Practice Toward a Specific Accomplishment

Compared to many boats, the Laser has a modest number of control lines and adjustments, but because boat speed and efficient boat handling are highly dependent on your position in the boat and the fluidity of you physical movements, you must practice to sail it well.

Practice sessions are the time to deliberately accumulate correct repetitions; to repeat the exact actions that you want to become permanent, unconscious patterns. Whatever physical moves you repeat will tend to become permanent habits, so it is important to structure your practice to maximize the number of successful repeats, minimize the failures and to always stay pointed in the exact direction of the pattern you eventually want to accomplish.

Be sure you know what you want to accomplish and design the specific steps that you will need to practice to achieve that. This will tend to lead to more productive sessions than simply going out to practice specific actions. Planning actions versus deciding on what to accomplish may seem like a minor difference, but experience shows action driven practices aren’t as effective as first being clear about what you want to accomplish.

Deciding exactly what you want to accomplish with a particular session – “I want to be able to trim and ease the main without ever looking at my hands,” - makes it obvious what activity you will want to practice – “I will practice my ‘Suck it in’ ‘Blow it out’ routine.” (My name for my practice routine to develop trim and ease skills)

Next think about what adjustments the wind and water conditions will require during this practice – “I can ‘Suck it in’ in the hand-over-hand way I’ve been practicing, but, because the breeze is so light, I will need to reduce drag during ‘Blow it out’ by helping the mainsheet feed through the ratchet block.” Practice these moves slowly until you hit a 80% success rate.

When you find you can ‘Suck it in’ smoothly with long, efficient, hand-over-hand pulls and ‘Blow it out’ with equally long smooth releases, you may decide to decide to try a variation – increase your speed by 10% or deliberately tangle the line around your foot and untangle it mid maneuver with either a “No look” policy or the briefest glances.

Do not add a fresh variation until you can handle the last new variation on 80% of your tries. Only compound the complexity of your practice when you can do the simple action without awareness and do variations that adapt it to different environmental conditions. At that point putting together a small combination of practiced skills may be in order.

Laser Master Sailors who have been sailing for years with subpar patterns will most likely find that they need more repetitions to begin to override those old habits and develop new patterns, but on the positive side you’re likely to have more patience for the slow practice.

Once you accomplish a smooth and efficient move you are likely to move up in your fleet ahead of the “I’ll keep sailing and just automatically get better” competitors, and you will have freer head space to look for the all-important wind shifts and clear air.