May 23, 2012

Laser Cheat Sheet - Sailing Smart 2

By Doug
Laser Cheat Sheet

Back to my cheat sheet and a trick that I used at a national championship sailed in another class at Lake Lotawana, a small lake near Kansas City. There were wind lanes coming down the lake, but you could not see them by looking at the patterns on the water. So I tried something a little different.

When we're sailing upwind, you normally look ahead at the sail or over your forward shoulder at the wind, waves, and next mark. Occasionally, you'll look backwards to see what the boats behind you are doing. What's missing from this picture?

We hardly ever look over our trailing or "wrong shoulder" because there's not much going on. But at Lake Lotawana, there was a lot. Whenever I was headed and wanted to tack, I looked over my wrong shoulder and asked myself this question: are the boats there going at least as fast as me? If the answer was yes, then I tacked. If the answer was no, then I sailed through the header. The other boats that tacked on these headers sailed right into less wind and slowed down. It was much better to stay in the pressure even when headed. This is especially important when the wind is light and you have to "be smart."

This was my first major event in this class and others were definitely faster. But using this one trick to always stay in the pressure, I was fortunate to score five bullets and threw out a second. For me in these conditions, looking over my wrong shoulder worked like a charm.


  1. Good tip. But is boat speed the only criteria? Tacking on a header does allow you to point better toward the mark and at some point that would compensate for a slight loss in boat speed. I guess your advice applies, as you say, mainly for light winds.

  2. You're right about tacking as it's often a compromise. At this event, it was easy because boats just 50' away were sometimes moving at 1/2 speed. This made it an easy decision, even with my (then) poor eyesight. And you're right about light winds. As it picks up and settles down, a quick "wrong shoulder" glance gives you less information to work with.

  3. You are so right about those days when there are "wind lanes" on the lake. I don't know what weather conditions cause them but they are certainly real some days, even if you can't see them. I had my best result ever in a Sunfish on one of those days, winning a SANJL (Sailing Association of North Jersey Lakes) Regatta against all the local Sunfish hotshots. It was all about staying in the pressure and ignoring pretty much every other strategic consideration.

    As they say, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while!"

  4. Very good. Your comment reminds me something that happened 20 years ago that I'll add. Basically, I had to sail off the course to stay in the pressure. It felt very risky at the time but it worked.


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