Sailing Downwind

best technique downwind is S-turns ! lee is good 2 if you dont master S-turns

in any circomstance if your not in the boat it will head up in iron or it will dump ... its better having a dump boat then having a boat wit no main sheet

evry laser books says to tie a eight to the end of the mainshet then tie it around the hicking stratp so it doesnt tangle
i've tried the tie the mainsheet to the hiking strap thing (actually i tried it today) and i didn't like it because 1) if you tie it to the front of the strap, the ropes get confusing (which end you pull)
2) if you tie it to the back you need an extra 2 feet of mainsheet

if you have the rooster mainsheet, the line doesn't tangle itself up
The promised explanation...

You can steer a laser (and most light weight boats) without moving the rudder from the centreline, by using trim, heel, sail trim etc.

To steer without the rudder, you make the boat sail inefficiently in the direction you are going and the power that is not now directed into the course you are sailing, turns the boat onto a different course. For example, if you are sailing on a reach with the sail trimmed as best you can, if you sheet in the sail a bit, the boat slows down and heads up into the wind. By applying this argument in reverse, you can see that:

If the boat is sailing inefficiently, the boat will try to change its course to one of more efficiency for the current setup.

Also, heeling the boat to one side makes it turn in the opposite direction (heel to leeward and it turns to windward).

If the baot is turning, or trying to turn, the rudder will align itself with the turn to reduce drag (because the water pressure will not be equal on both sides of the foil) so:

When the boat is sailing badly/inefficiently/slowly, it tries to turn.
This turn forces the rudder to one side.
Through a stiff tiller, your hand can feel this force.

When it is blowing 20+ knots, go out on a reach and pull the sail in: the tiller tries to pull itself to leeward, turning the boat to windward - this is known as "weather helm" and is the most common direction of helm pressure.

When you have to keep pulling/pushing the tiller to stay on the same course or the tiller is exerting a large pressure in either direction, your boat is not setup correctly.

It may be heeling: hike harder.
The sail trim may be wrong: watch your tell tales.
Your cunningham will reduce weather helm as well.
Extremes of leech tension (kicker/vang tension) can induce weather helm.

Weather helm makes a laser hard to control/steer as well as slowing you down due to excessive rudder drag and inefficient sailing.

Carbon tillers/extensions barely bend compared to wood or aluminium (alloy) models meaning that these messages from the rudder get to you rather than being absobed and dampened by flexible tillers. Also, because carbon is lighter, smaller pressures on the rudder can be detected.

With practice, it is possible to sail around a race course rudderless on light days (harder when you have to hike) and by doing this, you appreciate how much these factors cause the boat to turn.
This isn't really about going downwind, but how do you guys get the top of your sails to twist. Lasers don't have traveler adjustments, so when you let out the main to get twist, you lose pointing ability.
once in a race i had no extention i used half of an opti extention with the rubber thingy and all taped to the tiller and in the end of the extention put a fishing stick it was very flexible tou know i madeit so good i still use it
but in a laser, when you pull the main in, it bends the mast and closes the leech on the upper half of the sail. the only way you can get twist is to let out the main, which you can't do sometimes because you need to point.
you cant do anything about that - as you say it would involve letting out the main, which would mean loosing more than any gain from opening the leech. The only thing is to make sure that you dont have too much kicker - especialy with the new systems its very easy to put too much on.

How you sail downwind all depends on conditions - if theres waves then your priority is to be catching them, gybing on the waves, sailing by the lee to pick up speed for the waves etc... obviously you should try and stay on the side of the course biased by tide / wind.

When there arent any waves concentrate more on finding the gusts. When trying to catch waves you sail closer to the wind, and then bear away down the waves, same with the gusts, but if there arent many gusts / waves im not 100% on what your priority is then, straight downwind, or broad reach down the run. In reality this isnt a situation thats going to happen though!

If its light persumably then emphasis is more on keeping the sail filled, so you would be less conerned with gybing, and zig-zagging to catch waves.

having said that - although i know a lot of the thory (i goto quite a few training sessions / weekends), im not amazingly fast downwind - something I will be trying this weekend is going closer to the wind on downhill legs, (depending on the wind conditions).
I'm not yet confident to sail by the lee as I've never done it before although I did watch that video clip page Will posted a while back. If you're like me, what I used to do in light winds going downwind is try to catch up to the person in front of you by staying right behind them and stealing their wind. Then, when approaching the two-boat length area, i skoot to the inside for the over-lap and come out ahead after rounding. Of course, this is if you aren't confortable with sailing by the lee.