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Thought for the day - Its all in the start

In most radio and dinghy sailing the start and first tack are so important.

If you with the starts from the Worlds in Brazil, you will know that there is a 1 in 3 chance of getting a good start at the popular end of the line. As you move away from that are your chances of a good start increase exponentially albeit sacrificing distance because of the line bias. If you can start in clean air and get to the favourable side of the beat fast then losing a little on the start line will not hurt much. There is one start where Peter Stollery in boat 39 is at the wrong leeward end of the line but he sails all the way to the favoured side, does one tack onto port, overstands the mark slightly and rounds first.

The other thing I noted was he hangs back from the line and starts accelerating with 4 seconds to go. The rest of the fleet sheet in with 1 or 2 seconds to go. Those 2 seconds gives Peter the advantage on the start as his nose is slightly ahead of the field.

If you want more evidence, see how critical the start is in an Americas cup race. If you could start to windward of your opponent and hold your lane as the Italians did, they would be the first to tack at the boundary and lee bow their opponent across the course to the next boundary and the game was over. The Italians were able to beat the New Zealanders 3 times by doing this even though they were in a slower boat.

If you want to review the basics, its all here

The Start

What you need to know

The start is 80% of the race

There are fundamentals to consider, speed, clear air, use of line bias, head to favourable side of beat

Other considerations, current, avoid crowds, watch for new wind

Key rules to know, how do you return to the line

Putting it into practice - live videos

The Detail

Start fundamentals

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.

Other considerations

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.

Key rules

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.

Putting it into practice videos (click on the underlined link)

Start 1 Starboard bias, left side of course favourable

Start 2 Heavy starboard bias, left side of course favourable

Start 3 Port bias (currently looking for video)

Start 4 Heavy port bias

Start 5 DF95 starts and statistics

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1 commentaire

While I fully agree that the Start &’even more the first Mark are important in each & every race. It’s the skippers who make the fewest mistakes & catch the wind shifts first who will cross the finish line a the top of the fleet. Staying out of trouble needs to be the most important aspect of sailing at any level .... the crowd at the start line is the perfect place for trouble. High line to avoid the pack then nose down for speeding ahead of the start line drama. Just my .02 cents worth.

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