Recent correspondence suggested that an article of starting might be due. We know about the basics but what really matters on the start and how should we approach it.
The web site article is below but lets talk through a real start and see what we can learn.
The two minute warning is given and the 20 or so boats are all over the start line. Some are exploring port lifts on the left side of the beat, some are practicing port tack starts which might be feasible given the port hand bias on the line. Good luck to them. Others are testing the starboard hand side of the line to see if there are any wind peculiarities. But being smart we have already figured out our race plan. We want to start on the left hand side of the line about three quarters of the way down and tack as soon as we can. Once clear of boats we will work the left centre of the beat depending on how we see the gusts coming down the lake. Towards the top mark we want to be to the right of the fleet to maintain control when we approach the windward mark on starboard. The port hand end of the line is going to be crowded and we know that every one in 3 boat are going to get off the start line cleanly.
Thats the plan but how do we engineer a good start. First we need to practice our boat handling to make sure we can hold the boat stationary, accelerating and stopping into a gap, holding the boat to create a gap to leeward and then protecting the gap if someone tries to sail in from behind and of course good acceleration away from the start line. These skills are essential for a good start especially in a large fleet where boats line up 45 seconds before the start.
Now the tricky bit, which is to be assertive with the boats around. The importance of the plan is so you know exactly how to position your boat but here more than anywhere requires a positive mental attitude so you drive the boat exactly where you want to be. Any hesitation will be penalised. If you see a gap developing a few boat lengths to windward and your gap is not working out, don't hesitate to bail out and get into that other gap.
On last thing which is crucial is to always be in a position where you can see your boat. It sounds obvious but not so easily done in a large fleet. If the fleet push forward, you have to push forward too otherwise you loose sight of the boat and your start will be over.
So the one minute warning is given and all the boats are lining up. We are half way down the line and holding station. It takes less than ten seconds to sail to the port end so our plan is in play. We have created a 2 boat length gap to leeward and a boat is coming in fast from behind. We let him go knowing he will have to sail off down the line while he kills his speed.
All the boats are edging up to the line but be patient. If you can hold back slightly maintaining your gap to leeward without losing sight of the boat, you will be able to sheet in slightly ahead of the fleet. At 5 seconds the boats to leeward start edging down the line. Hold your station but be ready to sheet in on 3 seconds as you now have a healthy gap to leeward. Luff on the gun not before so you avoid being over and sail at max speed. Once settled, re evaluate which side of the beat to go for and react accordingly. If you want to tack and there are only on or two boats preventing you, see if you can squeeze them out so you can tack as soon as possible. To be most effective on the start you need a high mode and low mode. Make sure you have these set up.
Good luck with your starting and encourage your fellow club member to do practice starts so everyone gets sharp.
Here are the basics form the web site.
Clear air, boat speed, right end of the line, ability to sail toward favoured side of the beat.
What could be simpler? Easy I hear you say, until you put another 18 boats on the line all trying to do the same thing.
So how do you manage to get a good consistent start every time? Remember the golden rule of series sailing is not to win every race but to execute your plan and achieve a consistent result. There are some great videos at the bottom of this section which show how you can avoid the crowd but win the race. So where do you begin?
Check out the line bias, which is it, port or starboard end.
Relate this to which side of the beat you want to go which you established when sailing before the start. E.g. if the line has starboard bias but you want to head left, balance out starting in the rugby scrum at the windward end to starting a bit to leeward of the pack in clear air with the ability to foot fast to the favourable side of the course (stronger wind, shoreline shift, wind bend). If you watch starts of races with 15 plus boats (there are plenty of videos HERE), you will find that only 4-6 boats succeed in punching ahead of the fleet only 40 seconds or so after the start. That means if you start in the crowd you have less than a 1 in 3 chance of making a good start. Of course the more the starboard end bias, the nearer to that end of the line you have to be.
If there is port end bias and you want to head to the left hand side of the course, you have to be at the port end. If you have practiced your starting manoeuvres thoroughly then you will maximise your chance of getting a good start. The challenge you have trying a conservative start further up the line is that you will be forced to tack away early to the unfavourable side of the course. It will be nigh on impossible to hold your lane with a gaggle of boats ahead and or to leeward.
Overlay on top of this, any current that is pushing you over or behind or up and down the line.
Be very clear when to accelerate so as not to be early or late. Your practice will help enormously and you should be able to judge your acceleration to hit the line at maximum speed.
Look up the course for any wind shifts or gusts which may turn a port bias line into a starboard bias line, or suddenly favour the windward boats on a port bias line or visa versa.
Avoid starting near top competitors if they are faster than you, especially if they are to leeward.
Be able to sail in low fast mode and high mode to maintain a lane off the line. The ideal is fast and free to get clear and a high mode to get clear of leeward boats.
In a crowded start on a short line - start in middle of line ideally in a gap.
So what might a plan look like.
Start 2/3rd down the slight starboard end bias line. There is a heading breeze near the shoreline so I will sail in fast mode to get to it and tack early to stay middle left of the course. At his point I can judge that I am right in my thinking and adjust the plan accordingly. In the busy fleet, if I approach the windward mark on port I will tack on or above the lay-line, 6 or more boat lengths from the mark.
Of course if conditions change rapidly the plan might get thrown out of the window and you will respond to what you see. But the final approach to the windward mark will always stand.
Understand the various starting rules 30, 30.1, 30.3 and 30.4.
30 No flag flown - penalty incurred if you are over line at start and must dip back behind the line.
30.1 I Flag - 1 minute rule where your boat must remain behind the start line or its extensions. If over you must round the end of the line and then start.
30.3 U Flag. No part of a boat in triangle formed by start line and windward mark during last minute. If infringed boat is disqualified but not if restarted or resailed .
30.4 Black flag rule - Boat disqualified from this start and all subsequent restarts for being in the triangle of the line and the windward mark.
Be aware of any flags or announcements that may be flown/made and what they mean.
Remember - windward boat keeps clear and you cannot claim water at the starting mark at windward end of line.
An odd rule to note is that if a boat is stationary on the line with sails flapping they have to be treated as an obstruction and boats can call for water on you or you on them to go round behind that boat. If you have any doubt on this rule look HERE Quiz 29. The other quiz questions will open your eyes to the rules.
Keep clear of other boats when returning to the line.
If you take a penalty you have to sail clear of boats immediately and do your tack and gybe whatever the cost.