Sailing tips

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Please follow the linkThe 5 Essentials
Please follow the linkAssessing Start Line Bias
Please follow the linkHow To Break Into The Top Ten
Please follow the linkWeather

The 5 Essentials

The 5 Essentials, is what we can do in the boat without any effort, to make the boat go faster on either still (Inland) or moving (Coastal) waters. The 5 Essentials are spoken about on the majority of RYA Training Courses be it racing or training, basic or advanced and they are known in the training and racing world as the basic factors, that if you get them right, then you will sail more efficiently than the person who doesn’t. So what are they?

Balance / Trim / Centreboard / Sail Setting / Course Made Good

They are not in any particular order, but I kind of like to build them up in a systematic way – I start with the movement of helm and Crew, what they can trim and where they go. So let’s look at each one in turn:


The Balance of the boat is the side to side heeling effect of the hull, so the helm and crew have to hike out or sit in to ensure the boat is exactly flat (or in fact leaning slightly on top of them up wind)

– Top tip is “Flat is fast”. (I realise that we do heel the boat in some circumstances, but for general conditions, keep it flat!) 

Not fast, both boats are heeled to leeward
Flat and fast


The Trim of the boat is the fore and aft heeling of the hull, so the helm and crew sit forwards when beating (Going up wind) to dip the bow in to increase the waterline length and reduce the boats leeward slip, then moving backwards in the boat when going downwind, onto the planing surface. The best way to ensure that you have it right is to look at the transom at the water exiting the hull (Without leaning backwards!!!) and you should have a nice smooth flow off the transom, the lack of sound can also aid you (Quiet is good).

Nice flow off the back, flat boat good balance and trim Boat on the plane both back in boat, boat going fast downwind, but needs to lean out a bit more, good trim

Nice flow off the back, flat boat good balance and trim
Boat on the plane both back in boat, boat going fast downwind, but needs to lean out a bit more, good trim
Flat fast good trim and balance


Normally, when we are sailing conventionally, we have the centreboard down when we are beating (Hard on the wind), then raise it when we are reaching, and raise it almost all the way when we are running (Sailing downwind), but what we do when we are sailing asymmetrically, we leave the centreboard down all the time. We don’t move it but I do know that Tim Hulley and John Cox are playing with raising the board downwind in light airs when going deep, (We tried it at the Nationals and it’s a scary place to be, very unstable!!!)

Sail setting:

A Flappy sail is not a happy sail” is something which we always say to people on a basic sailing course and it is always true. The way to set the sails is to start with the jib, pull the sail in until it just stops flapping, and you should always be trying to ease the sail. Then when the jib is set, set the main in the same way, and again always try to ease the sail. The telltales will assist. On the Jib - if you pull the sail in unit both the windward and leeward telltales fly, the sail is set. If the inside telltale stalls or spins, pull the sail in or bear aware, if the outside telltale drops or spins ease the sail or luff up. Top Tip “Inner telltale drops, pull in, outside telltale drops, let out
On the main, sail on the fourth corner, watch the telltale on the batten, if it flies away from you round the back of the sail, ease the main. If the telltale comes towards you, i.e. wraps in front of the sail on the windward side, pull the main in.
(These are the basic sail settings and do not take into account other sail controls, kicker, clew outhaul and Cunningham, we will look at these separately)

Course Made Good:

This is the course you sail, it is a fancy way for saying it is the route you sail taking into account wind direction, tide, other boats, wind shift, when you tack or gybe, how often you tack or gybe, other boats, the course itself etc etc. So this is where there are no right or wrong answers and it is probably the one we all struggle with. Inland sailors do well at sailing the wind shifts, they seem to tack on the headers and stand on the lifts. There may also be a benefit in not hitting the corners, but use a couple of tacks up wind and a couple of gybes downwind rather than hitting the corners where you may be in trouble.


The 5 Essentials, are the 5 things, which, if you concentrate on them will make you sail efficiently therefore faster. The sailor who gets the 5 essentials right for most of the time will certainly win the race. If you change one of the 5, you should be looking at the other 4 in a cyclic process.

And finally.........The rudder is NOT one of the 5, hence if you feel weather helm or lee helm (Tiller being pulled out of your hand) then you are doing something wrong, usually the sails are over or under sheeted!!

Good sailing

Clive Grant (ASA Regional Coach)

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Assessing Start Line Bias

Winning the race is all about the “Start” and various percentages placed on the importance of getting away quickly with many racers quoting their success as being in the right place, at the right time with the ability to accelerate.

We will discuss timing in another issue, techniques such as hovering, creating a space to leeward to accelerate, use of kicker etc – but enough of that.

What is “Start Line Bias”?

Figure 1 shows the “Starting Line” which is square in relation to the position of the windward mark, there is no advantage in starting at any particular end, (taking into consideration which end is closest to the windward mark). However, it does not make allowances for tide, wind shifts, favoured side for the beat etc, we will discuss that in another article!

