the aft thigh over and over. This is where the speed comes from when over-powered, so set your goals to increase the frequency and force in which you spend fully extended in the aft mode.

I hope that gives you a few more things to try, and may open a few doors of opportunity in your technique in both flat water and wavy conditions.

Luther Carpenter
US Sailing Team Coach