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Sailboat Race Starting Techniques Page 1 of 3 by Allan Hoffman There are several ways of starting races Runners stand still behind a starting line then wait for the count down of on your mark get set and go at the sound of the starting gun Swimmers ice skaters and skiers start similarly Automobile oval track racers start in a prearranged rolling grid following a pace car As the grid approaches the starting line the pace car pulls off the track and the race is on Thoroughbred racing puts each horse into a separate chute where they stay until the doors open and the horses bolt out Those methods control the racers position and how he is allowed to move The LeMans Start in automobile racing is a little more interesting The cars are all lined up along one side of the track and the drivers stand opposite their cars on the other side At the starting gun the drivers run across the track get into their cars start them up and then drive onto the track Their position in the pack is largely determined by how well they run how quickly they situate themselves into their cars how well the car starts up and how well they avoid anyone else already on the track In sailboat racing during the starting countdown the racers jockey for position each trying to force a disadvantage on the other racers and to gain any advantage they can for themselves all at the same time Provided that he follows the rules of sailing exactly where each racer goes and how he gets there is uncontrolled What is the objective of a good start Most people will tell you that it is to hit the starting line as the bell sounds while going full speed Yeah Ill agree to that But its not that simple During the starting countdown we have to contend with five to ten other racers each trying to do exactly the same thing at exactly the same time Ive been in fleets with as many as 18 boats starting at once Now thatll keep you on your toes The real question though is how do you achieve a good start Starting is a difficult skill to master It often takes years to achieve proficiency There is an awful lot of stuff going on at once Each skipper wants to get an advantage such as a favored position while preventing the other skippers from taking that advantage away from him all while trying to hit that line at full speed as the bell sounds but not crossing the line before the bell sounds It is very chaotic out there Usually everyone wants to start at the starboard end of the line so they can be on starboard tack requiring all port tack boats to keep clear of them They also want to be the most windward boat so they can get the clear air The problem is that everyone cant get that most desired position What are the alternatives Well because of the jamup at the starboard end the other end of the line and the middle of the line are less congested You can try starting there But be mindful of starting on port tack There is nothing wrong with a port tack start but you must do it cleanly If you can cross all the starboard tackers then youve aced them all and got the better start In reality though you wont Its a rare occurrence Be prepared to give way by tacking onto starboard or ducking the stern of any starboard tack boats Why Because those are the rules thats why A porttack boat MUST keep clear of or give way toa starboardtack boat Period You can also follow the first tier of starters across the line Youll be just behind them but with good positioning for the first leg of the course If you sail smart during the rest of the race you may be able to overtake the boats that you followed over the starting line The most hideous and awful of things is barging Dont do it How can you not do it if you dont know what it is Barging is when a windward boat tries to wedge herself between the starting mark and the leeward boat closest to the mark when there is not enough room for her to fit Sailboat Race Starting Techniques Page 2 of 3 In the drawing boat A is close hauled and heading straight to the line on starboard perhaps a little too fast She has eased her sails to allow them to luff thereby slowing down a little Boat B has come alongside of boat A and has her sails in tight accelerating to the line Boat C is attempting to force herself between the starting mark and boat B where there is not enough room for her to fit Boat C is barging She has no right to do that Boat B should be hailing her to keep clear Also in the first and second positions boat A could have luffed Boat B up so that B would have to pass on the wrong side of the mark It is perfectly legal and boat B being the windward boat would have had to keep clear of A In that case boat C would have been blocked out altogether Forcing yourself in or not getting out of the way of a leeward boat is completely against the rules Barging is a risky maneuver If you try it be prepared to miss the start If you follow the rules most of the times you attempt to barge you will or should miss the start No one likes it when they miss the start but that is the risk you take when you attempt to barge Unlike at the rest of the marks on the course the inside boat is NOT entitled to room at a starting mark while she is on her final approach to the line in order to start But again its not that simple Before beginning her final approach while still jockeying for position the regular roomatthemarks rules DO apply to the inside boat