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Thought for the day - The easy and hard details of starting

Now I am in a more positive frame of mind, I was listening to a podcast on neuroscience and how the brain causes you to feel, see and hear and my mind drifted onto the detail of starting and how we feel the boat through the transmitter and our eyes. At the end of the day it is down to feel but how does feel work and how can we help ourselves develop the right feel to sail fast. This explanation is more to help me than anything else but it may help you figure out your own starting technique.

I covered the basic elements of starting in the web site, i.e. right end of line, a gap to leeward, good speed, sailing to the right side of the course.

As I proved in the last two events, this is not so easy and I was the master of coming off a start line consistently, behind the fleet. All the errors were documented and now wiped from the memory. However I now believe firmly that if I can consistently come off the line last I can come away first. You have to be pretty skilful to start behind the fleet all the time.

Breaking the start down, there are some easy pieces to manage and some difficult pieces that require practice, precision and a relaxed finger on the control sticks.

First the easy bits (I think I do these well)

Picking the right end of the line

Setting out a plan for the first 80 yards

Positioning the boat for the final one minute run in, either holding station on starboard if there is a crowd or sailing into a gap in the last 40 seconds.

Now the hard bits

Holding your boat precisely on the line creating a gap to leeward so you can start faster than the other boats. (need to work hard on this)

Pulling the trigger in the final seconds before the gun (work in progress)

Setting the sails for maximum speed and sailing boat at the right angle to the wind. (focus on sailing fast and free)

Sailing at full speed as fast or faster than the boats around you

The easy bits are explained on the web site and need no further explanation

I want to study the hard bits in more detail

Holding the boat on the line is an art form. Most of the people we sail against have been doing this for years and know all the techniques. I can only recommend lots of practice and perhaps try some of the following ideas.

When holding station on the line the temptation is to let the sails out fully so the boat stops, however the problem with this is the boat will fall away from the wind and when the sails fill you shoot down the line into the next leeward boat.. The trick to practice with the sheet in say half way or a quarter in, so when the boat falls off the wind as the leach of the main fills it pushes the boat back into wind. You won't go forward much but you will stop falling to leeward as much as before and hold the boat at a steady angle to the wind. The question for each condition you start in, is how much to sheet in to hold the boat at the right angle. Only practice will determine this and remember the good skipper will be doing this automatically.

Once you establish a position a few seconds before the gun, do you like me and probably most of the fleet pull the sheet control stick down hard to go from stationary to flat out. Let's examine this in detail because I think there is a technique that will create a slight advantage here and even a quarter of a boatlength is an advantage worth having.

Say your boat is lying stationary 45 degrees to the wind, you then pull the sails in hard and luff up. Two things will happen and this will only be for a second or so but the sail will stall and the boat will go sideways initially before flow is established around the keel, albeit in an IOM this is probably less than a second. If you have ever sailed on a yacht you will know that after a tack you ease the sheets until laminar flow is established across the sails and as the boat speed builds you sheet in fully. It's the same principle on an IOM but the boat is up to speed in seconds.

That begs the question, how do you sheet in the correct amount in those last seconds before the gun to get maximum acceleration on the line. Here is a technique I am going to experiment with.

In light weather I will not change anything as it is easy to sheet in slowly off the start line but as the wind builds and things happen rather quickly and there is a tendency to panic so I am going to try the following. When setting up the sheeting using the end point on the transmitter, I make sure that I can ease the sheet at least 5 clicks using the fine control switch. Tuning up prior to the start I will have everything set up for normal racing. Then with a couple of minutes to go before the start I will ease the sheet 5 clicks using the fine control on the transmitter which eases the boom at the post 3 mm. This will allow me to sheet in hard at the start but still have the sails slightly eased with lots of twist so I can drive the boat hard and then put the fine control down 5 clicks as soon as I have speed which I appreciate is within seconds. I feel that this will work well in choppy conditions but maybe not in flat water. This maybe great on paper but in the heat of the start who knows. I am still learning and time will tell if this works but I will start by practicing with another boat to see how I get on

The last piece of the jigsaw is sailing as fast if not faster than the boats around you. My one observation on the top sailors is how calm they are and how BG always puts the bow down for speed. After all this is probably their race number 4592 for them compared to approx 54 races for me. For them its just another race but for me it is still new and still testing out different techniques. So two ingredients for speed.

Ideally have a gap to leeward so you can foot the boat off and get a nose in front. That will be even more advantageous if you have the sails slightly eased as it forces you to sail bow down for speed. As I learned at the nationals, one bad wave or a slight accidental luff puts you behind the bulk of the fleet.

All the above is based on my light weather sailing technique where I know I am fast off the start line and use exactly the above technique but ease the sails out using the ratchet on the sheet control stick. In a breeze I am too violent on the sticks and have not perfected the same technique to get off the start line first, hence the technique to try above. I am sure once I get the hang of sailing in a breeze I will use the control sticks with dexterity.

Finally I noticed at the Nationals and the recent ranking event that some of the top guys appeared to be using more than the standard foot depth setting for the BG jib. My guide on the A rig says up to 22 mm so I am going to use that as a minimum and see how deep I can go in club racing. The main remains as at a standard depth of 15mm.

So my quest to get better starts continues tomorrow at Frensham Pond. The wind is not from the best direction but we will get some racing in.

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