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Start-line strategies


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Wondering if some of you ‘Tiger veterans might share some knowledge on big fleet starts?

In a club or regatta race, my approach is:

- run the line to determine the favoured end,

- sail a square reach on port for a timed length (say 45 sec)

- turn the boat around and park at the end of my port run & wait

- 45 sec to go, haul in & reach to the favoured end

- start at full speed, favoured end as the gun goes

This approach does not work in large fleets, such as at the recent nationals, because there are too many boats in the way to reach along the line. The port end of the line was favoured, but faster boats passing to windward would foul the air, leading to more boats passing to windward, and way too many on starboard to windward to consider tacking.

Starts seemed to be won by boats sitting stalled next to the start boat, who would take up position with 2 minutes to go, and just haul in as the gun goes.

I tried to sit a few boat-lengths behind the top guys, also stalled and waiting, but then had 20+ boats racing through the gap between us, which intimidated me from edging up to the line. As a higher pointing boat I ought to have right of way, but if I’d closed the gap collisions would have been inevitable.

There’s some complex dynamics and rules to consider here. So what’s the strategy?

Tony Hastings


[This message has been edited by tonyquoll (edited 05 February 2009).]

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Well, I'm not a veteran, but I'll give my two cents worth:

What you have described is absolutely correct.

Club races/small fleet races you can start a long way back from the line and make your way to the start line at full speed to be on the line at the gun. We do it at Koonawarra Bay Sailing Club.

But it depends on how eager people are - how early they get to the line - if they get there too early they are wiping off speed ot just come to a stop and wait.

In a large fleet, you have to sit on the line to bags your spot. If you want to be in the front row (which there usually are about 2-3 rows at the nationals), you need to do this. It takes a bit of practice to be able to sit in the one spot for a long period of time without moving backwards.

For me, it is a bit intimidating when people squeeze between me and another boat very close by, and usually take the spot I was going to go into. But I guess I should have been in the spot they filled in anyway.

The best thing I found (but then I haven't won a start or a race at Nationals or State level), which some of the top guys will do, is to start at the boat end so that I can tack off if I want to. Depending on the wind, you may even have the lead boats pass close by to you on Port when they tack somewhere up the first leg. You will also have clean air at the boat end too.

ie: you don't always have to go to the favoured end to come out good.

At the Nationals the day I was there taking photos (which had a 2 knot breaze), I noticed that Ian Marco was one of the last boats to cross the start line - he was at the boat end. He immediately tacked to Port, and amazingly he was first to the top mark, yet most people favoured the pin end.

Peter Ando had to come back to the start for being over, and followed Ian, and got to the top 2nd I think.

But then there are people who if they win the start, the win the race - dunno how, but they do it - I guess it's the clean air that they get that everyone else doesn't.


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- Learn how to park your boat. Sails eased so you are not pointing too high and can accelerate without having to pull away.

- Know how much space you will need to accelerate to the line.

- If you have enough room or there is a fair sag in the line, you could creep up slowly before accelerating.

- Guard you position. Keep a decent gap below you but get as close as you can to your windward boat. Best to keep about ½ a boat width between yourself and the boat below you so you shut the door on another boat slotting in and squeezing you too high. This is priority over keeping the boat above you close. By staying close to the boat above you, you reduce the ability of that boat to pull away and accelerate and rolling you on the start gun.

- Get to the line early and guard your spot.

- Surround yourself with less experienced starters. Don’t mix it with a rock star unless you want to learn a lesson (which can be good in a non critical race)

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Practice "parking" your tiger.. They are pretty controllable once you get the hang of it. I used to practice by trying to keep a foam marker bouy in between my bows for as long as i could..

Once you have that under control, practice the technique for accelerating out of irons. Usually you only need 2 seconds to get to full accelleration from in irons.

Park on the front row of the line, as close to the favoured end as you feel comfortable (it will be more crowded the closer you get).

Don't worry too much about other boats, just make sure you are close enough to the line so nobody can park in front of you..

Finally, if a few boats take off and you think they are early, just go anyway, make sure nobody sails over the top of you.

To summarise, in my opinion it's all about the ability to park your boat, then get it to accelerate within a couple of seconds.. Just keep praticing.

Great question by the way, i've had some cracking starts in big fleets, and also some ordinary ones.... I reckon the start has the greatest impact on my finishing position.

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Thanks for the great tips!

Often if I try & accelerate from stopped, close hauled, the rudders stall & drag instead of flowing & turning, and the centreboards also stall, slipping sideways. The sail looks like it's flowing, but the boat goes to leeward instead of forward. The only way out seems to be to push the boom, reverse, & try again.

Is the trick starting off on more of a close reach?

I'm hoping that with better shaped rudder & centreboards, plus a bit of toe-in on the rudder handles, the problem might be solved. It also seems to help to ease the mainsheet in to get the forward & top part of the sail driving & the boat moving, before then sheeting in fully & powering off. Also keeping rudder angles to about 20degrees, as more angle is just more likely to stall.

What's the interpretation on Rules with this scenario:

You are "heave-to", not moving but pointing off the wind a bit, and someone with momentum comes along and tries to luff you up.

If you were moving, you'd have to luff up & keep clear (Rule 11). But if you're not moving, it would take time to get the boat going & then get some steering & then luff-up, so can you reply "I can’t, YOU keep clear" (Rule 14) and just sit there?

Tony Hastings


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You're on the right track with positioning the boat so that it is stalled, but not head to wind.. With the PT you can park the boat with the mainsail pushed out past the end of the traveller, and the rudders on full lock to windward. You won't be moving, but the hulls will be pointed in the close-hauled direction.

To accelerate from this position you straighten the rudders, centre the traveller, then pull on the mainsheet (in that order). The twist in the main will stop the foils from stalling.

If you are stationary at the start line, you don't have to respond to a luff.. (a boat that changes direction to luff you has to give you room to keep clear, so unless they have sailed from close hauled almost directly behind you and given you enough time to respond they need to give you room) The only issue with someone coming up close from below is that they have right of way and as soon as your boat moves you will be at fault.

Mostly you will find your leeward position is attacked by someone running behind you, then swinging around to leeward of you.. The best defence against this is to be close enough to the line that they cannot get in front of you..

Even if you can only find one other boat to practice with, a lot can be gained by practicing starts on a 2 boatlength line... Make sure if you do this practice that you don't just do a "run up" start, you need to practice positioning as close to the line as possible.

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