The start has always been described as the most important part of any race, it is either an opportunity to put yourself at the front of the fleet in clean air or to get spat out of the back. This is often highlighted further when racing at sailing clubs with mix fleet line-ups and quirky courses.
We are going to have a look at three simple tips to help you get off that start line in clear air and in your ideal position:
- Checking the line bias
- Linking your start to your first beat plan
- Knowing the fleet
Check the Line Bias
It is always challenging setting a start line, but this can be even harder for the volunteer races officers at club level. This can be down to time pressures in setting up the course or local factors like sand banks or the lakes shape. This means that we often end up with one end of the line being favoured compared to the other.
Working this out is vital and can be done in several ways. One simple method is to reach straight down the line towards the port end and trim your sail perfectly to the tell tales. Then tack over as sail back towards the starboard end, but do not change your mainsheet from its earlier position. When sailing back to the starboard end, if you feel like you need to pull you sail in more, the line is starboard biased… but if you need to let your sail back out then its port bias.
If the start to too long or overcrowded, another method is to stop you boat head to wind on the line. Then use both your arm to point at either end of the line, the end with has a small angle between your arm at the front of your boat is the favoured end. This technique can be challenging if you are in a single hander or if it is windy.
Disregarding any other factors starting at this favoured end of the line will give you the jump of the rest of the fleet and is a great basic principle to work from. However, it is not as simple as that, the next two points will help explain why.
Linking your start to your first beat plan
Wind bends around small islands, strong tide in deep-water channels and wind shadow caused by tree-lined banks are all factors that are going to affect what the ideal course to the first mark will be. Linking this plan to how we approach each start is vital to ensure freedom to benefit from the gaining factor.
For example: if you know there is going to less wind on the left-hand side of the course due to a bank of trees on the shoreline, you will want to avoid sailing across to that side. Instead, being free to tack onto port and sail up the right side of the beat in more wind is the preferred option. Therefore, starting at the starboard end of the line will mean more opportunity to tack out onto port early and less risk of being forced into the wind shadow by the other boats around you.
This is challenging as noticing and understanding all these different factors before a start is a large enough subject to warrant another article. A simple solution is to ask a few of your clubs’ hotshots “What their plan was?” at the bar after sailing. You will soon build up a picture of what is important to think about at your local club.
However, this information is useless unless we can use it effectively and plan our start around your first beat options.
Knowing the fleet
With either handicap racing or a large range in experience within a single fleet start, knowing your fleet is very important when lining up for a start.
Racking up to leeward of an RS200 when your sailing a topper is never going to end well. No matter how hard you try, you will be in dirty air within 30 seconds of the start. Tacking off is now your only option, even if you wanted to hold out to the left of the beat.
Noticing where certain boats are lining up and understanding how that is going to affect you, means that you can readjust your original plan to make sure you have the best chance of achieving it.
But also if you’re not too sure on what to do your-self and there are all of the best sailors at your club lining up down at the port end, that can give you a good indication that that’s place to be.
Let me know in the comment section below if there are any more top tips you think are important!