Small Boat Racing, The Start


This is one of the best videos I have found that explains small boat racing starts. This is the time before the race when things get pretty crazy so it’s good to have a plan for the start.  I also like this video because it talks about how to know which side of the course if favored, something I differently need to work on. This video is also a good follow-up to Terry Hutchinson’s discussion about what he does to warm up before the start. This video comes from AOL.  Even though this is about small boats, I think the same principles apply to all sailing starts no matter the size of your boat.  Look this one over, I think you will like this video.  FYI, listed below is the transcript for this video.  Jim Jeffries is noted as the author of this video. Give it up for Great Starts.

“The starting line has a starting side and a course side. The only requirement for a successful start is that after the sound of the starting gun or horn, boats cross the starting line from the starting side to the course side. Any boats which were on the course side of the line at the sound of a gun are declared overearly and must sail back across the starting line and restart while avoiding any boats that started correctly. Since overearlies are announced after the starting gun, a boat that is overearly will have the entire fleet right behind it.

You will have to sail around everyone and start in the very back of the fleet, and overearly penalty will almost certainly result in a resounding loss. The ultimate goal of starting is to hit the starting line exactly as the gun goes off moving at full speed with clear air to sailing toward the favored side of the course. A good start generally guarantees a good finish. Your job as skipper is to get the best start you can and then not to loose that position.

But before we could figure out how to get to the line on time, we have to figure out where the line is. The starting line will usually be perpendicular to the first leg of the course. The start will either be described by the line between two buoys, the line between a buoy and a pole on a committee boat called a exciting pole or gate starts by the wake up of boat called “The Rabbit”.

In former races the starting line will usually be drawn between the committee boat and a buoy set to mark the starting line. The committee boat is so named because the race committee and the people responsible for ensuring the races run fairly is on this boat. The buoy that marks the other end of the starting line is sometimes referred to as the pin. In almost all races, the pin will be the left-end of the starting line and the committee boat will be the right-end of the starting line.

A good way to find the starting line is to take line sag prior to the race. Sail to a point where you can line the two ends of the starting line up with the shore. Note an immovable onshore object that is inline with the two ends of the starting line. Later as you approach the starting line watch the shore object and one of the ends of the starting line. When the two aligned, you are on the line. Once you found the starting line, you are ready to get into position to start. One thing that can help is finding the favored end. The starting line is supposed to be set up perpendicular to the wind, however if the wind shifts towards one side of the other, backside of the starting line will be favored because this is the end that is farther upwind of the two.

If the wind shifted to one side, a close-hauled course from that side will pass closer to the windward mark than a close-hauled course from the other end of the line. If the wind shifts to the left, the close-hauled course is that boats can sail shift to the left. This shifts the no-go zone to the left and moves the port tack course from the pin closer to the windward mark. The close-hauled courses from the right-end of the line will also shift left but this shift makes either port or starboard tacks start from the boat end of the line not favorable.

If the wind shifts far enough that a close-hauled course from the starting line will head directly to the mark, the first elect of the race is referred to as a one-legged beat meaning it’s unnecessary to tack to fetch the mark. Many race committees will postpone the race and reset the marker buoys if the wind shafts far enough creating one legged beat scenario. If they don’t with the one-legged beat will be an all-out sprint, so your goal should be max speed and clear air.

By adjusting your starting line position you can maximize your new courses potential, you want to start on the side of the line that is closest to the wind. Start by sailing towards the line, do this very early so there won’t be too many other boats around. They could throw off your measurement. When you are on the starting line turn into the wind like you are tacking but don’t finish the tack, if you are on port tack, turn to port. If you are on starboard tack turn to starboard. When the wind is coming from directly ahead and your sails are laughing take note of the balance position. Does it point closer to the pin-end or the boat end, which ever end it points closest to is the favored end. Finding the favored end is important but finding a clear spot on the line is more important. Fleets tend to bunch up around the favored end and you may wind up getting lost in the pack blanketed without wind.

So, if you can’t get a clear spot of the favored end, set for clear spots somewhere else. You have a million other things to worry about like how to start. Once you find your starting spot and you have your line side, the last piece of the puzzle is determining how you arrive at the starting line at the starting time were gone. For beginners, it may be the easiest to start from a dead start, while the fleet is jockeying for position to sail into position just sail up to your chosen spot on the line and left your sails. When the starting gun goes off or just before the skipper can sheet in the sails and head across starting line. The advantage here is that you will have your spot all the line, the disadvantage is that you will be at full speed when you cross the line. With these which accelerate quickly this is a useful starting technique.

