It has been about a month now since returning from Cabarete, DR, where I had the chance to try to learn something about sailing a Laser in waves. I thought I’d throw out a few observations. Any comments would be very welcome.
Sailing upwind, I had to unlearn some things. We flat-water lake sailors try very hard to keep the boat flat. But with waves, some heel (? 10-20 degrees) may be required to keep the waves from breaking over the windward bow, filling the cockpit, and to facilitate the heading up move as you rise up each wave. Bearing off at the top of the wave to slide down the other side doesn’t result in the lee bow plowing into water despite the heel because the bow is actually somewhat airborne at that point.
Waves often come from odd and constantly changing directions. You can frequently have large waves that are easily 45 degrees or more from the wind direction. On one tack upwind, the waves are broadside, but on the other tack, they are head-on. I found that often the boat was buffeted by the waves seemingly in a random fashion with rolling, pitching, and yawing - at least it seemed that way to me, especially on a beat. The sail luffs one second and is over-trimmed the next. I found myself madly trying to correct with the tiller which I’m sure was only making things worse.
I am still confused as to the best way to deal with these chaotic waves. Maybe I need to hike out more horizontally to increase the rolling moment of inertia and reduce the rolling. Maybe I should try to actively change my hiking to keep the heeling more constant. Maybe I should play the sheet more, and the rudder less. Maybe I need to better judge the approaching waves to make adjustments preemptively. I imagine that the best approach is different for each wind and wave condition.
Then I took a second look at the photo at the top of this post which I believe was taken shortly after a start. There is quite a bit of variation in the hiking styles and maybe a correlation between these hiking styles and the sailors’ positions in the race. I am embarrassed to note that I appear to be just casually sitting on the deck of my boat (133827 in the foreground). Maybe I just need to hike!
Although I know I’m just beginning to learn how to sail a Laser in waves, I do feel quite a bit more stable and comfortable now sailing in these conditions which was the main goal for the trip to Cabarete. I think I am able to time the tacks earlier so they are completed by the top of the wave if a flat spot to tack is not available. I know I must cross the boat very quickly and aggressively during both tacks and jibes to avoid capsizing and maintain momentum. I know how to sit in a more “locked-in” position while riding waves downwind and to simply steer left or right to avoid slamming the bow into the next wave. I know I have to stay more alert at all times. (Once I capsized while just resting before a drill because I didn’t notice a wave coming that crashed over me.) Putting it all together, I think I am nearing the point where sailing in waves will actually be fun!