On a square line there is little advantage in starting at a particular end, so the decision is where to start along the line? Starboard with the majority of the fleet, at the committee boat end? In the middle to get clean air taking advantage of the mid-line sag, or the risky port end?

A square line means there is limited advantage where you start BUT you must be on time!

A Port Bias line always teases the fleet away from the committee boat end. Figure 2 shows how the port end or Outer Distance Mark (ODM) is closer to the windward mark than the committee boat – so it makes sense to start that end as there is less distance to sail, which is always a bonus! So the diagram demonstrates that the ODM is closest to the Windward mark, please note that you don’t have to be on a port tack to start at the port end and there are lots of techniques for starting at the port end on a starboard tack. Another issue maybe!!

Starboard bias is obviously the opposite to port bias and is probably the riskiest bias to set as a Race Officer. Setting a starboard bias line means the committee boat is closer to the windward mark than the ODM (See figure 3) and the fleet will try to start at the committee boat end, always a risky strategy by the Race Officer for lots of reasons.

How do we assess start line bias?

One way, and for me the easiest way to asses bias is to sail up to the line, go head to wind letting the jib flap, the end which the bow points is the favoured end of the start line, see Figure 4. This shows that the favoured end is PORT, the jib is flapping, the main is eased and the bow is pointing towards the favoured PORT end, so in this instance the best end to start is port.

There are other techniques to assess start line bias but for all sorts of reasons this method is for me the easiest. It does not depend on setting the sails correctly; you do not need a compass or tacktick! Good luck, why not give it a go at the next Millennium Series, what have you got to lose, well apart from the race, now what was that about being in the right place! 

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How To Break Into The Top Ten

What does it take to make it into the Top Ten in the Laser 2000 Class? I am often asked “What does it take to make it into the Top ten in the Laser 2000 Class”, so after some thought I have come up with 5 Top Tips that should help you improve your boat handling skills and thought processes.

  • Preparation / Tuning 
  • The Start (Keep things Simple)
  • Upwind (Strategy)
  • Downwind (3 modes of sailing)
  • Communication (the Bond)


Firstly I will look at boat preparation, sounds simple, but this is the area that you will most likely miss, and rest assured that gear failure will only ever happen when you are in a strong position. Therefore, before you arrive at the open meeting check everything onboard and avoid using those famous last words, “It will last at least one more regatta”. Get it replaced with the best like for like replacement you can afford, it may just save you from that sickening feeling as you watch the mainsail drop down into the bottom of the boat. You get my drift!


The black art of sailing, firstly don’t panic it is really quite simple, follow the well documented class association tuning guide and mark the boat up as it recommends. Now for the important thing, open your toolbox and put in your loo’s gauge and tape measure then close the lid. Write on the box “Do not open until we regularly finish in the top 5”!

“Why”, you may ask? Well, what we are trying to achieve is a consistent set up, one that has been proven already by the class’s top sailors. We can now concentrate on the fundamental thing, sailing the boat fast. We have all said to the crew at some point, “I knew we should put more mast rake on”, or words to that effect. The problem is that now you will focus on the negative which in this case was mast rake and not the fundamental which is sailing the boat fast.

Starting (Keep thing’s simple)

The obvious question on everyone lips is which end is favoured, there are many way’s of assessing start line bias, but for me it is all about keeping things simple. So sail to the middle of the line and point your boat head to wind. Whichever end the boat is pointing towards is the favoured end, and if it is pointing at neither end, there is no bias. Remember that when you point the boat into the wind ensure that boom is flapping freely over the centreline of the boat for a true reading.

Armed with the knowledge of which end of the line to start, you want to know how to get there without being early and OCS (on course side) or late and stuck under 5 other boats all of whom had the same idea. Timing is the secret here; personally, I aim to make my final approach towards the line at 90 seconds before the start.

Clive and I split rolls here, Clive (the crew) calls out the time to the start, and uses the jib as a break or accelerator as required as I try to hold position and protect our air to windward. Sounds easy, but how is this achieved? Well to hold position, point your boat towards the wind and the boat will slow. This will work to a degree, but the boat will almost certainly move forwards and to leeward, albeit slowly, this will allow other competitors to sail over the top of you, which of course is not ideal.


So this is where the Kicker comes in as both a break and accelerator. To park, release the kicker, to power up put some kicker on. Once again, I hear you say "Why"?
Well if the kicker is left on; it will harden up the leech of the sail and although the sail is flapping it will still create drive. So ease the kicker until the final 5 seconds before the start. The third and final tip is how to stop the boat getting stuck head to wind as you try to hold the boat towards the wind. The top tip here is to allow the boat to heel to windward; this will counteract the mainsail which will be trying to turn the boat into the wind.
So just to recap find the bias on the start line, time your approach to it and finally use a combination of sail adjustment and use of the kicker. All this is very well but the fundamental point here is to keep you head out of the boat so all of the above is possible.


