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).

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  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.
  • 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.
  • Fred Strammer (US collegiate sailor) does a ridiculously strong roll to flatten the boat when coming out of the tack.

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.