Going upwind is the most important skill for the new racer to learn. You can come back from a bad start and you won't lose that many places on the downwind legs, even if you are slow. If you can't go upwind well, though, you can give up the game, because it is on these legs that the most spots are gained and lost.
The first thing you have to think about is that you are sailing in a boat-a boat that floats in the water. Whatever movements you make when you're sailing affect the relationship between the two, and this relationship is vital to understand because it's the water that slows the boat down the most.
Drag affecting the hull is sometimes a difficult thing to detect, but there are ways to find and reduce it. For instance, while you're sailing, move back in the boat until you're sitting on the transom. Look down behind the boat and you will notice a lot of little swirlies coming off the stern. You will also hear water rushing back there. That noise is drag-your boat spending some of its energy making pretty pictures in the water-ones that slow you down.
This is an easy problem to fix-just move forward until you see the water smooth out behind the boat. This reduces the drag generated by the stern sitting in the water. Now the water has a nice, smooth exit from the stern, and it won't make as much noise.
The most important rule for going upwind is to keep the boat as flat as possible. This does some great things for the boat.
First, when the boat is completely flat, the centerboard will be as deep in the water as possible.
Maximizing the depth of the board in the water allows it to do its job the best. If you're slipping sideways while going upwind, you're losing ground to those who aren't. As an experiment, lift the board halfway while sailing upwind. You will notice the boat won't point as high, and as an added bonus, you can watch the trees on the edge of the lake go by sideways (a beautiful sight!).
Second, when the boat is heeled, the hull acts as a rudder and tries to turn the boat in one direction or the other. In order to sail a straight line, the real rudder will have to be used more in the opposite direction. Whenever it's used in this fashion, you will see the nasty drag swirlies coming off the transom. Again, these swirlies, as all others, require energy to form-energy that is better used going fast in a straight line. FLATTEN THE BOAT!!
Here's where you may learn something new: When that puff hits your boat, if you're yelling at the crew to hike, you're doing the wrong thing. You must ease the sail, even dump it way down sometimes. If the boat heels up, it's only the skipper that is to blame.
Think about this: the crew's job is to keep the mainsail full, not keep the boat down-that's the skipper's job. Here's how it should go:
One more note. Between the above steps 1. and 2., the boat will heel-that's your signal that the puff hit. However, learn to react quickly enough so it goes up so slightly that only you notice. Your crew shouldn't even feel the movement. That's your goal, and I'm not exaggerating!
For some techniques on staying flat and fast, read the two following sections on EASE-HIKE-TRIMming and FEATHERING.
In very light winds, it is still important to be able to point into the wind, but the main emphasis should be on speed. For this reason, when the wind is so light that it doesn't have enough energy to keep the sails open, you must use gravity.
Heel the boat slightly to leeward, enough to hold the sails open. This way, when the next puff comes along, it will spend its energy pushing the boat forward, instead of just opening the sail. Also, whatever flow you may have will detach itself from the sail if it doesn't have shape.
In this mode, the boat won't point very high, so don't force it. Let the sail out at least to the corner of the transom, and be very, very careful to keep the boat still. All your movements should be slow and easy, so as not to disturb the intimate relationship your sail is hopefully having with the wind. The goal is to keep the boat moving. If you stop, you're dead!
"Isn't it okay to let the boat heel up when the puff hits-then I can hike it flat and use all the energy the wind just sent my way?" NO WAY. Even if a puff hits and you feel you can hike it flat, it's much better to ease the sail a bit, and there are two reasons for this.
First, when the puff hits and heels the boat up, you will be blown immediately sideways-not the direction you want to go. If there is too much power in the sails, let some go-that's always better for your speed to the next mark.
Second, when the wind hits, the apparent wind moves back because of the new injection of true wind. I.e., every puff that heels your boat is a lift. This means the sail, if it's kept in, is overtrimmed. You will lose the connection the wind has with the sail, so let it out.
EASE-HIKE-TRIM is a great rule to make the boat go fast when the puffs hit. Here's how it goes:
The HIKE and TRIM steps should happen at the same time, counterbalancing each other.
Your concentration should be on keeping the boat completely flat, throughout the entire puff (and don't be afraid to dump a lot if the puff is a big one). The initial ease keeps the boat flat and prepares the sail for the new wind direction. The goal is to use the puff to its fullest, so as soon as you can rein in that power, with the hike and trim, do it. This whole maneuver should take about 3 seconds.
