Start Before The Start

Start Before the Start

Get to the racecourse at least 45 minutes before the first gun, once you arrive, there are four essential things you must do.

  1. Gather your wind readings

Sail upwind and tweak sails and rig for speed, and figure out the wind pattern.

The key is to watch the compass and determine a range of headings on each tack.

If the wind is shifting through 20 degrees, you should also try to determine the timing of the shifts. Getting the feel for a pattern will help you make educated decisions while racing.

You should also be looking for other important tactical factors, such as current, potential geographic shifts, and varying wind conditions across the racecourse.

  1. Find your fast settings

Firstly, sail upwind. When tuning up with the good teams (or a designated tuning partner), compare your relative height and speed.

Make sure you’re set up according to your sailmaker’s tuning guide, experiment with different settings, and ask your tuning partners how they’re set up if they’re beating you.

While sailing downwind, try different angles and techniques to figure out what is fast for the conditions.

The benefit of tuning before the race is it allows you to gain confidence in your settings and boat speed, freeing you up to look around while racing.

  1. Research the starting line

It’s important to do more starting-line research than you think you should.

Sail to the committee boat end of the line and sight through the race committee flag, picking out an object on land that’s in line with both ends.

Then, run the line using this sight to get a feel for what it looks like to be right on the line.

The longer the line is, the greater the illusion you’re on the course side when you’re actually not.

During one of your runs, time how long it takes to sail from one end to the other, next put the bow into the wind a few times to check the line bias and to track the true-wind direction.

  1. Double-check before the countdown

Do a brief upwind sail again to see if anything has changed.

Check your compass again and make sure the boat still feels right for the conditions.

Visualize how the fleet will come off the line at that angle and factor that into your final game plan.



Why We Should Practice Our Starts


Former Olympic sprint champion Linford Christie used to say that winning the 100 Metres was all about starting on the B of BANG. In a 10-second running race, every millisecond counts.

We can’t claim that those last few milliseconds aren’t quite so crucial in sailboat racing, but they’re still mighty important.

If you can get the jump on your rivals even by a quarter or an eighth of a boat length, you stand a much better chance of getting out of the start cleanly and setting yourself up for a great first beat.

It’s no surprise to learn that 100 metres sprinters spend hours and hours practising their starting technique, not just pushing out of the blocks time and time again, but honing every relevant muscle in the gym to harness more of that explosive power that they so rely on.

Why is it then that so few of us do the same in sailing? Probably because starting practice is not nearly so much fun as going for a blast.

Maybe many of us don’t practise it because we think it’s either a skill you do or don’t have. But top RYA coach Harvey Hillary disagrees. “It’s just a matter of breaking it down into the different stages, working on each of them separately, and putting it all together at the end. It’s something that can be learned by anyone.”

Firstly, what are we looking for? The perfect start is about putting a number of desirable objectives together as the countdown reaches zero. Maximum speed, space around you, and bang on the line as the gun fires.

The reality is that there are other boats also trying to do the same thing, and some of them trying to stop you from achieving your objective. But let’s look at how we can help you win the battle.

Loading the chamber (2.00 min – 30 secs)

Before you pull the trigger, you’ve got to put a round in the chamber. The goal of the pre-start is to put yourself in a position to achieve those three desirables we mentioned just now – speed, space, and position.

This is all about being able to control your boat at slow speeds, and where 10 minutes of practice every time you go sailing will pay dividends in the longer term.

Notice how the best sailors in your fleet take up a position close to the line very early, sometimes a minute and a half or even two minutes before the gun.

Try doing the same on some practice starts during your training sessions, or in some races where you’re not too bothered about the outcome of your start, and get used to holding position for two minutes within two boat lengths of the line.

You might find that you need do very little to your boat or sail trim just to sit still.