Earth, Wind & Water

Ramblings of an Earthling, Laserite and small boat sailor

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review: Laser Sailing - Ed Baird

These days, Ed Baird is probably best known for his exploits with Alinghi and on the World Match Racing Tour, but like so many other top skippers of big boats, he got his start in the Laser. The 1980 world champ in the class wrote this book when men were men, and used to do acrobatics in the boat to put the vang on and tension the outhaul. It was written even before the sailcloth weight was increased from 3.2 oz to 3.8 oz, which precipitated multi-purchase systems with thimbles, which eventually led to the proper, modern sail controls we have today.

I got this book from my dad when he generously gave me his Laser. (I asked if I could borrow the boat for the summer - he said sure, and a few weeks later he called me and told me I could keep it!) The book is brief and well organized. He breaks it down into four chapters, covering the boat, your body, the race, and mental attitude. The race he covers in the order in which you encounter the phases - start, beat, tacking, reaching, etc - and illustrates the important techniques with series of photographs.

A few notable things stand out about this book. On techniques he covers a few things I haven't seen other authors and pundits mention. He describes a really clever trick of pulling the sail down into the water using the main sheet after a capsize to windward, which lets you right the boat without it capsizing again. He illustrates this with series of photos that finishes up with a delightful grin of his that says without saying, "I didn't even get my feet wet!". He's also the only person I've seen distinguish between the reach to reach gybe and the run to run gybe. Think about it - it really is different. A gybe from by-the-lee to by-the-lee involves heading up.

Coming back to this book after reading Ben Ainslie's (to be reviewed soon), I was struck that there really is nothing new under the sun. As Ben Ainslie has it, the technique of "s-curving" on the run was invented by Robert Scheidt and Peter Transcheidt in the early 90's, but in Baird we find, "Sail by the lee, pumping (legally!) and heading up whenever you need power to surf down a wave". Likewise when I read in Ainslie that you should steer up when going over waves, this flat water sailor without experience of it, but armed with an understanding of the wave mechanics thought it was brilliant! And then, again I read the same pearls of wisdom in Baird's book nestled in a nonchalant manner. Maybe Ainslie was sufficiently heavy, tall, and fit to not need to do it, but Baird stresses the importance of easing the main on a heavy air beat and when ducking transoms to keep the boat flat, fast, and maneuverable.

All top sailors realize that it is a multifaceted sport requiring fitness, tactics, and boat speed, but focus of these guys, and the reasons for their success varies. What really shines through in Baird's book is his tactical brilliance. He was an early adopter of the tactical compass with a zero to 20 scale and pairs of lubber lines, invented by Anders Ansar. Ansar specifically mentions Baird's use of the compass in his story of how he invented it, and quotes him in his description of his first racing compass. Much more than that, though, I am impressed by his unveiling of numerous tactical tricks.


  1. I have a copy of this book but haven't looked at it for years. I bought it when I was first getting into Lasers in the 1980's and it was one of the books which taught me to sail and race the Laser. I thought Laser techniques had changed a lot over the years but, based on the example you found, maybe not as much as I thought. I must revisit this book.

  2. It's definitely a book that rewards repeated reading. It's almost entirely in prose, and some points that might now be heavily emphasized are mentioned casually. Also, as with any coaching you only really learn the lesson once you've made the mistake and you're told why. Without a doubt my worst experience in the boat was hitting someone by the stern when trying to duck his transom. As Baird points out, and as the veterans know, you just can't bear off if you have too much weather helm, so you have to ease the main... After my mishap on the water, I was genuinely surprised that I didn't remember reading this nugget of wisdom when I next came across it.

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