Whenever you're going upwind you should hear the ratchet of the mainsheet block almost constantly (in-out-in-out...). This is a sign that you are adjusting the sail enough to keep it trimmed correctly.
Practice this in the puffs until it's very smooth and natural. It will become ingrained the more you use it, and it soon won't take any concentration at all.
A note on hiking technique:
The best way to hike in small dinghies, like the Laser and the FJ, is with your legs completely straight, and your back bent slightly. What this does is extend your weight out as far as possible, with the least amount of effort. You will agree, it is easier to use your legs to get your weight out, than it is to use your back muscles.
Once your weight is out, you can move it much more easily simply by bending your back. If you move your weight in and out by bending and straightening your legs, you are taking much longer to adjust, because it's the whole body that's moving. If the adjustments are made only with your upper body, the adjustments are quick and smooth.
In the Laser, it is important to keep the drag in the water down. Butt drag is one of the worst types of drag. Straightening your legs will keep your butt out of the water on the beats and close reaches, keeping you dryer and keeping the boat moving faster. If you've ever been flying on a Laser on a close reach and dragged your butt in the water, you know, "with enemas like that, who needs friends?"
This is a short discussion on a phenomenon that is important to keep in mind, no matter what leg of the course you're on. The breeze you feel in the boat is a mixing of two separate breezes-one which is from the real direction (true wind), and the other, from straight ahead caused by the motion of your boat (generated wind). The product is the apparent wind.
Imagine riding a bike, with the true wind coming straight from the left at 5 mph. When you're standing still, you feel the force on your left arm. Now ride the bike forward at 5 mph. The wind will feel like it's coming at you at a 45 angle, between straight in front of you and straight from the left. This is the apparent wind.
As the bike picks up speed, the wind will feel as though it has moved more to the front of the bike. If you start riding down a hill at 45 mph, you won't be able to feel it from side any more-it's mostly from the front. That generated wind has taken over.
Conversely, if the bike is going 5 mph and the speed of the breeze from the left picks up to 30 mph, you probably won't feel the generated wind any longer. You will feel all the true wind, because it is much stronger.
Now, imagine the same situation in the boat. The boat is traveling forward at 5 mph, and the wind is straight across the beam at 5 mph. It will feel as though you are on a close reach, with the apparent wind coming at the boat from a 45 angle. When a puff hits, the wind will move back toward the beam, causing a lift-and when you hit a lull and slow down, the breeze moves to the bow, causing a header. Experiment with this by sailing into lulls and puffs and watching the sidestay tell-tales.
No matter the body of water on which you sail, there will be wind shifts-both headers and lifts. Often, these come with little or no warning, and those racers that notice and adapt the most quickly will pull ahead.
After sailing for a while, it will be simple to detect and react to the shifts-it will be second nature to do it while you are thinking of something else. It's a sort of voodoo, especially for the best sailors. They won't be able to tell you how they do it because they've done it for so long.
The eventual goal for your upwind development is to be able to sail to windward by merely feeling the boat. However, in the beginning, and also in some conditions, such as very light air, you will need to watch the telltales on the jib (or the main if you're in a cat-rigged boat, like the Laser). Read the section, JIB TELLTALES, in CHAPTER 2 - RIGGING.
Have the crew pull the jib in as far as possible. By "as far as possible," I mean the point where it is as close to the centerline of the boat, without "squashing" all the power out). Don't flatten it completely. To determine where this point is, sail against someone while trying different settings on the jib. If the boat feels sluggish, let the jib out a little to put some power back in. Remember, also, that if the jib is cranked in too tight, this will close the slot between the jib and the main (read the section, JIB LEADS - ..., in CHAPTER 2 - RIGGING, especially discussion on the slot).
Once you have the jib trimmed correctly, you can start steering the boat, using the telltales as guides. If the outside telltale "piddles," this means the sail is overtrimmed for the direction of the wind on the boat. You don't want to let the sail out, so you must head up. This, in effect, retrims the sails, except instead of bringing the sails in, you "brought the whole boat in."
If the inside telltale piddles constantly, or if the sail luffs (actual luffing, or just an inversion at the front edge of the sail), the jib is undertrimmed. You don't want to crank in more on the sheet, so you must retrim by bearing off.
