Applying body movements to your sailing – Laser technique by Vaughn Harrison

This article appears courtesy of its author, Vaughn Harrison, a world class Laser sailor and coach from Canada, and International Sailing Academy, an all inclusive training destination in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico utilized by Olympic champions such as 2008 Gold Olympic Medalist, Paul Goodison and 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist, Tom Slingsby.

By Vaughn Harrison

First, the fundamentals:
The most important thing is good balance. You need to be at the point where you know how to crank on your controls when you need them, and sufficiently hike to keep the boat flat and not pinching.

Body movement in the laser is not a one dimensional form of creating speed or negotiating waves. The perception is that ooching, flattening, rocking or pumping is a way of creating energy that directly affects boat performance. The truth is completely opposite. Lasers, like every other boat is meant to be sailed with consistent laminar flow around the foils and the sail. Many of the “jerky” movements disrupts this flow, and concludes in stalling the foils and slipping sideways.

So the question is, why do Laser sailors always look like they are throwing their shoulders around? We call this movement a torque.

Let’s start with steering then come back to the torque:
In flat water conditions, there is no element that slows your boat down like waves or chop. In flat conditions your laser has a longer waterline and is consistently creating a bow wave. This allows your boat to move at optimal speed all of the time. When it starts to get choppy, the bow will often detach from the water and slam down into the next wave. This affects your apparent wind, which is the wind direction that you sail by. As your speed is slowed by the pounding of each wave, your apparent wind angle moves aft, and your boat will get weather helm, which is not desirable and throws off your rhythm. So how do we keep the waterline long, while sailing in choppy conditions?

This is when steering comes into play. Although it sounds slow, movement of the rudder to constantly steer the boat through the waves can be effective. The correct technique is to head up into the wave as it crashes on your bow. After your bow crests the wave, you keep the knuckle of the bow attached to the back of the wave by bearing away with your rudder, and return it to centerline as your bow crashes into the next wave. If your boat is not balanced correctly, you will struggle to bear away sufficiently and or steer your bow too high into a pinch.

Torquing is a physical and sometimes powerful way of helping balance your helm as your steer through waves. The torquing motion calls for leaning back on your aft leg, and outwards, giving your boat a powerful and balanced righting moment.

Three important things to consider are:

  1. Having to bear away down the back of a wave greatly increases pressure on the foils which slightly overburdens the boat. Hiking harder at this point (as the rudder returns back to centerline) is an element of the torque.
  2. Combining the timing of the torque with your steering is extremely important. If you are bearing away at the same time as adding weight, your rudder will stall, causing you to go sideways. Consider the torque similar to flattening your boat on the startline or coming out of a tack, the rudder is following the boat as it heads up. Likewise for the torque. You need to be heading up as you add weight to the foils.
  3. The last movement is changing your weight fore and aft, which changes where the boat’s center of gravity is. You can use your body to minimize the bow from smashing into waves by shifting your weight aft when your bow is out of the water to bring your center of gravity above your center of buoyancy, giving the boat equilibrium (less bounce).

When applying this to your sailing, remember that the bow slamming into the water is exactly what we’re trying to avoid, so rolling onto your aft leg and hiking harder will help balance the boat both fore-aft and leeward-windward.

Check out ISA Athlete Charlie Buckingham showing some great torquing: