Monday, February 9, 2009

Primary advice.

This is the three pages that I give to people new to Laser sailing or coming back to it.

LAUNCHING: Rudder down a little on leaving the beach and ½ centerboard (can go upwind fairly well with ½). When clear, go to "safety position" and push rudder down and cleat rudder line. If you have a lot of weather helm, you forgot to get the rudder down or it has come up again.
RETURNING: Uncleat rudder hold down, so it will come up when you ground. Then monitor centerboard to pull it out and step off in shallow water.
LONG TILLER EXTENSION: Usually hold in front of your chest but can hold to the side with frying pan grip. When you tack you must push the tiller over with the extension and then follow through by pushing the tiller extension past the mainsheet to the other side of the boat. Then bring the tiller back into center line before crossing over. This makes me tack faster than I would other wise, but it works well.
WHEN GYBING the sheet tends to catch on the transom. To prevent this when you are gybing, reach forward and catch the sheet just below the boom block and, as the sheet goes slack, pull about 2 feet of the sheet in. That starts the sheet across the stern so that it doesn’t catch. Don’t jerk it hard or it will flip the sheet over the end of the boom. If you are sailing in pretty good wind and haven’t worked this out, just tack. Don’t gybe.
TACKING FROM reach to reach will also catch the transom if you don’t trim in some sheet while you are going around.
COMING INTO SHORE DOWNWIND, you can just let the sail out in front of the boat and let it luff. The long sheets will let you do that and get it back if you want. With the old shorter sheets you may have to undo the knot in the end of the sheet and let it go through the ratchet block. If you retie the knot before the boom block, that is often enough to let the sail all the way out and not have the sheet run out through all the blocks.

