The Windward - Leeward Follow on...
If you are lucky enough to still have access to the water but with no organised racing or coaching, this routine is soooo good. I use it a lot when 2 or more boats find themselves on the water. 5 boats are more ideal. If all the boats are of equal ability, you can each have your chance to lead, be last, 2nd to last etc. so you could run 5 races for 5 boats and the winner is the one who finishes with the least points. The routine teaches humility, foresight, patience and boat handling. I was taught the routine by Nick Adamson (USA Laser Olympian 1996) whilst we were both sparing with Ben Tan in preparation for his Asian Games campaign, which he won. If you have a couple of less experienced sailors, you can always let them go round the mark first. You will have plenty of time to help them round the track and perhaps a little time to discuss their errors after each routine. You can, if the routine is still working well, add an extra lap. Never let anyone get away with a poor rounding to finish. The roundings are crucial.
If you have tried this routine already, you will probably know how hard it is to get 3 or more boats in a consistent line to approach a leeward mark in good order. Add some current into the mix and it can be a very large challenge. I used to be the big mouth that starts the routine and keeps it running. I would constantly be asking the rest of the boats to take their positions 1,2,3,4 etc on my transom so I could lead them into the mark at the speed that kept the chain as close as possible. It was easier to lead the chain away from the first turning mark on starboard at first in order to collect the stragglers and then turn back to the mark to start on port tack. It is important to ask the participants to make the turn back to port in advance of the boat in front passing them so they could be very close to the transom of the boat in front. As the coordinating leader in this situation, I would control the speed into the mark to bring everyone up to full speed and then spin out and join in at the back. Once the sailors get the hang of the routine, I could participate more fully as just another sailor in the queue.
If you have 5 sailors of equal ability - you should then run multiples of 5 races. Every sailor has the opportunity to start in 1st,5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd. Each time the leader of the previous sequence moves to the back and then slowly works their way forward.
Tactics - Interestingly I used this routine to film the Boat Whsieper Tactics DVD
'great oaks from little acorns grow' is a 14th-century proverb. And the same is true of the leeward mark rounding. You will see from our Tactics DVD the importance of the leeward mark rounding. A bad rounding leaves you with bad air and no option but to tack and risk being passed by the port tack boat that ducks you when you meet them again on port, or hold on in dirty wind whilst those around you revel in your discomfort.
Should consider to hold on port tack and only tack if they are super confident that they are sailing a huge header. Remember you are a difficult boat to pass as long as you are on the right side of the rest of your competitors. Use your starboard advantage when it counts (i.e don't let boats take your transom halfway up the beat. Better to lee bow them or even tack early to give you time and ability to take the starboard tack to approach the mark. You must make sure you nail your starboard tack lay line at the top mark. If you are over the layline, someone will lee bow you and take the mark. If you are under it, then anyone who has taken your transom and who nails it will stop you tacking to take the mark. Most of the time, you should hold onto your starboard tack advantage and wait for the fleet to fold onto starboard behind you before you cover the left-hand side. Effectively the leader can employ the last short beat scenario for a leader - take the port tack to the layline and come in with speed. That routine pretty much works every time at any laser worlds I have done.
Mid position sailor.
You will be experiencing the full mid-fleet dilemma. Your leeward mark rounding will be crucial to hold those behind you and give you every chance to make gains. If you tack early in over-eagerness to use your speed to overtake the boat ahead, you might be giving the first boat who takes your transom the tactical and perhaps the shift advantage over you. You should concentrate hard on the shift once it heads you, then you can risk the tack. The boat behind you will probably fold onto starboard with you. If they dig in and go further, they should be sailing slowly long enough for them to not be a risk. You still have the long, slow right-hand corner to help preserve your position, but that never won boat races. If the beat is long enough, this will weaken this tactic. A short beat - and the long right-hand corner might be the best way to preserve. Most of this is all dependant on a great rounding and the ability to hang onto your lane. This routine really shows any weakness in your lane holding skills and your mark rounding.
Notes to hold your lane.
Sail the boat upright. Take a look at the Boat Whisperer Upwind DVD for tips to gain height from boat trim. The centreboard gybing trick is a game-changer and is so much easier to see it when explained on the video.
Notes to make a great rounding.
The Boat Whisperer Upwind DVD chapter on leeward mark rounding will also give you some top tips for this technique
The last boat. (simulates the situation when you are under no pressure from behind and all the gains are available in front of you. )
You can hope that as you round the leeward mark, the wind has gone left and given you a fast clear lane. Sometimes it pays to be a little back from the boat in front so you are not getting bad air as you round.
On the counter-argument, if you are sure you are on a header at the mark - then tack as soon as you can. If things go well, you might have the chance to meet the last but one boat ahead of you, when the shift comes back to the left, by ducking them at speed halfway up the beat. If you were to put another couple of starboard tacks in the beat, you might now like to hold onto your starboard advantage by tacking early onto port early to maintain your starboard advantage on the returning (was last but one) port tacker. That boat should now be passed as long as you nail your windward mark layline.
The Winward Mark Bear Away.
It's not the mark that matters - but the wave I hear myself mutter at the top mark. Take the wave at the right point, and add a great bear away and you are already chasing down the boats ahead of you. Once again, take a look at the Boat Whisperer Downwind DVD for the tips and tricks to achieve a super fast bear away.
Now assuming you are in a single-hander - the game is pretty much to get as far left of your opposition as possible - which will give you tactical water advantage approaching the leeward mark. You should look at the Boat Whisperer Tactics DVD to show some alternative options. If you have great pace downwind, it's the time to really make it count. Try and give yourself room to take the waves. The BoatWhisperer Downwind DVD will help you understand the importance of weight and sheet.
I remember coaching a group of sailors in Hyeres. We were joined by a French sailor who had been doing lots of match racing. She was amazing at making an early call if she was going to be on the outside of a crowded leeward mark rounding and would always place herself in a great inside position for making up places on the next upwind leg. This routine rewards those who make the best inside rounding over someone who might have their bow forward but without a lane.
Now given that your team of sailors may vary in quality, don't forget to help those who have been good enough to make your training session interesting. Please reward them with tips and advice. It will make them better opposition which will make you a better sailor at the same time.