I'm writing about this subject because it was shown in graphic detail the other week at my own club on a very light day where we were handicap racing. And despite the scratch boats giving the long markers nearly ninety seconds, the scratch boys were still winning despite having to fight their way through the fleet of thirteen boats. It all came down to attitude, patience, boat set up, and keeping your sticky fingers off the control sticks.
Many people do not realize that the boat slows down every time they touch the rudder. The rudder IS A BRAKE. Chucking the boat into a tack may look good and the owner having thoughts 'oh boy it tacks fast', but has forgotten that this violent tack just killed all boat speed, and in light air this takes a long time to regenerate. Meanwhile the skipper beside him slowly eased his boat into the tack with a minimum of rudder and came out of the whole thing about two boat lengths in front of our hard and fast does the trick man.
Minimum rudder in light airs means minimum loss of speed; and speed in light airs is what it is all about. Speed means better attached airflow on the sails, more power to drive through any waves, and more lift being generated from the keel, which will aid pointing. But, before we go any further; lets look at some major contributors to successful light air sailing.