Your goal is to make the outside tale flow straight back and the inside tale "lift" occasionally, meaning some air is getting to it, but not all the time. If you don't know how often the inside tale should be lifting, err on the side of too often. It's better to have too much air flowing along the inside edge of the sail, than not enough.
When this happens, you should be pointing as high as possible. Remember through all this adjusting that if the boat is not up to speed, you won't be able to point, so make sure you're going as fast as you can. Also, you should be able to feel when the power is gone from the jib and the main. The following sections will give you an idea of how to develop this "feel."
The most helpful article I've ever read about sailing a small dinghy was an article in Sailing World called "Ease-Hike-Trim." At first I thought this was a stupid article. "Doesn't everyone do this?" It didn't take long to realize this comes with experience.
Even though I thought the article was kind of silly at the time, I came away with one piece of information that has helped my racing more than any other, and that is the technique of Feathering. This technique, when used in conjunction with Ease-Hike-Trim, can push your pointing up at least another 5 -10 degrees.
Start by pointing into the wind as high as possible, and have the mainsheet pulled in tight. Now, every time a puff hits, head up into the wind until the boat is flat again. Then, when the puff has died off a little, you will be sailing in what feels like a header, so bear off until the power returns to the sail. You should be constantly making adjustments to your course.
Now, once the above techniques have been mastered, you can sail upwind using only feel. A great way to practice is to close your eyes. If you are sailing with a crew, you can even go so far as to blindfold yourself, with the crew standing as a lookout for obstacles.
This may seem silly, but there is no better exercise to force yourself to get used to sailing without staring at your telltales. Your eventual goal should be to put your boat on auto pilot, as far as speed and pointing are concerned. This leaves your eyes open for tactical and strategic considerations.
You will always find that competition improves your performance, and this is especially true with sailing. You can work on your upwind speed alone, but it is always nice to practice with someone else, both to gauge your progress and to provide incentive to sail harder. However, there are a few things you must know to maximize your practice with another boat.
First, the goal of speed testing is to gauge and improve your speed and pointing-not to practice tacking or tactics. Choose an open stretch of water where you won't have to tack for a while.
Second, get the boats far enough apart so neither is in the other's bad air (read the BLANKETING and BACKWINDING sections below), but close enough to be in the same wind. You must have the same conditions for each boat to get a true reading. See the figure below. Notice that these boats are on a parallel course, and they are about 3 boatlengths apart.
Third, set the sails on each of the boats to have the same shape. The object is to test and improve your sailing abilities, not to see if more draft is faster.
Start out in this position and sail until one boat is blanketing or backwinding the other. Then tack and start the process over. You will find your speed and pointing improve almost by themselves. Your body will start doing what it must to make the boat go fast and high, using the other boat as a reference. Use all the ideas outlined above and below, including ease-hike-trim and feathering.
If you've been reading this guide and paying attention, it should be obvious by now that any extra rudder movements not only turn the boat, but they also slow you down. A boat can be steered using only the trim of the sails and the trim of the hull.
Heel the boat to windward and the boat turns downwind. Likewise, it turns upwind when heeled to leeward. In fact, it won't take much heel to accomplish this, so try not to overdo it.
Now, imagine the boat as a big weathervane. The centerboard is the pivot, and the sails are the rooster. By the way, the pivot point is referred to as the center of lateral resistance, located around the middle of the centerboard. There is a corresponding center of effort located in the middle of the sail plan.
The boat is called "balanced" when it doesn't want to head up (weather helm) or bear off (lee helm) when sailed flat. When a boat is balanced, this means the center of effort is directly above the center of lateral resistance. When the center of effort moves back, as it would if the main is trimmed and jib is not, the wind pushes the butt of the boat around, heading it up into the wind. The opposite happens when the jib, but not the main, is trimmed in.
Just a note about the desired feel for the boat: Your boat should have a very slight amount of weather helm to it. Make sure it's not too much, or the rudder will be used excessively to keep the boat straight. A balanced boat is not quite as fast as one with a tiny bit of weather helm, and lee helm is a big no-no.
With the information above, you should be able to grasp the idea of rudderless sailing. Get to the middle of your lake with the rudder on, then remove it from the water (it's important not to just leave it in, since it keeps steering). Now, using the information above and the table below, sail the boat on a beam reach.
To Head Up:
To Bear Off:
You will be doing a lot of circles at first, but eventually a little control will come.
With this control will come new ways to steer, even with the rudder in, allowing the boat to turn itself, without the braking action of the drag formed on the rudder.
