LMSS 2021 Summer Fundraisers

Celebrating Gordy Bowers – Sailing Fast for 80 Years!

Sailing The Chop

By Gordy Bowers

I classify waves by height, length, speed and shape.  Each separate sea state requires a different combination of your basic skill techniques — weight position movement, sail trim, and steering.  Below, the following wave and wind descriptions are discussed:

1.  Flat water: height 0 to 6 inches, wind 0 to 9 knots, and small ripples on the surface.

2.  Chop: height 6 to 12 inches, wind 10 to 16 knots.

3.  Waves: height 1 to 2.5 feet, wind 16 to 20 knots.

4.  Big waves: height 2.5 to 6 feet or more, wind 16 knots and up.

5.  Swell: old waves on the Great Lakes or ocean are no longer driven by existing wind.

6.  Slop: powerboat waves that approach from random directions.

For lake sailors, Chop is a problem on the leeward half of the leg. To study the waves closely before a race, I recommend stopping close to the starting area.  Put the boat on a beam reach with your sail luffing. Choppy waves are 6 to 12 inches high and 5 to 7 feet long.  This confused chop varies in direction, from 10 to 20 degrees, and height from 6 to 12 inches. Steep waves will often come in sets of two, three or four, followed by a very flat section that will build up to another set of big waves.

The degree a wave’s height and length will cause your boat to pitch, and to slow down, will depend on the length, weight, speed and bow shape of your boat.  Small, light boats like Optimist, Laser and 420 can pitch violently up and down in steep chop.  The MC, C and Melges 15 Scows, and Yngling keelboats, will pitch less but can be slowed noticeably.  E and A Scows are longer at waterline and heavier, so they will not pitch, but can be slowed by wave friction.

The fast sailor uses all sides of the largest waves. Sailors of small boats, like Opti, Laser, 420 and Melges 15, should study wave shape.  Think of them as hills with sloping edges on the front, back, right side and left side.  Then judge what wave height will slow your boat.

When looking at the face of the individual big wave ask yourself whether the width of the white crest is long or short?   If the white crest is coming right at you, attack by steering bow down 5 to 10 degrees, lean aft, hike out, ease the mainsail to maintain the correct heal angle, and cross the wave at an oblique angle.  If the main luffs excessively, ease the jib 1 or 2 inches, to quiet the main and rebalance helm pressure.  With speed and angle your boat will pitch less in the next one or two big waves. Making your boat your heel up 5 more degrees will let the rapidly moving white water pass with less resistance.

Once you see and understand the wave that will pitch your boat, you can steer to avoid or attack the big waves. Try to avoid the largest waves by heading up or down slightly, and leaning aft to lift the bow.

When going into rough sections you need to steer slightly away from the wind to keep speed. After the last big wave crest has passed, ease main to head down with less weather helm pressure and build speed.  However, in the following flat sections you can point higher, to make up for the lost height. Trim the mainsail harder, and set vang tension for the flat spots.  In the big wave sets, an overly flat main is slower.

Your “go fast” technique is to efficiently shift from speed mode to point mode, and back, as waves change, using your basics of weight movement, sail trim and steering. 

Go out, experiment, learn, and enjoy the Chop!

Wind Direction

By Gordy Bowers

Change of the wind strength will change your three speed control basics: weight, sail trim, and steering. 

Wind direction is next most important, because it affects your strategic decisions based on your course position and fleet position.

Start studying wind on shore by looking at the sky. Observe the shape and direction of the clouds. Paul Elvstrum, the first three time Finn class Olympic gold medalist, once said “change the sky and you change the wind”. Good advice! The low level cloud cover – cumulus, stratus and stratocumulus – are most important. Look to see what direction they are moving, compared to the wind direction on the water. Oftentimes, the wind at eight or nine in the morning, after a cold night, will shift to direction of the clouds when the temperature warms up between ten and twelve noon, during your morning race. Conversely, middle and upper cloud shape and movement usually indicate later changes in the weather. 

Once on the racecourse, it is time to get a feel for the range of wind strength and direction. Wind speeds are shown by ripples and waves, and compared by whether you are sitting in, or hiking full or part time. At close range, thirty to a hundred feet, look at the waves and notice whether the ripples are in line or angled across the waves’ grid pattern. Further out – from one hundred feet to two hundred yards – look at the leading edge of the puff. 

Upwind or downwind, I strongly recommend using side stay telltales or a masthead fly. They show you the next puff, or wind shift.

When beating within half a mile from shore, the short duration puffs have a semicircular leading edge. The middle axis will be shifty. But, the direction will also depend on whether you intersect the front, middle, or back edge. The leading edge usually will have no change, or a slight header. The back edge can be a big lift. Connect the puffs to work the back edge when sailing upwind.

At about a half mile and farther from shore, the long puffs are much larger, and last longer. They usually have straight leading edges. In long puffs, the wind is steadier, and will shift less at the edges. Even further from shore, the wind strength difference from puff to lull is much less, which makes it more difficult to read direction. The best strategy is to sail to next big puff, and to be on the long tack or gybe toward the next mark. Sail toward the “dark water”. 

As a young racer, I noticed Buddy Melges, the Midwest scow builder, champion and Olympic gold medalist, was always out on the water early before races, getting a feel for the wind of the day.

The How & Why of Sailing

By Gordy Bowers

I believe the how and why of sailing should be taught using the following concepts in order:

  1. Wind strength and direction
  2. Course heading angle and apparent wind
  3. Helm pressure: balance and imbalance
  4. Sail trim and shape
  5. Sailor form and movement


All sailors want to see and feel the wind like the Seagull, the Hawk and the Pelican.

