Controlling the Laser’s New Controls

Top-ranked Laser sailor Andrew Campbell show us how to make the most out of the class's new rigging rules. "Boatspeed" from our April 2007 issue


Rolex / Dan Nerney

For nearly 30 years the Laser’s simplistic sail controls had seen minimal changes. But in 2001 the class approved a number of sweeping rigging upgrades aimed at improving the boat’s accessibility to a wider range of sailors. New cleats, a more powerful vang, and the allowance of multiple blocks to increase purchase in the cunningham and outhaul, now allow smaller, lighter sailors to effectively de-power the sail. The use of blocks also reduces friction associated with thimbles and knots, which were being built into the systems to create purchase. Another benefit of the new class rules is that they’re allowing a bit of in-the-box creativity among Laser sailors who can tailor the systems to their needs and physical build.

The clew tie-down
The clew tie-down is all about keeping the clew as tight to the boom as possible, which keeps the leech tension tight. In the past you’d do this by wrapping a line several times around the boom, passing it through the grommet, and tying it. The problem was the wraps created friction and inhibited the outhaul from being eased quickly and easily. Reliability of the knot was also an issue, as was the type of line you used (stretchy line equals poor leech tension). The legalization of a Velcro strap (like a watchband) eliminated the need for tying knots at the clew and lessened the friction. Last December the class approved a metal sleeve-and-hook system, which may indeed become the standard. The versatility of the Velcro band, however, outweighs the possibility of having hang-ups involved with a hook at the end of the boom, so I’ve stuck with it.

The outhaul
The class rules now allow six turning points in the outhaul system. The best systems on the circuit today maximize the blocks and amount of purchases to reduce friction and the amount of line that needs to be trimmed in order to get to a desired setting. My system uses five turning points, including one block on the clew of the sail, which can be attached with a small shackle or piece of Spectra tied tightly to the grommet, two single blocks tied to the mast with a looped piece of Spectra (about 1.5 feet in length), and a single becket block. The outhaul’s primary line is a piece of Spectra, cut to desired length. This length should put the becket block within your line of sight, and there should be reference points marked on the boom. The primary line can be spliced with a thimble at the becket block to extend the life of the line. For the outhaul secondary, which runs forward, down the mast and to the deck-mounted cam cleat, I prefer to use Maffioli Swiftcord, which runs smoothly through the blocks, is easy to cleat, and does not stretch under load. The allowance of shock cord to retract the outhaul when it’s eased and effectively loosening the foot of the mainsail is something everyone should take advantage of. The extra seconds spent trying to get the foot to slacken downwind can be turned into boatlengths very quickly. Tie a properly adjusted piece of bungee between the clew grommet and the unused boom outhaul cleat.


The cunningham
The new rules also allow up to five turning points in the cunningham. Even in breezy conditions, however, it’s not necessary to use all five to get sufficient purchase. In fact, having less purchase reduces the amount of line in the cockpit significantly, and enables you to ease the cunningham faster. The setup I use is common and similar to the pre-upgrade era when thimbles were used instead of blocks. There are three turning points using two becket blocks tied together with a piece of Spectra, which can be spliced with a thimble if you want to reduce wear on the line from the hard edges of the blocks. The secondary line is Maffioli Swiftcord of a different color than the outhaul to reduce confusion between the two.

The boom vang
The new boom vang hardware is the single best improvement of the entireupgrade kit because it allows for the proper setup of the sail and mast from the hiking position instead of having to jump off the rail, push the boom down, and snug the vang. With a single pull on the new vang you should be able to get more than you need. Using 3mm Spectra for the boom vang primary (the portion running through the cascade) should ensure smooth running, and zero stretch through the most important blocks of the system. Keeping this primary line out of the sheave is an important part of the equation as well. Using a new Harken sheave at the top, or the old Laser vang’s Holt block are best. The secondary line must be small enough to run smoothly through the new vang key and double blocks, and it needs to be rough enough on the cover to cleat easily and handle. Using 1/8 inch or 5mm line is fine and should run in and out easily through the system.The entire 15-to-1 system is useful for the less experienced sailor, but eliminating one purchase out of the secondary system, by tying it off at the last turning point, instead of returning to the becket on the double block, drastically decreases the amount of pulls required to trim the vang from the rail, and will absolutely make the system ease better. Any time spent playing out the vang as you sail around the top mark is time better spent sailing full speed downwind.

Odds and ends
There are few tricks of the trade in Laser sailing, and most options within the context of the one-design rules are relatively inexpensive and accessible. That said, having as many smooth running systems and parts makes the difference when it comes to having consistently good finishes. Research and heavy use has shown that yarn telltale are significantly better than any other sailcloth-type telltale on the market, especially in wet conditions. An application of McLube on the telltale and the surrounding sail keeps the yarns flying in all types of conditions.


Finding a comfortable and efficient medium in your hiking strap and footwear combination can be an incredible boost to your efficiency. U.S.-built Lasers come stock with padded Seitech hiking straps. They are cut to the appropriate length and are much improved in design since their first introduction. Sailing with boots that have a ribbed, padded pattern on the top of the boot can make any hiking strap feel sticky and easy to grip upwind or reaching in heavy winds. Another point of consideration in hiking straps is how the bottom of the strap feels on the back of your leg after heeling the boat downwind for an extended length of time. If your strap is so coated with sticky substance to keep you from falling out of the boat upwind that it tears up the backs of your legs downwind, then you may want to re-invest because keeping your strap simple, clean, and comfortable goes a long way.

