By Bill Kline
The weather leg is where most races are won, but you’ve got to get going up the weather leg first and that’s where it pays to get a good start. There are three elements to a good start: clear air, boat speed, and timing. Of the three, clear air is the most important.
You can’t sail fast – or sail at all – if you are buried under another boat’s wind shadow! The hard part is finding a hole on the line at the right time. One way is to set up a bit early on port tack, then pick your spot and tack over onto starboard with about 30 seconds to go. That will allow you to accelerate after the tack and hit the line with good boat speed. Hitting the line right at
the start is tough. It’s easy to be early and then have to luff or jibe around. Either maneuver kills time, but also kills speed. Better to be a bit late, than too early. Lots of sailors use a modified “Vanderbilt” start. With one minute to go, reach off from the end of the line for 25 seconds then tack or jibe back towards the line. Your speed on either reach should be about the same, and you’ll use up 10 seconds getting turned around, so theoretically you’ll end up right at the line with a full head of steam. When done right, you’ll only need to round up and head for the mark. The problem with this method is that you’ll be “barging” at the end of the line and the racing rules allow any boats below you to force you over the line early, or to peel you off at the end of the line. Of course, it makes for great fun to have a pile of boats all converging on the end of the line, but you can’t sail fast in a group. Use the
Vanderbilt start if you like, but aim to hit the middle of the line, not the end, and you’ll avoid the crowd at the end. If you are a bit early, you can kill time in the middle then bear off for the far end of the line.
The Racing Rules make port tack boats give way to starboard tack boats, so most of the time you’ll want to be on starboard tack at the start. There are days, however, when the starting line is biased towards a port tack start. The fastest way to the weather mark is to be on the tack closest to the mark. If that’s a port tack start, so be it — just keep and eye on starboard tack boats and be prepared to tack away, or duck! Better yet, start on starboard tack then tack over as soon as you are clear.
Before starting, take some time to sail upwind. Try to get a handle on what the wind is doing and which tack will be closest to the first mark. Plan your first leg, then decide where you want to be on the starting line. The length of the starting line in relationship to the number of boats starting will determine the “density” factor at the start. Lots of boats and/or a short line will require a higher level of skill and your best timing to get off to a good start.
At CCSA we always use the “no penalty” start. This means that if you are over early, you must simply get back to the right side of the line and re-start. No need to round the end of the line. Remember that the racing rules apply so take care not to foul another boat when trying to get back to the right side of the line.
If you aren’t over early everyone in a while, you aren’t trying hard enough!