As soon as the inside boat begins her final move towards the starting line where her objective is to actually start the race her rights to room at the starting mark disappear Poof Gone She MUST keep clear of both the starting mark and any leeward boats even if she misses the mark and does not start If you find yourself in that position acknowledge to yourself that you have blown the start and accept the penalty of a poor start To repeat myself do not force your way in and do not stand your ground by not giving way That is against the rules and it is unfair to the skipper who has developed his starting skills to the point where he is able to be in the right place at the right time As the leeward boat in a starting situation you have the power over the windward boats You can force them out of your way Dont let them push you around My suggestion is to avoid situations where you will become the barger and if you are in a convenient position close the door on bargers by hailing them to keep clear and by not giving them room to start Youve probably seen other skippers circle around at the starboard end of the starting line then zoop in at the mark at the last second getting themselves an excellent start It has everything to do with the skippers boat handling skills and sense of timing If your skills are sufficient by all means try it Just be prepared to back off or to turn away if the opening you are aiming for gets closed down on you If your skills are not sufficient you should do a more conservative start The second most hideous and awful of things is running down the line when you are early to the start In the drawing that would be if boat C ran along the line pushing both B and A out of her way It is not against the rules to run down the line But if you do it and there are any boats to leeward of you YOU must keep clear of them Your choices are to cross the line early and round either starting mark to restart or lose some speed or duck behind the leeward boats or dont get into that position in the first place Sailboat Race Starting Techniques Page 3 of 3 The danger of crossing early is that you lose all of your rights to all boats that start properly You may have to travel with the pack until you can work your way free to turn around Remember you have to keep clear of everybody You cant force a boat out of your way in order for you to go back to restart There are no brakes on a sailboat so how do you lose speed Ease or loosen your sails Depending on the conditions by either a lot or a little If the sails are flapping which is called luffing the boat has no driving force Hull friction will slow you down But be aware of your booms going out too far to leeward If they interfere with a leeward boat then you have not kept clear of her and you are subject to protest Another way to lose speed is to make a series of rapid rudder movements alternating to port and to starboard The further the rudder moves the more drag it creates and the more speed youll lose You dont want to hold the rudder over to one side too long though because youll turn the boat Thats why you make a series of rapid movements to both sides It keeps the boat on the same line You can think of it as linked S turns so quick that the boat still goes straight If you are following a boat that might be early to the line watch out for her slowing down As a boat clear astern it is your responsibility to keep clear of her Either use the same technique to slow your boat down or take a course where you can safely overlap her Clear air is what you want to sail in It is wind that is undisturbed and can deliver the full force of the current conditions Blanketing or wind shadow is when the windward boats sails physically block the air from getting to your boat In the drawing it is the dark triangle on the leeward side of the boat It is not a large area but the effect is relatively intense The backwind zone is the area of turbulence thats left in the air after the wind has flowed across the sails It is the larger lighter area in the drawing It lies to windward and astern of the boat doing the backwinding Neither the blanketed nor the backwinded areas carry the full force of the wind The turbulence effects in both areas are considerably less with our model boats as compared to full sized boats but you should avoid sailing in either zone if possible You want the wind to hit your sails before it hits anything else It may be wise to temporarily tack away from a boat throwing dirty air at you so that you get into clear air In summary a good start is one that finds you in the front row free and clear of other boats not just at the bell but a minute later after the sprint off the line While it is not necessary to win the start in order to win the race a good start is always helpful Getting a good start will give you the freedom to sail the first leg as you see fit A poor start means other boats may be able to set you off in the wrong direction or to make you sail in dirty air Lastly either while starting or on the rest of the racecourse dont try to make moves your sailing skills cant support With practice your skills will improve Until they do try to stay out of the other racers way Its just common courtesy When you do decide to try a new move or even if its an old move always leave yourself an escape route just in case the move does not work out
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