Ruling the Waves

by Jon Emmett

Sailing in big waves is not only a lot of fun, but one of the most rewarding conditions for good boat trim. Just small differences on each and every wave can add up to huge differences in speed both upwind and downwind.

The key thing upwind is that you are trying to glue your boat to the water. Therefore, the wave does not go through the waves for take off (with that annoying slapping sound when it comes back in contact with the water). Being locked into the boat here is important. The toe strap needs to be set so all your body movements are translated to the boat, but at the same time, the harder you hike…. the better!

Basically, you are looking at lifting the bow as you go up the wave, which means heading up, moving the weight back, and sheeting in, and vice versa as you go down the wave. Do remember though that the bow of the boat is quite a long way in front of you and the turning point is roughly the trailing edge of the centreboard. So, you need to be proactive with all your trimming actions because being reactive is too late.

Downwind, if there are big waves then there is usually enough wind to surf (although not always). Here it is not simply being as fast as you can, but as fast as you can downwind. The angle of the waves is rarely (never?!) completely lined up with the wind. Therefore one direction will be easier to surf than the other. For example, it may be much easier to surf by the lee on starboard than broad-reaching, meaning if you are not careful, you will end up hard left looking downwind and may end up sailing a lot of unnecessary extra distance. So, you need to do your homework and do the “hard angle” whenever you can. Often the wave angle will have more impact than current, but you do need to bear both in mind (you will rarely get big waves at inland venues).

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy Jon’s two YouTube channels:

Jonemmettsailing which has lots of video specifically about Lasers, and Training to Win which has lots of general training tips and exercises!