Earth, Wind & Water

Ramblings of an Earthling, Laserite and small boat sailor

Monday, March 8, 2010

Book Review: Ben Ainslie - The Laser Campaign Manual

After I'd had my Laser for a while, I thought I could do with a more modern book on sailing it. I couldn't decide between this one and Dick Tillman's Complete Book of Laser Sailing, so in the end I ordered both to find out which one was better. I won't make judgment on that directly since the books have different strengths, but in terms of how to sail the boat fast without any nonsense, this is the book you want.

The book is extremely well organized. Each point of sail and each maneuver (tacking and gybing, etc.) is rigorously covered in medium, heavy and light airs. Each of these chunks is illustrated with color pictures, with nice sequences for the tacks, gybes and 720, mark roundings and start. The book was clearly thoroughly planned before the photos were taken on the water. For each point of sail at each wind strength he gives recommended sail trim settings and body positions, and lists common mistakes. He avoids long tracts of prose, breaking it down into small chunks with headings, even bulleted lists, making the book very easy to navigate and digest.

An Olympic gold and silver medalist in the class, his credentials are beyond dispute, and from an engineering point of view, I agree with him on almost everything that he says about what makes the boat go fast. I don't always agree with his explanation for why these techniques are fast, but ultimately that's of secondary importance. For instance, he gets muddled up in his explanation of fullness of the sail on the reach, drawing a half-baked analogy to a jet airplane wing, confusing chord with camber, all of which jar to this aeronautical engineer. He's a layman engineer, but an expert sailor, and ultimately, the sailing expertise is what we want from the book.

As I posted earlier, for Ed Baird, tactics were a major part of Laser sailing. For Ainslie, it's all about boat speed. He subscribes to the point of view that "boat speed makes you a tactical genius". Upwind, stay in close proximity to the front runners, or if ahead, keep in between them and the windward mark. Sailing off the wind, learn how to use the waves maximum advantage, deviating substantially from the rhumb line if need be. In short, sail fast.

As a mediocre sailor with distinctly average boat speed, I feel I have to try harder than this on tactics and reading the wind. For one thing, you can't stay close to the front runners if they're way ahead of you! So, if you can't outrun them, at least try'n outwit them.

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