There’s nothing in sailing like shooting off the starting line at full speed in front of your competition. And while it sounds simple to execute, it is actually quite challenging as the fleet is scattered around the entire starting area. A good start is one of the most important parts of the race; if you achieve a good start, you’re bound to have a fast and fun race. In this article, Quantum’s Scott Nixon provides insight in a few key areas to help you slingshot your boat to the front of the fleet off the line.
Figure out where on the line you want to start.
Determine what end of the line is favored, if any. The simple way to do this is to luff your boat directly head to wind just behind the starting line and see which side your bow points to. Generally, this is the correct end to start at since it will be further upwind and closer to the first windward mark.
Develop a solid plan for the first leg.
Look around the starting area and up the racecourse. Where do you see the most wind? Is there current pushing or pulling your boat off the line? Do you think the wind will shift to the right or left due to a shoreline or approaching clouds? Take what you’ve learned from your observations and make your plan, since now you know what end is favored and where you should go on the first leg of the race.
Get into your predetermined starting area.
Stay near the starting line right before the warning signal sounds so that you can sail to either end of the line with time to spare. And don’t be late to the race! Once you’re in your desired area (pin end, middle, or boat end), stay back from the line so you won’t have to luff your sails and sail too slow. If you get to the line too early, you will end up spending valuable time and effort to slow your boat or even stop it. Boat control is hard when you’re not moving fast. Try to stay clear of other boats and remember who has right of way as you approach the line (port/starboard, windward/leeward). Position your boat so you can get to the line in clear air during the final minutes.
Accelerate to full speed before the gun.
Once in position, time your approach so you can get your boat up to full speed. The goal is to get your bow just behind the line at the gun with your boat sailing at a close hauled course going as fast as possible. Adjust your sails and steer smoothly with your rudder during this final approach, normally in the last 20 to 30 seconds of the start, so that you accelerate quickly without slowing the boat down. Use this momentum to hit the line faster than the boats around you. This will help you pop out just ahead of the fleet and enjoy clear air as you head off in the direction you choose. Try to avoid sailing in packs or with a boat tight on your lee bow (just ahead and to leeward). Other boats and competitors tight to leeward will slow you down, preventing you from putting your bow down to build speed or sail to your potential.
Practice makes perfect.
Getting into a prestart routine every race takes time and effort. But once you develop the timing and boat control to get off like a rocket, you will be destined for speedy starts. Good luck and sail fast.