In the last few minutes before the gun goes there is plenty happening. You must be observant of what is going on up the course as well as finding a spot on the line to accommodate you and your plan.
Keep an eye on boats that may have already started on your course, but if you are the only fleet out there, take note of changes in angle as you parallel the line or the different trim of sails that you need to make to maintain your course.
As you are idling forward prior to cranking on to get up to speed watch how your sails are behaving, if nothing changes but the jib suddenly luffs heavily or fills, as long as it is not the effect of another boat nearby, you will detect a shift in the wind.
If you have been keenly observing what has been happening you should be ready to modify your starting plan and it might be time to reconsider where you want to start on the line.
If you see someone sailing upwind, and their angle is different than the angles you’ve been seeing, there’s a last-minute shift, and you may need to change your plan.
A word of caution though, make sure you consider the type of boat that you are watching and how its pointing characteristics compare to yours.
At the start, the shiftier the venue the more likely you’ll see a last-minute shift. This happens often on small lakes, or with venues with offshore winds when the course is located close to land.
In these situations, it can be safe to start near the middle of the line and with the mid-line start, you’re not fully out of the race if a shift happens in either direction.
A fleet that starts before you are “tell tales” and their spread across the course gives you wind directions. If you see a boat that’s bow up on starboard, they’re likely in a right shift, if they are bow up on port, they’re probably in a left shift.
When looking at the boats in the fleet ahead and you see the leaders gybe set around the weather mark, you can be sure they’re in a right shift at the top of the course.
Watch what happens with that fleet as they continue downwind as this will give you some clues as to what has been occurring on that part of the course, just be aware that by the time you get there the wind may have switched back.
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