Tag Archives: advanced sailing skills

Advances Sailing Skills, May 13, 2017

The second session was a brief review of points of sail, and an introduction to roll tacks.  Lasers were rigged and launched from the end of the ramp.  No capsizes!

Forecast was 6-8 knots of wind from S, however observed was maybe about 4 from SW with a couple of gusts in 6 knot range from SE.

Course set was initially intended to be a 2-bouy beam reach course, but ended up being closer to a close hauled on one leg, and broad reach down the other.  When headers hit, it could’ve almost been a windward-leeward course (tack on headers, my friends!)

Points of sail, reviewed

The instructors reviewed points of sail so as to better communicate with the students on the water.  Also refreshed were terms “heading up” (turning towards the wind), and “bearing off” (turning away from the wind). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_of_sail

Rock & Rollin’

Let’s talk roll tacks.  First, I’ll write a wee bit about how the instructors’ described roll tacks.  I assume this is the “CANSail” way of teaching roll tacks.  Then we’ll talk briefly about how other resources talk about roll tacks.

The CANSail way to think about roll tacks

Roll tacks were described in terms of using heel to facilitate steering through the tack, reducing the use of rudder (and therefore losing less speed through the tack).  The description was given in 3 steps:

  1. Initiate the tack.  Heel the boat to leeward by moving towards the windward side.  This causes the boat to head up towards irons.  You can use the rudder a bit, but the goal is to start the tack with little to no rudder use.
  2. When the sail starts to luff, roll the boat hard to windward.  The boom will eventually cross the boat and fill on the other side.
  3. Cross the boat and hike the boat flat on the new tack (note to self — I was consistently moving across the boat too early, before the sail filled on the new tack.  Remember this for next time…)

Once the basic motions are nailed, here’s a bit more to think about:

  • The heel to windward (step 2) is a big roll.  You’ll roll it farther than you did in step 1.  Your butt might be in the water, and the dagger board may start to come out of the water.  The side of the boat may become submerged.
  • Keep the sail sheeted in tight (close-hauled position) during the whole tack.

The Non-CANSail Way to think about roll tacks

When you’re watching YouTube, reading books, or checking out blogs, roll tacks are spoken about less from a “steering” perspective, and more from a “wind” perspective.  The idea is that the rolling motion (steps 2 and 3, as the instructors described) will move the sail through the air as the boat heels, keeping pressure in the sail and driving the boat forward.  The faster and harder you roll the boat, the more air is forced into the sail, and the faster you move.

Particularly in light wind, the pressure generated by a fast roll can be greater than the wind normally exerts on a close reach.  You can actually move the boat faster by repeatedly roll tacking than by sailing straight (when racing, this is against the rules — you’re allowed to roll tack, but you are not allowed to exit the tack with speed “greater than it would have been in the absence of a tack”.  Rule 42.3b)

I mention this because lots of resources on the Internet (and in print) talk about roll tacks purely from a “keep wind in your sails” perspective.  Some resources also mention helping you steer, but in the more in the context of as added bonus to the main goal of keeping your sails full.  The CANSail instruction is the only one I’ve seen that has spoken about it purely from a steering perspective, but the instructors know what they’re doing better than I, so listen to them.

To show the different perspectives on roll tacks, here are some resources showing excellent sailors demoing the tacks each with their own emphasis:

  • Steve Cockerell (Former Laser Masters’ world champion and owner of Rooster Sailing) demonstrates roll tacking in light wind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRLVHIuMFFo.  He doesn’t seem to use much leeward heal to start the tack, and instead uses a fair amount of rudder.  Note how far he rolls the boat to windward (looks like it’s getting close to 45 degrees)
  • Jon Emmett (who’s coached a couple of Olympic teams) demonstrates some ridiculously smooth tacks.  You can see him move in slightly to roll the boat to leeward before his big windward roll, although he doesn’t mention it.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BR6ec_nPWbw
  • Olympic Gold medallist Shirley Robertson doesn’t roll the boat through the tack as much as the above videos, and instead emphasizes body position (positioning of hands and feet through the manoeuvre).  The number of steps she uses is a bit daunting for me.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hF2eK6sCOrI
  • Fred Strammer (US collegiate sailor) does a ridiculously strong roll to flatten the boat when coming out of the tack.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3hQG63J508&t=1m43s

All this is to illustrate that different top sailors seem to think that different aspects of the tack are worth focusing on.  I’m going to listen to the instructors and focus on the steering via heel throughout the tack, but be aware that the resources you find online may highlight other aspects of the technique.