Tacking is a very important transition. You can lose or gain many boatlengths relative to other boats, depending on the quality of your tacks. You'll notice in the PRIORITIES chapter that transitions are listed second. This is because of the great potential for costly mistakes on each tack. There are 3 keys to a good tack:
Then, when you are at full speed, you can begin to point. Head up into the wind slowly, while trimming in the sail. If you begin pointing while going slowly, the centerboard will not have the speed it needs to start working, and the boat will just slip sideways, and this is never fast.
You can think of the whole process of accelerating as shifting gears. Immediately after the tack, you want to shift down into first gear (footing mode), with the sails out, and the boat footing to pick up speed. Then, slowly shift up into fifth gear (pointing mode). If you try to start out in fifth gear, you'll eventually get up to speed, but just as in a car, it will take a long time.
These are the keys to executing a good tack without losing speed. If you follow them and concentrate on each tack, you won't lose ground to those around you. There is a method called roll tacking which allows you to speed the tacking process, and it helps to accelerate the boat more quickly, especially in light winds. One note of caution: Roll tacking takes a lot of concentration, as well as perfect timing. If part of the tack is blown, it can really cut your speed, and you will lose ground. But if used correctly, it can be a powerful tool.
Roll tacking is a method for getting the boat through a tack quickly, without losing much speed or ground. Listed below are three basic advantages to a roll tack, which is used primarily in light air when boatspeed out of a tack is important. However, keep in mind this is not the end-all, be- all of dinghy racing. The best roll tacks in the world do not guarantee a win, and sometimes they can blow your concentration if they are used before you have mastered them.
Rocking the boat to windward may feel funny, as though you're going to capsize. However, it's important to rock it this way. Sometimes the boat will stop the rock on its own, if you don't help. In fact, it may be good to practice this maneuver until you capsize a few times. If you're afraid of capsizing, your tacks will be mediocre. You must get the feel for how far you can go.
The purpose for this step is to get the sail through the tack as quickly as possible. Notice that, usually when you're tacking, there is a long period of time where the sail luffs through the tack. This step will alleviate that luffing, with a telltale "pop" of the sails.
Note the position of the sails. They should be trimmed in during the flattening, but not all the way. When this "wind" is created, it acts as a lift, so the sails should be eased slightly. Then, when the boat is flat and up to speed, trim in the sails to pointing mode again.
This flattening should be done after the sails fill, but as soon after the rock as possible. With the boat up on its ear at 45 , it will slip sideways very quickly. Just watch someone who doesn't flatten immediately. They will lose a lot of distance to leeward, much more quickly than you would think.
Just a few ideas for the FJ roll tack:
The entire rock and roll can be done by the skipper only, if the crew is not fighting. Have the crew imagine themselves part of the boat, just rolling with it (if they lean the wrong way during the rock, hit them in the head with the tiller extension-and if it's not long enough, ask them for the bailer and hit them with that). If you don't believe it can be done alone, get into an FJ alone and try it. It'll rock very easily, but not if a crew is fighting you, leaning the wrong way.
If you think you can get the timing right, have the crew help. Have them lean a little to leeward to initiate the tack. Then, they should jump across the boat putting their shoulder and body on the opposite rail, to get the fastest and deepest rock. Make the crew stay on the leeward side if possible, flattening the boat yourself.
You will find, from the rock to the flattening, that you'll be climbing uphill in the boat (hopefully the FJ is now at a 45 angle). Be positive you have sure footing, possibly wearing boat shoes. If you don't, you may find yourself laying in the cockpit with the boat coming down on top of you.
The main difference between the Laser and the FJ is that there is no crew to whack when things go wrong. The idea here is the same, with a few clarifications. The initial roll is the same, with the maximum angle of heel at about 10 degrees. It is in the rock that you will notice difficulty.
Even more than in the FJ, the timing must be precise. For the rock, you must wait a little longer, until you feel the boat really coming down on top of you. Then, pull the boat down very far. The angle will be around 60 -70 . This is much more severe than the FJ. When you begin to flatten, you will have to climb straight uphill, with your foot on the side of the cockpit. Once on the rail, get your feet in the straps and hike like a mad dog. The acceleration should be phenomenal.
Again, as mentioned before, the boat will slip sideways quickly, unless it's flattened immediately. This is especially true for the Laser. With the angle as high as it is, only the bottom few inches of the daggerboard will be in the water. These few inches are not nearly enough, so get it down fast.
