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

LMSS 2020 Pop-Up Fundraiser

It’s time for our annual fundraiser!! With significant budget impact due to COVID-19, this year’s fundraising is more critical than ever. For nearly 50 years, LMSS has provided outstanding training, and an engaging camp experience for sailors on Lighthouse Island. We’ve hosted students of all ages and abilities – from beginners to competitive sailors, training them to achieve their goals as individuals and teammates, all while emphasizing safety and skill development for a lifetime of sailing. LMSS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. 

As we are unable to provide an in-person event, we’ve come up with creative ways to support our organization virtually, “popping-up” now through Saturday, August 8:

  • Buy a Raffle Ticket for prizes ranging from restaurant gift certificates, stock the cellar items, or win half the jackpot! Drawings on Saturday, August 8 [purchase now]
  • Bid Online in the Auction August 1-8 for exciting items like sailing gear, jewelry, and personal services and treatments [preview items]
  • Suds for Sailors Boat Wash – secure a spot to have your boat cleaned by LMSS sailors at Minnetonka Yacht Club 11AM-1PM, Saturday, August 8 [secure a spot via ticket]
  • Join Us! We’ll be live on Facebook Saturday, August 8
  • Sponsor a Sailor – support a student who has set a goal to fundraise direct from friends and family [find a student]

Thank you! Your contributions this year will ensure our sailing community can sustain and thrive in these ever-changing circumstances, now and for years to come.

LMSS 2020 Singlehanded Invitational

Join us! The LMSS Singlehanded Invitational Regatta, our first racing event of the summer, will be held August 5-7! Safety is our top priority at this this event, and the format has been updated accordingly:

  • Singlehanded Laser fleets race the mornings of August 5-7
  • Singlehanded Opti fleet will race the afternoons of August 6-7
  • Fleets will have staggered start times to limit interactions between sailors, staff and coaches

Please visit Clubspot for more information and to register.

2020 Season Update

Thank you for your patience as we’ve navigated what is permissible for our classes the past several weeks. At this time, our plan going forward for the remainder of the summer is as follows below. Should this status change in the future, we will announce plans two weeks prior to the start of a new session.

Remainder of Season Offerings

LMSS will continue to operate single-handed, and select multi-household double-handed sailing to ensure social distancing measures can be met by all participants. For the remainder of the summer, we are able to operate the following as permitted by state and local government:

  • Opti Race Team and Opti Learn to Race
  • Recreational Camp, age 7-9 and 10-12
  • Laser Race Team
  • X Boat Race Team (multi-household)
  • Sail with LMSS Membership (multi-household)
  • Keelboat Sailing (solo, or family/household only at this time)

At this time all recreational camps are full. Capacity limits continue to dictate adjustments to class sizes and sessions. Classes are formed on a first-come, first-served basis, based on date of registration. If your registration is impacted, we will contact youand thank you for your patience.

Class Cancellations

Some classes continue to be impacted due to state regulation, and/or concern for adherence to social distancing measures. We continue to be unable to provide the following:

New students! If you have not done so already, please take a moment to become familiar with the LMSS COVID-19 Resource Page detailing our LMSS Safety Policy, and the many details surrounding our sailing season. Please note, all participants are required to complete an electronic waiver prior to day one of your session.**

Sign Up for LMSS Text Alerts

Once again this summer, LMSS will offer text alerts should we need to contact you in a timely manner (e.g. time-sensitive info, weather updates or cancellations).

To subscribe, text 22999 with the following keyword as the message: 

  • Keyword: LMSSCAMP for all daytime Recreational Camps: ages 7-9, 10-12
  • Keyword: LMSSRACE for Opti, Laser and X-Boat Learn to Race & Race Teams
  • Keyword: LMSS for evening Sail with LMSS and Keelboat Lessons