Reaching in Lasers

by Jon Emmett

Although we now have less reaching in modern racing (gone are the days of the Triangle Sausage course), reaching is still very important. On an outer-loop course, it allows the leaders to extend their lead on their way to mark 2 and have more clean wind for the first run. Even on the final reach, place changes can and do happen. Remember: Every. Single. Point. Counts!

Trim (Forward and After Boat Balance)

Super Light Winds

It is unlikely that a race will be started in less than 6 knots, but it is possible that for short periods during the race or perhaps near the end of the race (when the wind has gradually dropped, and the results are still fair), the wind will drop below this. Here you need to sit well forward (on or forward of the centreboard), but it is important to stress these occasions are very rare!

Light Winds

Here we are looking for maximum water line length. You need to ensure that you have a dynamic position so you can easily move to windward or leeward as the power comes on and off.

Medium winds

We are now in transitioning mode. Moving back and out to promote planing, and in and forward in the lulls to maintain speed, whilst all the time keeping your head out of the boat to spot the gusts and lulls before they happen. (Where possible, maximize your time in the gusts and minimize your time in the lulls.)


Strong Winds

We now have plenty of power, so in the main we are steering a straight line as we are at full speed. There will be slight variations in course: down in the strong winds and up in the lighter, but be careful that you don’t go too low and then struggle to get back up to the mark… especially if the trend is for the wind to increase.

Balance (Leeward and Windward Heel)

On the run, you need a small amount of windward heel for boat balance (so if you let go of the tiller, the Laser would continue in a straight line). However, on the reach a dead-flat boat is desirable, otherwise the danger is in the lulls when the boat heels to windward and therefore wants to bear away, whereas you want to head up to find more pressure.

In super strong winds it may be extremely hard to maintain a perfectly flat boat and so, in this situation, a (small) amount of constant heel is desirable.

A flat boat/constant heel at high speed stops the boat slipping sideways. Do pay careful attention to any current on the course so as to sail a more or less straight line to the next mark. It is only ever worth sailing extra distance if it is accompanied by an increase in average boat speed.

Sail Setting (Power and Leech Twist)

Leech twist is key and remember the amount of twist you have is not only dependent on the kicker setting, but the strength of the wind. Therefore, the same kicker setting provides far more twist in 20 knots than 5, because there is far more pressure twisting the sail open. To put it another way: To maintain the same leech twist in 20 knots as 5 knots you need to “pull on” far more kicker.

Having said this, as the wind speed increases and IF you find yourself overpowered, then you may want to increase leech twist to lose that power. This also has the added benefit of raising the boom height, so if you momentarily heel to excess, the end of the boom is less likely to strike the water (which can effectively sheet in the sail and lead to a capsize to leeward as the Laser “trips over” the boom).

Of course, the exact angle of the reach can vary greatly, so a good rule of thumb is: The tighter the reach (closer to a beat), the closer the rig settings are to sailing upwind. And vice versa: The looser the reach (closer to a run), the closer the rig settings are to sailing dead downwind. This applies to sail setting, sheeting angle, body weight, and centreboard position.

Jon Emmett is Author of Coach Yourself to Win which is now available as an e-book.