May 01, 2012

Laser Cheat Sheet - Smart Settings

By Doug 

2012 Master Midwinters East - day 1
Laser Cheat Sheet

The Laser class selects locations with a steady breeze for major events like the Worlds. But as we saw in Korea, races are often held in very light, fluky conditions. Getting good at this will help everyone, from the weekend warrior to people training for the Worlds.

Dallas lakes have lots of light-air sailing days when the breeze is 5 knots or less. Light-air sailing can be boring and favor lighter skippers, but many championships are won or lost in these conditions. The first column of my Cheat Sheet is what has worked for me, starting with the setup for sailing upwind. Please note that because of a vision issue, I have no depth perception and cannot judge distances, so I have to set the sail up based on the controls and not the actual shape of the sail.

The traveler is easy - just loose enough to not interfere with your steering.

The vang is a compromise - you need it tight enough to keep the end of the boom down and just outside the boat. Most people have it in too far and results in less speed and your centerboard stalling. By footing you can actually end up pointing higher, which happened on the first day of the 2012 Master Midwinters East. The first day at the 1997 Master Worlds also happened to be light and my finishes were a 2, 2. That evening I wrote this in my Worlds journal: Mark Bethwaite made the comment that my sail was different from everyone else in the fleet - more vang, boom way out. The sheeting out was to keep the boat moving but the vang bit really surprised me. I was surprised because it never occurred to me I was the only person sailing this way. You've got to keep the boat moving, especially in lumpy conditions in open water. The reason why this setting is a compromise is because the tight vang really messes up the top of the sail where you would really prefer to have some twist. But keeping the boat moving is more important.

I like to pull the cunningham on until there are no wrinkles and then let it off so that the lowest part of the luff is loose and sensitive enough to read. Other people have a loose cunningham and "speed wrinkles" but these have never worked for me.

For the outhaul, I use a trick from Steve Bourdow (USA, 2nd at the Newport Worlds) - put your thumb on the boom near the cleat and then your pinkie should just touch the foot of the sail. You can have it a little tighter for flat water and a little looser for lumpy conditions, but Steve's trick works well most of the time. I also like it because smaller people tend to have smaller hands, so they would tend to have a tighter foot than a larger person who needs more power in their sail.

For the mainsheet, some people like Keith Wilkins (GBR, 12 Master World wins) can sail with it tight and even block-to-block. I cannot and prefer to foot to keep the centerboard from stalling.

2006 Master Words in Korea
The setup for downwind is easy - everything is loose and the boom is way out and you're sailing by the lee if possible. This is helped by having a light air mainsheet so that it is less likely to fall in the water, plus you have a better feeling for the slight changes in the breeze. But be sure to have gloves and a second mainsheet in case the wind picks up! This happened on the final day in Korea where the wind was light and really picked up just before the first of three races!!

With the correct setup, you now have speed. But speed in light air without being smart will help you go really fast the wrong way.  Sailing smart in light conditions will be covered in another post.


  1. Mike Lindstrom 189827May 7, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    OK Doug,

    I've been patiently waitng for the down wind post from you. I have no idea how to make my Laser go down wind. Last Saturday I raced in a mixed group of boats including a 470 and a Rader. I could beat them to the wether mark bu not by much. Down wind (with a kite) they kicked my butt. The portsmith rating are close at 91.5 for a Laser and around 86.5 for the 470.

    I fell "stuck" in the water down wind. Also at SSC, the regulars there beat the hell out of me down wind. Again I can hang with them to the A mark but as soon as we head off they are gone. Any help with my practice routine is appreciated.

    1. Mike Lindstrom 189827May 7, 2012 at 12:55 PM

      Sorry for all the typos...

    2. I'm very glad to hear you ask. I've been bugging him to write this up. Are you coming up for DinghyFest this weekend?

      Doug has been working on a theory of how to diagram and explain downwind sailing in a simple, easy to understand format. He is going to wear a hat cam at DinghyFest and see if he can talk through the decision making process on how to select, ride and jump waves since there is usually good wind and waves at this venue. His technique probably isn't the best out there but it's certainly better than most.

  2. Mike Lindstrom 189827May 9, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    Yes I'll be coming up this weekend. I'm going to rough it and camp with the SSC boys if that's alowed. See you there!


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