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Winter Series Session 7: Starting, part A

We’ve got our head in the wrong game.  Most of the time, our approach to starting has been to tangle with boats going for the boat end of the line as if we are in a match race.  Sure, it’s exciting and really fun to push someone over the line, or pinch them off at the committee boat, but the risks are high, and even if we are successful, we find ourselves in a starboard tack parade of bad air, unable to tack.

Walker suggest we put our head into a different game, with three goals:

  1. Clear Air
  2. Well-timed start near the favoured end of the line
  3. Freedom to sail to the preferred side of the course

Basically, we should only pay enough attention to the other boats to make sure we have the tactical position we want.  That makes sense, but what position do we want?

Collecting Data

This depends on the wind: ODSSSIC.  If a persistent shift is expected, we know we want to sail on the headed tack early in the leg.  Our start should give us the flexibility to do that.  And if the wind is oscillating, we need to be able to tack to take advantage of the shifts.  We’ll know this by collecting data before the start.  True wind angles, compass readings on close-hauled headings, what’s happening in the sky, what’s happening to other fleets.

We also want to know which end of the line is favoured.  Starting near it can put us a few boat-lengths ahead.  In oscillating winds, the favoured end can change from one fleet to another, so we need to monitor closely.

Where to start

By collecting data, we should know which side of the course we want to sail on, and which side of the line is favoured.  Now we have three choices:

  1. Leeward:  (Starboard-tack start just to leeward of the fleet):
    1. Pros:
      • Freedom to continue in clear air toward the left-side of the course.
      • Choose our own spot away from traffic.
    2. Cons:
      • Can’t tack onto port in a header or to get to the right side of the course.
    3. When to do this:
      • Boat end favoured
      • Pin end favoured
      • Left-hand side of the course favoured
      • Oscillations minor/unlikely
  2. Windward: (Starboard-tack start just to windward of the fleet):
    1. Pros:
      • Freedom to tack
    2. Cons:
      • Backwinded
      • Tricky and crowded
    3. When to do this:
      • Boat end favoured
      • Freedom to tack is important
  3. Port-tack start
    1. Pros
      • Really Macho
      • Yeehaw!!!
      • Clear air
    2. Cons
      • Tricky
      • May have to duck much of the fleet
    3. When to do this
      • Pin end favoured
      • Right side of course advantageous
      • Moderate air

The standard technique

Okay, now we know where to start.  How do we get there?  Walker advises that we

  1. Choose where we want to start
  2. Draw an imaginary layline to that position (use something on shore as a range)
  3. Identify a position along that layline approx 100m from the start line
  4. Note: 100m at 6 knots takes about 30 seconds to sail once powered up after a tack
  5. Sail a base leg on port to that position, arriving there about 45 seconds from the start
  6. Tack and go for it!

Of course, we have to watch for traffic, execute a great tack and keep our eyes on time and distance to make sure we aren’t early.  Getting this right will take practice.  And it will take technology!

Time and Distance

Fortunately, we have that technology.  The iRegatta app has a starting mode with a burn-down indicator that will glow red when we are early, and “green means go”.  We just gotta start using this tech!

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