Latest D3 Regatta

3 Day Event
Date September 21 - 23, 2018
Gold Cup Series Sponsored by Fogh Marine
ILCA-NA Laser District 3

In a recent training camp in La Cruz, Mexico, home of the International Sailing Academy, I was lucky to be sailing with some real heavy wind experts. We were a group of 5 including D3's Chris Dold, Mexico's Pablo Rabago, Jeronimo Cervantes, Tania Elias Calles, and myself. We tested our willpower and energy by sailing nine straight days in breeze. Every day being a little different depending on wave directions, but nonetheless, we were put to the test to prove to one-another who had it in them to keep their speeds consistent throughout the week. Each sailor with a uniquely different style of hiking, it was a perfect time to take notes, and share with each other our strengths and weaknesses.

During this camp, I adopted several different techniques for developing a consistent upwind speed. To explain better, I will give you an idea of how each of these sailors setup their boats uphill.

Chris Dold is a phenomenal sailor in the strong winds. When I asked him what his favorite thing about Laser sailing is, he said it was racing in survival conditions because it was the truest test of willpower.

What I really like about him - and others will testify to this - is that he has a unique ability of not showing pain. He prefers a looser strap and slightly bent knees, yet he is able to spend a lot of time arching his shoulders down towards the water. Chris uses a lot of body motion to "keep the boat driving." He considers steering to be very important to keep momentum and consistent pressure on the boards - but it only becomes important once you know how to sail the boat 'Deck Heavy.'

Deck heavy sailing is not easy to describe because it involves as much a feel for the boat, especially the blades, as it does technique. Sometimes it is easier to explain what it does than how to sail that way. One of its key benefits is that it releases the helm in your rudder so you can steer more with your body. When I am sailing deck heavy, I can really feel the straps really digging into my ankles and the gunwale into the back of my legs and I know that all 180 pounds of me is engaged and locked into the boat.

When I picture Dold crushing in the breeze, I recognize his need to constantly be swaying his weight forward in the boat to power up and keep his bow down (off-wind), as he says "taking a breather," followed by several strong torques aft on the backside of the waves to get the bow through the next, and release pressure on the sails - keeping the daggerboard and rudder neutral (or consistent). All of the body movements amount to a lot, especially in power chop conditions. You can really see that by keeping the boat's angle always the same, the boat tends to power up over time and lift to windward. Meaning that if you start on his windward hip in heavy air, expect to be reading the name of his boat from behind him, "Goon Squad".

Pablo Rabago is the top Laser Standard sailor in Mexico, when it comes to big breeze. Pablo approaches upwind sailing with a very energy efficient, yoga-esque style. It's rare to see him crouching up in the boat, which makes him also a very intimidating opponent. The shoulder down 'Deck Heavy' approach allows Pablo to dig in and play his boat off the wind. What I mean is that because he uses his weight to his advantage and keeps it fully pressed on the deck, he is able to sail his bow a little lower in the low spots (The bow down technique). Pablo doesn't use so much body movements for steering. He tends to steer less than Chris, but still keeps the boat powered by playing his mainsheet. Letting it off at the top of the waves, allows his boat to react on its own, and bear away deep into the troughs. The kind of thing when you start underneath him, you can hear his bow crashing on the waves behind you, and slowly working his way into your peripheral vision... then you know he's got ya!

Jeronimo Cervantes is without a doubt a threat to the World of sailing. At only 18 years old, Jero spent the last two years sailing in Argentina - putting aside high school to follow in his Olympic dream. He is a very talented Opti sailor, placing 18th at Opti Worlds when he was 15. After moving to Argentina he continued to sail 4-5 days/week in the Radial. Naturally, he is in superb shape, which allows him to effectively work his boat in the heavy conditions. When sailing with Jero, I've learned that you're on a completely different level when you don't miss a single torque per wave on a 15 minute upwind. With a looser strap, Jero uses the straight leg approach, and keeps his body stiff as a board at 180 degrees. From here, Jero bounces his boat through the waves - with only 155lbs, he has a tremendous striking effect on the deck when he bends himself backwards to almost 220 degree angles!! When he releases his torque, his body never lifts above 180 degrees.

Last but not least, Tania Elias Calles, Mexico's three-time women's single handed Olympian, spent a lot of time doing circles around us in her Radial. With an unbelievably developed skill set in the Laser, it's no wonder she's been in the World's top 10 contention for the last few years. Tania humbles all of us with her amazing power and endurance. When she isn't out sailing, you'll find her at the gym, or on her bike doing training fit for Ironman competitions. She also adopts the looser strap setting because of her height disadvantage, but consistently hides her toes under the strap, giving her the optimal "Deck Heavy" setting for a shorter individual. With her, you really notice the way she reads the waves - pointing high in the flats, and powering up in the chop. She is not afraid to start next to a full rig and use her incredible timing to work the boat to weather. Something I need to remember, is that if you plan on letting off a bit and trying to roll over her, she will not give up easy, and usually ends up with the upper hand. Just a few powerful bow down and torque maneuvers, she will have her boat coasting to windward, and into your lane. This is someone who knows her boat speed, and will end up spending more time than her competitors working the boat uphill. Tania plans to spend next winter in La Cruz, sailing and coaching at the International Sailing Academy - come see for yourself!

At the end of this camp, I put together a plan to improve my upwind speed. My first explanation for quickness around the course, is fitness. In sailing, if you are not fit, your technique will be limited to how many sets of waves you can work your boat through. Also, the body numbing pain of having the strap digging into your feet/ankles is a good sign that your entire body weight is over the side. For the torque, try practicing shorter upwinds, like 3-4 minutes at a time, to get the techniques down. When you spend a lot of time uphill working on endurance, you tend to laze a lot, and switch your style to a more energy efficient , torqueless technique. Remember that you are not sailing the boat, you are sailing the pressure in the boards - so keep your body lower than the deck of your boat. (parallel to the water, not the boat) Also, in choppy conditions, a slight leeward heel will help bounce your bow through the waves. Nothing hurts more than having your boat over-flattened upwind. So keep your body over the deck, and steer a line lower than you're used to. This will keep momentum up, and your legs happier!

I hope you've enjoyed reading. I look forward to seeing everyone this summer on the D3 circuit!

Keep Grinding.

Vaughn HarrisonVaughn Harrison is the president of the International Sailing Academy in Mexico. He coaches the High Performance Laser team at KYC, and the Queen's Sailing Team in Lasers and 420s.