This video made by the Laser Center at Cabarete gives a brand new insight into the answers to these questions. Featuring Laser sailor, Julio Alsogaray, winner of the 10th Caribbean Laser Midwinter Regatta - with commentary by the Laser Center at Cabarete head coach, Rulo Borojovich - you can at last see where a champion is looking in various phases of upwind sailing.
Rulo tell us that in the sprint after the start you need to focus on your boat speed and looking at such things as your telltales and the waves in front of you.
Once you pop out in front of the group (you always do, don't you?) you need to look around to see if you are on a header or a lift, and where the wind pressure is up the course. You constantly need to switch attention between the boat, the sail, the approaching waves, the sailing angles of the other boats, the windward mark and the clouds in the sky etc. etc. etc.
Hmmm. In the one minute of sailing by Julio in this video, I counted him switching attention from one place to another at least thirty times! Once every two seconds!
Speaking purely personally I know that one of my faults is spending too much time looking at the telltales on the sail to make sure I am not sailing too high or too low when sailing upwind. A coach recently told me to look forward, not at the telltales, and with experience I would learn to "feel" when I was pinching or stalling the sail, and be able to make adjustments without being so fixated on the telltales. I did try that in my last practice session, and I'm sure it's a good thing to do in practice - almost as good as sailing with your eyes closed - but the video of Julio demonstrates that top sailors are constantly flicking their eyes all over the place... the boat, the telltales, the waves in front, the pressure up the course, the other boats to right and left and behind, the leech, the sky, the windward mark... and repeat and repeat and repeat.
I wrote a post on this subject, Snap!, back in 2006. It was written after a race where I was so focused on boat speed that I didn't even notice that the wind was stronger on the other side of the course and I should have been heading over there for that better wind. I wrote about how I should have been taking "snapshots", switching attention every few seconds between all the variables. "Telltales look OK? Boat flat? What's the wind ahead doing? Where's the next puff? Am I being headed? Big picture wind - where is it strongest?"
Hmmm. So if I knew all that six years ago, why am I still not doing it consistently?
Thanks Rulo for reminding me.