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Very slow in light air (downwind)


New Member
I am curious if anyone has any pointers for how to improve boat speed downwind (in light air). As an example I typically lose 5-10 boat lengths on even a short course, and there doesn't seem to be any real difference in my sail trim / body position as compared to other competitors. Note: This is even in flat water where catching waves is not really an issue. I recently bought a new sail so that isn't the problem. I am starting to think that the hull itself is what is slow - but I have checked and it is dry every time I check.
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Rob B

Well-Known Member
There's a lot of variables here. Let's start with the most obvious first:
1- how do you compare to the others in body size? Are you bigger?
2- Do you loose boats upwind or are you typically behind at the weather mark to begin with?
3- DW it's harder to tell what others are doing trim wise. Have you read any publications regarding how to trim a laser DW?
4- Whats the age group you're sailing with?
5- Whats the experience level of those your sailing with?
6- Have you asked them what they think?

Int. Sailing Academy

Active Member
There are 4 main variables to consider.

1. Sheet Tension
2. Heel angle
3. Angle of sailing
4. Great body position

SHAG, if you will.

All of them need to be correct and matching in relation to each other in order to have some baseline speed. From there you will incorporate some elements of turning and pressing the boat flat to create additional speed when you change course. Moving up the light wind range, when some small waves start appearing, artful and smooth rocking becomes necessary to be competitive.

It's best to start with some basic guidelines.

Generally in light wind, by the lee will be your home base. In the drifter, a broad reach is effective, but usually not without a solid roll jibe, so let's leave it out for now. Up the range, you will goto broad reach for wave catching but since you mentioned there are no waves, let's leave it out.

Typically in light wind, people with speed issues do not go hard enough by the lee right from the start of the leg (angle of sailing error). They sit at narrow angles and wait for the boat to accelerate instead of heating up hotter by the lee and moving up to target speed early. You cannot go for depth without speed and you need to be continually accessing more speed through your angle and soaking that into depth when possible as a general principle in light wind.

Make sure your sail is setup correctly with vang tension at max ease (and calibrated correctly for max ease) as shown in this video.
Outhaul should be around 10" of depth between sail and boom. NO Cunningham tension - pull the sail up the mast to be sure slack is out of the system. Just leave your daggerboard down or pull it up a few inches.. not too much. Make sure there is no water in your cockpit.

By the lee Basic Checklist

1. Sheet Tension: It is very common to be under trimmed IE sheet out too far. You should put a 90 degree marker on your sheet with a pen or some tape at the forward boom block when the sheet is stretched out to a boom angle of 90 degrees to the boat (do this on shore). This will give you a reference point because beginners have trouble estimating boom angles and can get out of the range very often. The ideal sheet tension for a given angle will be to basically pull the sheet in until you see the first signs of early jibing (a bit of leech fold in) and then let it back out a little from there. Feel the sheet in your fingers and sheet from the boom or if you sheet from the block, turn off your ratchet. Use a light wind 6mm rooster mainsheet. Try to work towards 90 degrees but if it's too light, you'll be out further than that. Make sure your sheet is long enough to get the tape mark 3/4 of the way to the end of the boom or a bit more - that will usually be too far out for speed, but sometimes is needed to hang the boom out temporarily if it's very light and the sail is collapsing easily and at least we'll know it's not too short and restricted.
2. Heel angle: You are looking for a neutral helm and usually beginners sail too flat by the lee. I will attach an image but try to begin with the rail just a bit in the water.
3. Angle of Sailing: If you are slow in boat speed, you need to go faster. Forget VMG for a minute. Just go harder by the lee until your telltales are flowing from leech to luff and play with your sheet in and out to find the perfect sheet tension described above.
4. Great Body Position: Sitting well forward, back knee down leg hooked around strap and pulling UP with your calf to generate heel while keeping you locked into the boat. Tiller positioned to leeward or midline, but often on the leeward deck. See image and video.

From here the tiller action should be very minimal. In other words, you should work towards being able to set the tiller down on the deck and control the boat using your angle of heel, body position and sheet tension changes. Tillerless Sailing Drill for Downwind Technique - ISA You should focus on this drill once these basics are set up and you will learn to be faster than 90% of masters sailors in short order.

That should very much get you on the right track.

All the rest of the secrets, plus video review etc., we disclose as part of our online course discussion chat ($12.50/mo) which also includes the upwind speed videos, checklists and drills.


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Int. Sailing Academy

Active Member
Oftentimes it will look like sailors are doing "THE EXACT SAME THING as me" downwind in light air, but in reality they are not and things can get pretty subtle and deceptive.

Another important aspect once you have all the above tuned up, is to understand wind shadows by the lee in light wind.

A bit about that is below in the video. The gist of it is that you need to protect your "lee side", ie the side the sail is on while sailing by the lee. If there is someone ahead, you will not be able to pass them by sailing close on their windward side (non sail side) if you are both by the lee. Likewise, if a boat is coming up behind or there are a stack of boats behind you and they are positioned at all off your quarter on the lee side, they will be affecting your wind. You can change your angles to sort that out. Clear air is very important in light air to stay fast so once you're sailing is technically sound, you can consider that as well when assessing your speed vs. others.