One final video, if you’ll allow me.  This is from the 2015 Laser World Championship (in Kingston, Ontario that year) where Australian Tom Burton (who went on to win Olympic Gold in 2016) was in the lead over American Chris Bernard.  Tom knew Chris could not pass him as long as they were on the same tack.  Chris knew he couldn’t catch Tom as long as they were on the same tack.  Tom would roll tack to be on the same tack as Chris (and in front of him) to “cover” Chris.  Chris would immediately roll tack to be on the opposite tack to try to pass Tom.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOHySbcp5gs&t=5m40s

Advanced Sailing Skills – May 8, 2017

The first class of ASS (todo — think of better acronym) was held on May 8, 2017.  Topics covered were an overview of what will be taught in the course, as well as rigging Albacores and Lasers.  Rigging was covered at a more in-depth level than in LTS, with sail controls pointed out and explained.

(parts of the sail mnemonics: “The part at the back is not the tack, so that should be a clue [clew].”  Also “There once was a leach [leech] who got a clue [clew] when his foot stepped on a tack and he laughed [luffed] his head off”)


When hoisting the jib, the wire running inside the luff of the jib will start carrying all the tension and the forestay becomes loose.  To make hoisting easier, use the jib sheets (or some other leverage) to pull the forestay taught.  This will reduce tension on the wire inside the jib, and allow you to hoist it tighter.

Some Albacores have a jib tie down to attach the tack of the jib to the forestay bracket.  This prevents the tack of the jib from running up the wire and creating wrinkles in the luff.

The Albacore controls pointed out were the outhaul (attaching to the clew, to tension the foot), the boom vang (pulling the boom down, to tension to the leech) and the cunningham (pulling the tack down, to tension the luff).  Instructors recommended loosening the vang in higher winds.  This allows more twist at the top of the sail, and will spill wind from there (see “Notable differences” below).  They also recommend tightening cunningham in high winds to depower the sail.

Things that are often forgotten about Alabacore:

  • tie down the jib tack
  • cleat the outhaul
  • secure the shock cord on the transom flaps so they don’t open when you get into the water
  • check if your auto-bailers are open or closed


Don’t put the Laser mast on the ground — sand will get in there, and “grind” against the mast step.  Make sure battens go in the sail before you step the mast (Jason-often-forgets-this #1).  When rigging the boom, check that the mainsheet is secured to the block with a stopper knot, rather than a bowline.  This will make it easier to sheet block-to-block on upwind legs or in high winds.  Figure 81 of the Laser Rigging Manual shows how to do this, but someone at the club likes to undo the stopper knot and tie a bowline instead.  Don’t forget the drain plug (Jason-often-forgets-this #2).  When attaching the rudder and tiller, the tiller goes underneath the traveller (otherwise the traveller will get caught on the tiller — Jason-often-forgets-this #3)

In a Laser, the luff of the sail is (slightly) curved, while the mast is straight.  This induces “bagginess” to the sail (lots of power, but low pointing ability).  When you are going upwind, or are becoming overpowered, you want to flatten the sail to reduce bagginess.  You can flatten by sheeting in all the way (“block-to-block”) and by using the boom vang.  This will tighten the leech of the sail, pulling the tip of the mast down (the top part of the mast is nice and flexible) which better fits the sail, and lets the sail flatten out.  Tightening the outhaul (and, to a lesser extent, the cunningham) will also help flatten the sail.  The depowering strategy in a Laser, especially upwind, is to get as flat a sail as you can and then sheet out to spill wind.

It was pointed out that a Laser will often get the mainsheet caught on the corner of the transom when gybing.  Yanking hard on the sheet as you start the gybe can help reduce the chances of this (but it’s not a perfect solution).  Doug Peckover describes how the hot-shots use their tiller extension to unhook a snagged mainsheet in his blog.  (Jason has been doing this for about a year, and it seems to work well enough.)  Additionally, it was suggested on the Internet that the tiller extension could preemptively be used in this manner to prevent the thing from being caught in the first place, but this technique has yet to be tried.  Jon Emmett recommends sheeting the boom in a significant amount before gybing.  This reduces the amount of slack line that can get caught around the transom.  Also, he does roll-gybes which causes any loose mainsheet to stay “up in the air” rather than drag in the water and be pulled around the back of the boat, but that’s a discussion for another day…

Notable differences

In an Albacore, excess power in high winds is spilled by loosing the vang to induce twist to the main.  This lets wind spill from the top of the sail.  In a Laser, excess power is typically dealt with by sheeting out slightly.  This requires a tight vang.  Without a vang, the Laser boom will tend to go “up” rather than “out” as the top of the mast straightens.  This leads to more power in the sail (rather than less) and often results in a swim.  A tight Laser vang keeps the boom down and mast bent, so when you let out the mainsheet, the boom goes “out” rather than “up”.

Downwind, in both boats, nice loose controls allow for large draft in the sails which let’s you generate a lot of power, since you’re not worried about pointing.