Hitting the line at full speed when the gun goes off requires that you can protect where your boat will be at a particular time and that is no easy feet. If you are looking for an aggressive start you can always try the dip start. The dip start is risky and sometimes illegal. Some races require that all boats be behind the starting line one minute prior to the start of the race. Some don’t. In races it don’t, the dip start can be useful. The dip start success depends on a phenomenon known as midline sag.

Midline sag occurs because the closer you get to the center of the starting line; the harder it is to tell exactly where the line is. To avoid being overearly, many skippers will hang back a little bit. The space between boats and the starting line is where the dip starter will make their move. To execute a dip start, sail down the course side of the starting line close to the start of the race. Keep an eye out for any opening on the starting side of the line. Because of midline sag you can be reasonably sure there will be space in the middle. And once you found an opening head for the line being sure to across it before the gun goes off. Once you cross the line, head up to cross in the right direction when the gun does go off. If successful, you will have jumped in front of the rest of the fleet and if you harden up onto a starboard tack you have the right of way as well. The secret to the dip start is that racing rules only say that you must cross the starting line after the gun. As long as you are on the correct side of the line when the gun goes off and your race committee hasn’t banned dip start you should start the race in a very good position because of its tricky nature, the dip start is not recommended for beginners. If you don’t have a committee boat or formalized starting line, a good way to quickly run fleet races is the gate start, sometimes known as the rabbit start.

The rabbit start is the simplest start and is good for in former racing or practice. Starting from the levered mark, a racer designated as the rabbit heads up on port tack. The starting line is the space between the levered mark and the rabbit. The rabbit may not tack into all other boats have crossed its way but the other boats may not tack until the rabbit does. To win a lot of races quickly have your races end at the levered mark. The last boat to finish becomes the rabbit for the next race. All this boat needs to do is round up to start the next race.

The starting method is fast and easy and gives the rabbit, who finish the previous race last a head start. Because starboard tack has the right-of-way over port tack, common sense would dictate that start should be made on a starboard tack. For most situations, this makes the most sense; you don’t want to be force to give way just as the race is starting particularly because the fleet will be predominantly on starboard tack. However for those sailors, who aren’t faint of heart, the port tack start has a few advantages.

The port tack start is almost mythical in its difficulty. The goal is to start from the pin-end of the line on port tack across the entire fleet make the layline tack onto starboard and fetch the mark having only executed one tack of wind. Boats that started on starboard will have to eventually tack onto port to fetch the layline. Since you already be on starboard and on the layline any boat that you encounter will have to give way keeping you in a good position.

Assuming no unfavorable wind shifts, a successful port tack start should guarantee that you are among the first to the windward mark. This is an overly ideal version of the port tack start. In reality you will probably need to tack several times on your way to the windward mark but you will have the benefit of clear air.

Let’s take a look at some of the down side to discuss the maneuver. The most obvious obstacle to port tack start is right-of-way. All the boats that start on starboard tack it force you to give way. You must pass far enough in front of them that they don’t have to change course. Doing so would cause you to get hit with a failing to give way penalty. Also be aware that other sailors will know about the port tack start and the advantages it offers. So one or more may try to squeeze you out or they may try to outright block you at the pin. In this case, you either have to retire from the race or jump behind the blocking boat. This will put you into a fleet on the port tack and you will quickly have to tack onto starboard.

Another problem with the port tack start is strategic. If you sail with the fleet, you will receive the same benefits and penalties from wind shifts as everyone else. You might not sail as quickly as possible but neither will anyone else. You all stay together. However if you are off-sailing by yourself the fleet might get a puff that you don’t. If you are on different tacks at favorable wind shift that might affect the fleet got a lift would adversely affect you, which is called a header. You will then have to bear off or tack while the fleets knew close-hauled course will bring it closer to the mark. The opposite could happen too. You could benefit from a wind shift that puts you so far ahead that everyone else might as work. Keeping your eyes open will help you if you choose to sail the first leg of the beat on port tack.”

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