FYI, you will hear the words, strategy and tactics, often in sailing literature. There is a subtle difference between the two. Strategy is the overall plan you make for your path around the course. This plan accounts for wind speed and direction on the different legs of the course. Tactics is the name for what happens during the race, with respect to the other boats around you. This includes decisions such as tacking when a starboard boat is approaching, feeding someone bad air, or tacking back with the rest of the fleet so you don't lose them.
Covered below are some of the more important facets of tactics, as well as a little strategy. Read this section, keeping in mind there is much more to learn. There are many books that discuss strategy and tactics, but these should be consulted only after you have mastered the basics in this guide.
If you're sailing in the bad air created by other boats, you will go much more slowly than they will, obviously. Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to get to clear air. The first step in this process is determining the location of the bad air, relative to the boats around you.
Blanketing is just as it sounds. The boat to windward is blanketing or stopping the air from getting to you. This is the dark patch in figure 20. It is fairly small, but it is intense. If you're caught in this area, there are two options. First, if it's possible to tack without hitting the blanketer, do it. The second option is to bear off and try to speed your way through the zone. You will lose distance to windward, but once you have clear air, you should be able to point again. For this method, you must have speed, or you will wallow for a while in little or no wind.
The backwind zone is the lighter area to windward of the boat in figure 20. You'll notice this area extends much further than the blanket zone. That is what makes it so dangerous. Its effect is slightly smaller, but the area through which you must sail is much larger.
The wind will be reduced here, and more importantly you will be sailing in a header, from the air deflected off the leeward boat's sails. Try sailing with someone on your lee bow. That is, you are just behind and to windward of them.
The wind coming of their sail is shot to windward as well as slowed down, causing the header.
One of the main tactics in racing is to lee-bow an approaching starboard tacker. If you can do it, this is a great way to force them to tack to the bad side of the course. Simply sail on the port tack until just before you cross, then tack onto their lee bow.
If you have enough speed, you can feed the windward boat bad air. However, be careful, because if you're moving too slowly, the starboard tacker will drive right over you.
Now for some basic wind shift philosophy and fleet tactics:
If you haven't yet figured out the terms lift and header, now's the time. Both are wind shifts, and they get their names from their effect on your course. Sailing on a close-hauled course, a header is a shift which forces you to bear off to keep the sails full. When this happens, you will not be heading as close to the windward mark as you were. If the header is severe enough, you should consider tacking, since those on the other tack are experiencing the same shift, but to them it's a lift. A lift is a shift which allows your boat to head up toward the windward mark more. It "lifts" your course higher.
One important aspect of lifts and headers is what it does to two boats which are side-by-side. A lift will immediately give an inside boat an advantage.
Similarly, a header will give the outside boat the advantage.
Keep this effect in mind, but don't really worry about using it for the moment. To use this fact, you must know what the wind will do next, and this is difficult to do.
A talented sailor once gave me a piece of advice that seems stupidly simple, but it's often overlooked. "Take the tack that gets you where you're going the fastest." A simple piece of advice, but how do you know which tack is best?
Start by noticing that your boat tacks through about 90 . Then, notice that one of the tacks, either the one you're on or the opposite tack, usually points more closely at the mark.
It is important to determine which tack gets you closer to the mark, so you can take it. Now, consider when a lift or a header hits you. That tack may change, so as soon as you realize the wind shift, re-evaluate your course, and make changes accordingly.
One very simple rule to follow is to stay between your opponent and the next mark. If you are in the lead, or in front of someone you wish to beat, stay on their side of the course. You may sail in worse wind than if you were on the other side, but you will remain ahead of you opponent(s). If you're on opposite sides, they could get lucky with a favorable shift or more wind, while you don't.
Sometimes you will find yourself on the opposite side of the course from the rest of the fleet. This should scare you. If you happen to get lucky and get a good shift or an extra breeze, that's nice. However, if the other side gets lucky, the entire fleet can pass you by and pull away from you. If you're ahead, always cover.
If you watch the America's Cup, you'll see "tacking duels." This is because the boat behind is trying to get to the other side of the course. She can't lose-she could get unlucky and get a bad shift, but she's already behind. The boat in front can't afford to lose ground, so she tacks to "cover," or stay between her opponent and the next mark. It is always the rear boat initiating the "duel," trying to get away. The leading yacht must tack back to stay ahead.
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