The mainsheet block is also a point of preference for many sailors. Lasers built by Vanguard in the United States come stock with Harken ratchet blocks. There are few, if any, that are better. If you decide to go with a different brand, make sure you can easily turn the ratchet on and off. In moderate air, the ratchet can be switched off at the windward mark to ensure better trimming downwind. Having a spring at the base of this block is critical. A half of a tennis ball could also suffice in the absence of the standard spring. Some sailors use sleeves intended to keep the sheet running cleanly through the block, but I don’t think they’re necessary.

Having a low profile and lightweight tiller that can take a beating is a must for Laser sailing. The allowance of carbon has opened the field to many good options. In my opinion, Black Diamond tillers are the superior tiller for the Laser. Two great attributes are the low profile and the steel plate, which protects the carbon tiller and the Spectra used in the traveler system. Your tiller extension should be an item of personal preference. Carbon fiber is certainly the way to go, and there are a number of options out there depending on what sort of grip you want. The Acme Fatso Jr. ( is a good option-it’s very light, easy to grip anywhere on the entire length of the tiller, and rotates on the universal, making it more mobile than some other comparable tillers. Length is personal preference as well. Shorter than 48 inches will make boathandling easier, but you sacrifice easier steering while hiking upwind in a breeze. Extensions that are 50 inches or longer can make upwind sailing easier and keep your arms further outboard.


Using the new contols
The new systems make it easier to adjust your sail trim across the entire wind range, which has the benefit of making adjustments more often and really getting the most from the sail, but the basic sail-trim settings of the Laser has changed very little. Here’s a breakdown of my typical settings.

Light Air (Up to 10 knots)

  • Downhaul: Snug, with slight wrinkles from mast joint to clew
  • Outhaul: Loose, foot should be about one-hand’s length from the center of the boom
  • Vang: Snug to just over-tight for the mainsheet tension
  • Mainsheet: 1 to 10 Inches between traveler blocks (reverse order from breeze, i.e.: 1 knot = more than 10″, 3 knots = 7″ 6 knots = 4″, 10 = 1″gap etc.)


    Body weight

  • Upwind: Body weight centered slightly forward of the mainsheet block

  • Reaching: Same, slightly aft
  • Downwind: As far forward as possible without feet leaving the cockpit. Heel the boat as necessary

Medium Air (10 to 18 knots):

  • Downhaul: Enough to smooth out the wrinkles between clew and mast joint. Slightly less in chop, if you’re no overpowered
  • Outhaul: Slightly less than one-hand’s length from center of boom. Marks on the boom for the becket block help make this setting consistent
  • Vang: Over-tighten the vang in relation to the power in the sail plan: If overpowered, have enough vang on to prevent the mainsheet from going up when you ease the mainsheet. If not overpowered, have it snug to slightly over-tight
  • Mainsheet: Mainsheet is block-to-block. Maximum leech tension, and max mast bend is the most efficient form of the sail. Easing will add more power unless you have sufficient boom vang on

    Body weight

  • Upwind: Body weight should be straight out from feet in hiking strap, 4″ to 6″ aft of the mainsheet block

  • Reaching: Body angled back from feet 45 degrees, move further back as you start planing
  • Downwind: Straddle the centerboard until planing, then move aft as necessary

Heavy Air (18 to 30 knots)

  • Downhaul: Grommet all the way to the boom-enough to smooth out the wrinkles
  • Outhaul: Depends on how much you’re overpowered. If so, maxing out the outhaul is necessary. However, if not, 3″ to 4″ at the maximum draft will give some shape
  • Vang: Should be on tight enough so that when the mainsheet is eased, the traveler blocks move away from each other at 45 degrees or less from the deck. The boom should be visibly bent and should not go up at all when easing the sheet.
  • Mainsheet: Depending on control of the boat and precision of driving, the mainsheet can be 6″ to 18″ between the traveler blocks, almost all the time. Keeping the bow down and the sail powered up reduces stalling and sideways movement; easing the mainsheet helps

    Body weight

  • Upwind: Body should be centered on the hiking strap, maximum hike

  • Reaching: Body aft of corner of cockpit, angled aft
  • Downwind, aft in the boat, front foot pushing off the front of cockpit

Extra tips
Big Sailor in Light Air

  • Downhaul: Downhaul should be slightly looser than others on average for power and height
  • Outhaul: Likewise, outhaul should stay looser longer as the breeze increases across the range, but not much more than one-hand’s length
  • Vang: Vang should be snug at most, until hiking is necessary
  • Body weight: Body should be forward all the time. Center of weight should not be much forward of the mainsheet block, but knees at the block all the time, never aft. Looking to keep the bow knuckle in the water
  • Mainsheet: Mainsheet can be looser, and keeping the bow down for pace is best bet to maintaining VMG

Small Sailor in Heavy Air

  • Downhaul: Downhaul should be maxed out
  • Outhaul: Outhaul should be close to maxed out most of the time
  • Vang: Vang should be tightened as much as you can; ease slightly for tacks
  • Mainsheet: Sheeting out allows you to keep the bow down and the boat loaded sufficiently to prevent stalling. Sheet out between 1 to 2 feet all the time; trimming block-to-block can be dangerously slow

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