DOWNWIND, heel the boat to weather so the deck edge is at the water. Put your uphill knee down so you can roll into the boat more easily to balance if you have a big roll to weather (see Death Roll). With repeated rolling, that is too much, trim the sail in and maybe more board down.
SAILING BY THE LEE may be a new trick for you . The boat will be more stable and faster.
In average wind, boom out 90 degrees, vang off a little so the leach gets a little floppy. Steer till the tell tails are flowing leach to luff and the leach is flopping a little. Centerboard down a little. Heel to windward (away from the sail).
In light wind let the boom out past 90 so the weight of the boom holds it out.
In Strong wind, boom is out less than 90 degrees (see death roll) and sail by the lee for a more stable ride. Less vang means the sail has to come in more. A little rolling back and forth can be fast, but if on the edge of a death roll, trim and /or head up to stabilize. A little more board down may do the stabilizing.
SAILING UP WIND. Hike to keep the boat FLAT. The flatter the better. In moderate wind you may be able to heel to weather and go even higher. (The radial rig is balanced to let you heel maybe 5 degrees.)
Light wind. Let the traveler off and the boom come inside the transom. If you are losing speed, let the boom back out to the corner of the transom. You can pull the boom in with your hand and friction will hold the block more in toward the center of the transom if you want to pinch off someone to weather. Don’t do that too long because you will slow and leeway will be increasing. The fast guys don’t do this anymore but keep the traveler tight and the boom out to the transom corner. If it is really light wind maybe out more and heel the boat to leeward so gravity shapes the sail and the heeling lowers the wetted surface area.
Medium wind. Tight traveler and trim the boom to the corner of the transom, but about 8 to 10 inches away from two blocked at the traveler.
Increasing wind so that you can’t hold it flat, then trim the sheet to two blocked or somewhere near. This bends the top mast section and fattens the sail. With puffs coming and going, trim to two blocked and then ease again when the puffs subside if you can still hold the boat flat. Try to let the rachet block hold the line. Just ease the pressure in your hand and arm until there is the slightest slip in the block and see how little pressure is really needed to hold the sheet. Often in the excitement of the dance with wind and waves, I hold everything in my hand until may arm gets tired and sore and reminds me, I don’t have to work this hard.
When two blocked you will need some Cunningham to pull the draft of the sail forward..
When two blocked and sailing in traffic, you may want to pull the vang on just tight so when bearing off under starboard tackers you gain the most speed. If you leave the vang on the boom will be lower when tacking. Remember to get your head down. Take the vang off going into the windward mark so as you turn down wind, you don’t stick the end of the boom in the water.
As I am sailing upwind I try to keep the sheet kicked to the back of the cockpit so that at the windward mark, it is less likely to be wrapped around my foot or knotted. Recently I have tried to keep it in the front of the cockpit and think that works better.
If you can’t keep the boat flat by two blocking up wind, then it is time for Super vang. To super vang, pull the sheet into two blocked and then pull on the vang as strong as you can. The new boats have a sleeve in the boom to take this kind of treatment. If you have an old boat and are bending the mast much, you might consider adding the sleeve.
Now that you are super vanged, let the boom out beyond the transom as far as necessary to keep the boat flat. When Ed Adams is super vanged, before he tacks, he takes the vang off and throws the handle over to the lee side so it will be handy to put on again after the tack. That gives him more room under the boom and a more powerful sail right after the tack. Just remember that the boom is low with the vang on.
CAPSIZE. The upper mast is sealed and will float the boat on it’s side. Strong wind can blow it in turtle position, but in lighter wind you can swim away and leave it and swim back later. I have seen experienced sailors capsize the boat, swim over to help another right their boat, and then swim back to his.
A strong steady pull on the centerboard should right the boat in usual circumstances.
If the sail is to windward when the boat is righted, it will likely capsize again in the other direction. Hot shots may hold onto the centerboard as the boat rights, slowing the flip and come up on the windward side to climb in without the problem of righting the boat a second time. This is the "San Francisco roll."
If you are capsizing in windy conditions, let go of the hiking stick as it might break and hold on to the sheet so you don’t have to chase the boat.
One condition that is difficult to recover from is turning over to windward with the sail out more than 90 degrees. The sail is not in the water but full of wind and the boat is on it’s side. Even if the sail was trimmed in more it may get out a little more as you turn over. To prevent this from happening, you can knot your sheet so it won’t go out more than 90 degrees on a day with strong wind.
Sometimes when the boat is capsizing you can jump over the windward side and step on the centerboard , right the boat with out getting wet. If the mast is already in the water and you try to climb up the deck side to do this you may drive the mast under and into the tough muck at the bottom of Lake Eustis. This muck will really hold the end of the mast tight and you might need help to get it out. If a helping motor boat takes a bow line and pulls it gently at right angle to the boat on the bottom side (away from the sail) it will unscrew the sail form the mud and bring you up. If you have no help, then just keep pressure on the centerboard with righting pressure and you may come loose. If someone else jumps in with you, two people on the centerboard can usually do it.
DEATH ROLL. Is a capsize to windward. On a broad reach or a run when the top of the sail twists enough to point to windward, a roll to windward increases the apparent wind at the top of the mast and with the long lever arm of the mast, the boat is slammed down to windward. Because it is very hard to stop once the final roll starts and you are sitting on the wrong side to counter it, it is called the "death roll."
It was more of a problem a few years ago when lines stretched more and the sail was of lighter material. All this would stretch in a puff. What was a good balance before had the top of the sail pointing the wrong direction.
Last moment action.. Trim sail, head up and lay back in the water on the windward side. (Lightens the down side of the boat– trying to get to the high side increases the torque to turn over.) Steve Cockerel says to turn the other way and the rudder will dig in and help prevent the roll, but you may gybe. Check out the "Boat whisperer- downwind".
THE BIG BLOW. How to handle it.
1) Turn the boat down and sit on the high side balancing the boat with several feet of mast in the water. That can be a comfortable sitting position. The edge of the boat is in the water resisting drift and the sail is in the water out of the way. You might see hot shots doing some of that between races, especially if the wind is blowing strongly and beating the sails up. This is a method used by Lasers and International 10 square meter canoes when the wind is too strong for them to handle. When the little storm has passed, right the boat and sail on.
2) Let the sail out in front of the boat so it luffs while you comfortably sail someplace down wind or a broad reach.
3) The sail can be reefed by unplugging boom and rotating the mast to roll the luff of the sail up. If the top batten is removed a lot of sail can be rolled up, and then plug the boom in again. This was much easier to do with the old sail controls.
4)If it is survival sailing for you, then the vang off, out haul tight, close reach as much as necessary to work up wind. Downwind, see 2 above.
WALKING AROUND THE MAST. Occasionally you may want to get on the bow of the boat and then get back to the cockpit and visa vera. Stand in the middle of the boat with one or two hands on the mast, tip the boat about 45 degrees to one side and step to the center of the boat on the other side of the mast. Don’t step on the side of the boat and don’t stay with one foot in front of the mast and one be hind. It is not hard to do and works better with the centerboard down.


  1. Hi Sam! Thanks for all you help teaching me to sail a laser. I'm teaching sailing for the KWSC, FKCC, and the NJROTC. We have 5 good lasers now.
    Hope to see you sometime this year. We are keeping up your work in Key West!

  2. Sam, so glad to find your site, I see I have some catching up to do, like years worth. Started sailing a laser a year ago, sunfish prior to that. Also glad to see the sheet/transom problem in writing. Have not mastered the grab & flick move, especially in heavy winds. I think it requires three arms, so I tend to tack around the problem. I've been over once in the sunfish, in two years of sailing it. I was over 5 times in my first three times out w/the laser, tried to start out in heavy winds.