Covering in Lasers

by Jon Emmett

The modern format often results in an exciting medal race where there is a battle between two or more sailors for the medals, and far more boat-on-boat action. Like it or loathe it, the medal race is here stay. So good boat handling and boat-on-boat tactics become more and more important at the end of the regatta. [See previous articles on Tacking and Gybing].

Broadly speaking, there are two types of covering and this depends upon your aims and objectives. Loose cover is designed to stay in control of the fleet, to reduce your chances of being overtaken, whilst at the same time, not directly adversely affecting anyone racing. Your focus is on your race and achieving a consistent result.

Loose cover upwind

Sometimes covering happens as a matter of course. On the run leg, we are all trying to make progress directly downwind, so naturally the boats behind will have some wind shadowing effect on the boats in front of them, if these boats are directly downwind of them. This is what we mean by “finding a lane.” The boats in front need to position themselves so they have clean wind, just like boats behind on the upwind leg need to find a lane. This is why, regardless of the leg of the course, it is always important to keep looking at where the wind is coming from.

Finding a lane downwind

When we are approaching marks even with a downwind gate, rather than a leeward mark, there is a lot of dirty air about. For example, tacking just under the starboard layline for the windward mark is a real no-no in a busy fleet, as there will be lots of dirty air. The general excitement by marks and gates can lead to poor decision making, and therefore it often pays to think ahead.

A busy windward mark

A busy downwind gate

The second type of covering is close covering, and by closely covering a rival, you aim to give them as much dirty air as possible, to slow them down as much as you can and maybe ultimately put them into the last place. This is achieved by positioning yourself as close as possible to them and directly between them and the wind. In this scenario, you are only concerned with their race and not your own.

During a race you may use both types of covering, to encourage your rival goes one way or another, for example: close covering on one tack and loose covering on another, perhaps protecting what you believe to be the favored side of the course. So, before the race even starts, you need to have a very clear plan!

You might like to check out Jon’s Coach Yourself to Win page where he frequently posts videos, pictures and articles of interest to any Laser sailor.