Linked in with your thought processes at the start, concerning which end of the line we should start, should include what are the potential influences that could help us out on the upwind leg, for example more tide, more breeze or possibly a feature on the land that has created a wind bend. Considering these may influence which end we start.
After the start the number one priority is to sail in clear air, so if you are sailing in turbulent air, do one of the following; tack away and find a clear lane, or sail low to break into clear air although the later is not ideal, because you are losing ground to windward. However sailing in clean air is a must.


Calling all “Pinchers”, you know who you are! It’s those Laser 1 sailors who are insistent on trying to move the no go zone. Will someone tell them it’s impossible! Please sail fast and free it is much faster. You must keep the telltales on the jib flowing horizontally or ideally with the windward telltales JUST above the horizontal. Of course, there are times when sailing high is necessary, normally after misjudging the lay line at the windward mark, but we must limit pinching to moments like these and not sail like this as the norm.


The biggest secret isn’t really a secret, it is just painful to achieve. The boat must be sailed with the mast in the boat that is FLAT at all times. But how do you do this in 20knots of breeze? This is where the sail controls come in, Kicker, Cunningham and, Mainsheet.

Keeping the boat flat becomes tricky as the wind increases, and it is now we start to slowly applying the kicker, continue applying just enough to keep the boat flat until you have loads of kicker on. If you still are unable to keep the boat flat start progressively adding the Cunningham on.

If you are still unable to keep the boat flat, play the mainsheet in the gusts. To make this work really well and also reduce the amount we need to ease the sail bring in the rudder at the same time. What is he on about! Well as the boat is hit by a gust or increase of wind, ease the mainsail a few inches and luff up into the wind using the rudder and a spilt second later both the rudder and mainsheet are returned to their normal positions and the process is repeated as necessary.
Please remember that for every 1 inch of kicker eased at deck level is equal to 4 inches at the head of the sail (4th corner).

Downwind (3 modes)

I have split downwind into three modes of sailing Displacement, Semi Displacement, and Planing.


This is used in light wind conditions 10 knots and below. The aim here is to sail as deep as possible, therefore you are sailing the shortest distance, whilst at the same time maximising the waterline length of the boat, so keep crew weight forwards all the time. The boat should also be sailed flat or with a slight windward heel. The crew’s main role is to keep the spinnaker flying, and feed back to the helm how much pressure there is on the spinnaker sheet. This will allow the helm to sail as deep and efficiently as possible. Some sailors lift the centreboard and ease the spinnaker halyard a touché.

Semi Displacement

Semi Displacement 10 -14knots, the crew is now sat on the thwart with the helm sat to windward. The crew should focus on keeping the spinnaker as eased as possible curling the leading edge constantly, the helm is looking upwind to spot any gusts that are coming down the race track and basically keeps the boat in the gusts so be prepared to gybe. What is really important in the 2K is bear away with any gust that hit never allow the boat to heel, if the boat is heeling you are sailing a greater distance than you really need to. It is this ground that will be costing you places downwind. The helm should also keep an eye on the mainsail as it will backwind just behind the mast as your boat speed increase; this is caused by an increase of apparent wind just be ready to sheet in if this happens to maintain good sail trim.


Planing - helm and crew sat to windward, briefly sail high to get the boat on the plane and then bear away, keep the boat flat as before. Also remember to ease the mainsail, spinnaker and jib as you bear away to maintain good sail trim. As you fall out of the gust and lose power, head up, sheet the sails in accordingly, and repeat the process as necessary.

In windy conditions you must take control of your boat, this is best achieved by keeping your head out of the boat, this allows you to spot any increase in wind, waves, or simply other boats on the race track. If you have anticipated a 30 knot gust you can easily deal with it, problems will arise simply because you haven’t bothered to look out of the boat. Decide who in the boat is going to be responsible for calling the gusts, but perhaps the best bit of advice is both helm and crew do this.

Finally to avoid the dreaded capsize on the gybe ensure that you gybe in the gust when travelling at maximum speed and remember that the L2K rudder is way too long so use it with caution, use small amounts of rudder so the boat doesn’t trip up.

Communication (the bond)

Remember this is a double-handed boat; you will never make any progress without talking to each other. All the best sailors are able to communicate with each others, it is this skill that for me is the most important, because if we know what each other is doing at any given moment, both of you can respond without any drama which makes sailing what it should be effortless.

In our boat all the decisions we make are as a team, so if it all goes wrong we are both to blame, no finger pointing here then. It is also extremely important for both of you to feedback information about what is happening, As BT once said “It‘s good to talk”!

The final thought I would like to leave with you is SUMO

S hut
U p
M ove
O n

Once the race or incident is over SUMO there is nothing you can do about it now! Move on.

Good luck, I hope this is helpful, see you on the water.

Simon Horsfield - Army Sailing (22088)

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The Weather

The Met Office has a great online training area for weather

Please follow the linklearn-about-the-weather/how-weather-works - please take a look there is lots of good stuff.

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