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From the Archives: Zig Zag Your Way From Top to Bottom

Sailing more distance (by the lee) can get you there faster. Olympian Nick Adamson demonstrates the newest way to get downhill. November 1996 article by Ed Adams.

October 16, 2012
Zig Zag Your Way Article

Zig Zag Your Way Article

Sailing World Archives

I’ve been skiing for as long as I’ve been sailing. But I didn’t see the connection between the two sports until I stepped back into a Laser after a 15-year hiatus. Now I realize that powerful turns are required in both sports, and that a good turn often begins with a near-spill. In skiing, this tight-wire defiance of gravity is done to ride the mountain; in sailing it’s done to ride waves.

The Laser regatta that opened my eyes began in a moderate sea breeze. I rounded the first mark in good shape, just ahead of a tight pack of five boats. The next leg was a broad reach on starboard, so being a seasoned, mature sailor, I stayed high after rounding to protect my clear air on the long jibe.

The gangly teenager who round a few boats behind had a different idea. He immediately rolled into a jibe and took off on port on a hot angle, reaching away front he rhumbline. That’s the last we’ll see of him, I thought. Wrong!

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The rest of our pack lined up on starboard, in nice, neat tactical formation. After reaching out of our peripheral vision, the kid then bore off sharply, sailing 30 degrees by the lee, “railed-up” in near-capsize. Riding the knife edge, he surfed a wave directly back through everyone’s dirty air, crossing inches in front of the pack. Oblivious to his gains and his new weather most position, he carved a radical 60-degree turn up to reach away from us again, searching for yet another wave.

This radical zigzag continued the whole leg. He never jibed. He never looked back. He never pointed at the mark. He didn’t care about clear air of the old folks astern. And by the leeward mark, he was 100 yards ahead of everyone. I felt like Rip Van Winkle.

Read the full article from November 1996 here.

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