Tacking for Lasers

By Jon Emmett

One of the beauties of Lasers is just how well they tack—if tacked well. Races are anything but a boat speed race to the corner in most venues and conditions, which means those who have their head out of the boat and good boat handling can gain on every small shift and gust, giving some of the best one design racing available.

Top tip to remember: energy in = energy out

The more energy you put into the start of the tack, the less the wind has to work to roll the boat, and the closer you will exit the tack at maximum speed. It is not just effort, but smooth power that you are looking for, and of course, timing is key.

The entry of the tack always starts with a sheet in to block-to-block. This maximizes the leach tension and when you sit in and stop hiking, this will initiate the turn, just as if you were practicing tied tiller or rudderless sailing. Remember to keep the sheet in until you are head-to-wind. This allows the boat to continue to sail off the leach, even if the luff is flapping.

The speed of the turn is primarily dictated by the water; in flat water you can have a slow luff, in waves you want to tack in one wavelength or look for a flat place. The less speed you lose in the luff, the longer you can hold it as you make very good “velocity made good” (V.M.G.) to the windward mark, and for a second or two you are sailing head-to-wind!

When the boat exits the tack it needs to have all forces lined up to accelerate forward. If the boat comes out slightly heeled to leeward, it will want to head back up towards the wind. Likewise, if the boat is heeled to windward, it will want to bear away. In light winds this can also lose flow in the sail. Both of these situations can be quickly avoided with last-minute changes to sail trim and body position, so you come out of the tack with the desired sheeting angle and boat balance.

As the boat turns through the tack, it will slow slightly. You are letting sheet out not only to help the bear away, but also because the apparent wind will decrease. So, you flatten the boat with the sheet out slightly and draw the final sheet in as the apparent wind comes back, as the boat accelerates forward. Timing is key and this ensures that the sail is always perfectly trimmed.

Until you are playing sheet due to an overpowered boat, the correct trim for the sail is always over the rear quarter of the boat (i.e., the boom is always “over the boat”). The choice of whether to sheet the boom down to block-to-block is dependent upon wind strength, but the moment you complete the tack, you want to make sure the sheet comes all the way in (boom over the boat) but not necessarily down (this depends upon the wind strength). The reason for this is the larger the sheeting action (when the boom passes through a wider angle), the more acceleration you get (of course, in strong winds you may need to let it back out again immediately!). You then resume the normal sail trim for the conditions.

Full speed into the tack, slow luff, do not “stab” the tiller across.

Keep the sail sheeted “2 block” all the way to head-to-wind.

Big roll and lots of sheet out—the bigger the roll and sheeting action, the better.

Flatten the boat and sheet back in, so the boom is back over the rear quarter.

If you have enjoyed this article, check out Jon’s website and blog at www.jonemmettsailing.co.uk.