STARTING 2.0: ADVANCED SAILING START STRATEGIES
In a previous blog post, The Secrets of a great Sailing Start, we looked at the fundamentals of getting a good start and why it’s important to your overall success on the course.
We identified five elements that go into executing a good sailing start:
– Be as close to the line as possible
– Be sailing as fast as possible as the start gun fires
– Be as close to the favoured end of the line as possible
– Have good space either side of you, especially to leeward
– Make sure your start fits with your bigger course strategy.
If you need to remind yourself of the fundamentals of good starting, go back through that blog post first.
ADVANCED STARTING STRATEGIES FOR SAILING
Now we’ll dig into some more advanced starting strategies. One of the most critical is building a Pre-Start Routine. Why? Because the build-up to the start and the start itself can be hectic, and it can be overwhelming. Over time, if you build up a Pre-Start Routine, it will help you cope with all the different things to think about. A bit like an airline pilot running pre-flight checks before take-off.
Before you launch, run down your checklist and make sure you’ve remembered everything that needs to be done before going afloat.
BEFORE YOU GO AFLOAT
Have you registered that you’re going racing? Eg. is there a tally system or a sign-out system?
Got your watch, buoyancy aid, gloves, drinking water etc? If you don’t have a checklist, make one!
AS YOU SAIL OUT TO THE START
Make sure you’ve given yourself plenty of time before the start sequence gets underway.
Check how the boat feels upwind and downwind.
Is the rig set up right for the wind and wave conditions?
Has the spinnaker been rigged without any twists etc?
What compass readings are you getting on port and starboard tack? Make a note of them.
USING THE SAILING START SEQUENCE TO SET YOUR ROUTINE
10 MINUTES BEFORE THE START
Make sure you get back to the Starting Area in good time. Are there transits you’ll be able to take from one or both ends of the start line? Sit next to a mark or an anchored boat and watch for any current or tidal effects. If there is current, will it be pushing you over or back from the start line?
5 MINUTES BEFORE THE START, WARNING SIGNAL
Make sure your watch is running the real time accurately. A lot of race officers run their start time to the actual time, in which case you’ll have a very good idea of when the 5 minute gun is about to sound. Watch for the flag going up on the boat, and start your countdown as the flag is hoisted. This is more accurate than listening for the sound of the gun or the hooter, as sound takes longer than light to reach you.
Double-check your transits because once the start sequence is in play, the race committee is not allowed to change the start line. Do some timed runs towards the start line to gauge how long it will take to move forwards.
4 MINUTES BEFORE THE START, PREPARATORY SIGNAL
Watch out for which flag is being used ‘P, I, U, Z or Black’. Check your Racing Rules as to which ones to watch out for.
With a P flag, the Blue Peter, you can afford to push the limits of the start line a bit more, knowing that if you start too soon you can still turn back to restart the race. It’s still an expensive mistake, but at least you won’t be disqualified.
An ‘I’ flag means you have to sail round one end of the start line to restart before you can make your way up the course. This flag isn’t used much these days, however. The same with the ‘Z’ flag, where you’re able to finish the race even if you start too early, but will have 20% added to your finishing position. Pretty unlikely you’ll see the Z used much in your sailing career.
The ‘U’ and the Black flag, however, are much more common, especially in high-level regattas like National and World Championships. If you’re over the line in the final minute before start time, you’re disqualified from the race. It’s a harsh penalty, but it helps the race committee get starts away for really competitive fleets where everyone is pushing for the best start possible.
In the minutes from 4 to 1 before the start, continue to check the bias of the line. Is the wind shifting? Where is most of the fleet stacking up? Continue to keep your options open, particularly on a day when the wind is flicking from side to side, or when clouds are appearing on one side of the course or the other.
1 MINUTE BEFORE THE START, PREPARATORY FLAG DOWN
Depending on the flag being used, at this stage in the start you need to be in your desired starting position and lined up with enough room to accelerate on to the line. Always keep communication about Time and Distance going. If you’re starting under a U or a Black Flag, remember you can’t afford to risk instant disqualification for crossing the line too soon. But this very fact means a lot of the fleet might be being too ‘line shy’. If you are confident of your transits, use them! Move forwards even if you think the rest of the fleet around you is going to be late. But if you think others are ‘pulling the trigger’ too soon. Don’t go with them unless you believe you can’t be spotted by the line spotters. Better to be late than disqualified.
THE START! CLASS FLAG DOWN
As the start gun fires, you should have already been accelerating in the previous 2 to 15 seconds, depending on how long it takes to get your boat up to speed and the strength of the wind. This is where your acceleration drills will really help you out as you aim to go from a standing stop up to full speed as quickly as possible.
WHAT’S YOUR PLAN B?
Even the best laid plans can go wrong, especially when it comes to starting on a busy start line in a big fleet. So what’s your escape plan? If you’re a singlehanded sailor, your own tactician, have a clear plan in your mind about what your ‘bail-out’ option is if Plan A goes wrong. If you’re sailing in a team of two or more, make sure everyone is clear about the Plan B so that there is no time wasted discussing alternative options.
EXAMPLE: LEFT-HAND FAVOURED COURSE AND PIN-END BIASED START LINE
Let’s pick one of the hardest options for a Plan B. Most of the fleet has identified that the race course favours going to the left-hand side because there’s more wind there. It’s also a pin-end biased start line. So the ideal place to start is to win the pin and have clear air out to the left. You go for it, but so do a lot of other boats. You fall out of your clear-air space in the front row with 20 seconds to go. Now is the time to accelerate to leeward of the fleet on starboard tack, gybe around, and duck the boats that are starting on starboard. Keep on ducking until you see a gap between two starboard tackers. Go for the gap and then keep on ducking and weaving through the gaps until you break out into clear air on port tack. Once you’ve got a clear lane back to the favoured left-hand side of the course, tack on to starboard. You might have given up ground to the best starters, but you’re now in clear air, sailing in the right direction. You’re still in the race!
PORT TACK STARTING
We just talked about a Plan B option where you bail out on to port tack as the least worst option. Sometimes starting on port tack can be your Plan A option. This applies mostly to faster boats capable of planing or foiling upwind. Nearly all catamarans, skiffs and foiling boats can benefit from starting on port tack because by the time any starboard tacker tried to tack on your wind, you’d be through the lee and out the other side of them.
If the right-hand side of the course looks favoured, the port tack start, behind all the starboard tackers, can be a really powerful move. Even on an even race course, starting on port can still work nicely because it gives you a much higher chance of getting into a clear lane quickly where you can sail the boat freely without other boats stuffing you up or taking your wind.
Look out for a lot more ‘go faster’ content coming your way from Sailmon. We’re keen to share more content on various topics that all add up to helping you sail better. Follow us onFacebook,Instagramor subscribe to our newsletter. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on this valuable content! We’re here to make you even better than you are today!
Check out this webinar!
When the clock slowly runs down to zero and the last starting signal is near. You try to claim that ideal starting position in a race, but that doesn't always work out the way you planned. Sounds familiar? To avoid that situation in the future we invite the World Championship Medallist Hannah Diamond for our third webinar in the Sail Better series. Hannah will share all her knowledge on how to improve your start tactics in sailing races. Of course, she is once again joined by our hosts Kalle Coster and Andy Rice for an educational one-hour session.
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