The first step is wind strength awareness. Start by looking closely at the small ripple marks that look like fish scales made by wind pushing on the water surface. If they are close together there is more wind. When further apart, less wind. In winds of one to six miles per hour the water surface is flat with ripples about 1/8 inch high. There may be smooth sections that have less wind. Weight will be to leeward to keep hull wetted surface low and shape your sails.

As the wind velocity increases to from six to twelve knots (medium winds) small waves and chop up to one foot high will appear. There may also be some white caps. Between ten and twelve miles per hour sailing upwind close hauled you will begin hiking to maintain the correct heel angle for your class of boat.

 At twelve to eighteen (medium-heavy air) waves become higher—one to two feet and longer. The frequency and width of the white caps also increases. Over twelve knots most boats become overpowered so hiking alone will not maintain correct heel angle. Become more aware of wind pressure on your face —increasing, decreasing or steady.

As the wind increases over eighteen the waves become even higher depending on how far you are from the windward shore. On Lake Minnetonka with a maximum fetch of three miles waves will max out at about two to three feet high. On Lake Michigan when the wind comes onshore from a long distance  waves can be five feet high or more. 

Again, the ripples will always be on the wave surface. The more wind the more dense will be the ripples. When winds are medium to heavy you have to anticipate the gusts, flatten sail and ease the main and/or jib sheet.  Steering should be more aggressive as you react to wind and waves. 

When sailing upwind I look for patterns at three different levels. At fifteen feet to fifty yards out I am narrowly focused on the ripples and waves coming at the boat. At this distance at least five seconds are  needed to react with helm, sheet and weight movement. Second, from fifty up to  four hundred yards I will be observing the leading edge of the puffs for speed, shape and direction.Thirdly, beyond four hundred yards is the long range forecast distance where you should look for small light and dark differences through a ninety degree range – left, middle and right. The best racers stand up before the start to get a better view of the puffs and lulls. 

The  distances are shortened down wind because your boat is sailing away from the wind. Also, the puffs and lulls feel less intense because your apparent wind is less. You must look aft more often to see the new wind coming.

Practice looking so you see the wind like the birds.

Give the Gift of Sailing

Looking to give the gift of sailing this holiday season? Purchase a class online through LMSS and then click on image below to download and print a gift certificate for the lucky recipient!

We extend our very best wishes for a happy holiday season!

2021 Camp Registration is LIVE!

Sign up today! Registration is now available for 2021 recreational camps.

Recreational Sailing programs at LMSS are designed to provide a quality sailing experience for students who have little or no experience, or for those who want to enjoy sailing in a relaxed, non-competitive environment. Working with US Sailing Certified instructors and using curriculum that teaches the basics in a fun atmosphere, there is no better place to spend your summers than with LMSS.

Be sure to choose the same class as your friends and family to ensure you’re together. Don’t delay, spots fill fast! Get the details and register today.

Stay tuned racers! Learn to Race and Race Team signups will be available beginning January 1.

Sail with LMSS in 2021

Join us! The Sail with LMSS Membership is for sailors with prior experience looking to improve their skills, weekday evenings and Saturday afternoons.


  • June 7 – August 27
  • Monday – Friday from 5pm – 8pm, Saturday 1pm – 5pm

Enjoy unlimited access to LMSS sailboats: Pram, Hartley and Club 420s, plus a two-hour lesson, Monday night small group “chalk talks” by accredited guest sailors and access to LMSS island facilities. Bring one friend or family member for free every time you sail!

LIMITED TIME ONLY! Save $100 off 2021 membership fees now through December 31, 2020. Learn more and register today!

LMSS Fall Team Racing

LMSS is offering a Fall Team Race Series on Monday nights. This series is open to sailors of any age range (including students and adults) interested in competitive team racing in the 420. Create your team of six (three skippers and three crew) and sign up for one round-robin of racing.

Teams are reserved by paying a $60 entry fee for each Monday night event. Space is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Fees are refundable if races are cancelled due to storms and/or no breeze. Sailors will be responsible for distributing team fees ($10/sailor). 

All participants must complete an LMSS waiver to be eligible to race. Capacity is limited to six teams per night. Team arrivals will be staggered to coincide with flight times. The first racing flight starts at 4:30pm; no flight will start after 7pm.

Click on a date for team registration: September 21, September 28, October 5 and October 12.

NEW Learn to Sail Classes for Fall 2020

Looking for an introduction to the sport of sailing? LMSS is offering an abbreviated learn-to-sail class for students in grades 6-8 and 9-12. These sessions are not affiliated with middle and high school sailing. The class capacity will be limited to 10 sailors. Register today.

Recreational Sailing Grades 6 – 8
Double-handed Hartley 12 Sailboat
Tuesday – Friday, 4:30pm – 7pm 
Cost: $195*
 Session 01 – Sept 7 – 10 (Tu – Th *$145)
Session 02 – Sept 14 – 18
Session 03 – Sept 21 – 25
Session 04 – Sept 29 – Oct 2
Recreational Sailing Grades 9 – 12
Double-handed 420 Sailboat
Tuesday – Friday, 4:00pm – 6:30pm 
Cost: $195*
Session 01 – Sept 7 – 10 (Tu – Th *$145)
Session 02 – Sept 14 – 18
Session 03 – Sept 21 – 25
Session 04 – Sept 29 – Oct 2