Most weeks in our Laser frostbite fleet, the winners (or near winners) offer up Words of Wisdom on the fleet Facebook page. Looking back over the WOW in the last few weeks it is surprising (or maybe it really shouldn't be surprising) how many of the winners attributed their success, at least partly, to their starting tactics and technique.
So without further ado, for your education I offer these words of wisdom from Fleet 413 hotshots on STARTS...
a. Research: A couple of years ago, in a silent auction, my friend won a clinic with Scott Ferguson. For those of your who don’t know Ferg, he’s one of the great sailors to have sailed with 413. He’s a little busy now designing Oracle’s masts, so he hasn’t sailed with us a few years. But he was always up there when he did. He had a very specific routine he went through before each start. He would always check the breeze, the line bias, and get line sights for both ends. It seems simple, but when Moose is firing off races in quick succession there isn’t a lot of time between races, so it takes some discipline to get it all done. The line sights, or transits [shore based reference points you can line up with either the pin or boat end and which will tell you when you’re on the line] are key, even on a small line. I don’t use them every start, but they’re the only accurate way to know how close to the line you are. The more you use them, the better a feel you get for the line, and the less you actually have to use them. Often times, the best use of a transit is to determine how far off the line you are at 20 seconds.
b. Set up early: In light air and flat water, it’s possible to hold your position on the line for a while and if you want to start at or near the favored end, you must get there early. I was setting up on starboard near the line right around a minute to go. Make sure to ease off your vang—if it’s tight—once you start luffing. A tight leech makes the boat really hard to control .
c. Protect your hole, keep the bow out. Aggressively protecting your space to leeward is really important. Put the bow down (ideally without the sail filling, so keep the main sheet loose) when anyone comes on port (or sailing behind the front line on starboard) hoping to poach your space. The doesn’t always work, so then it’s a matter of trying to keep your bow even, or slightly ahead of the people who are around you. The one exception to this rule is if someone comes in with a head to steam and steals my space to leeward. Because we were so close to the line from 30 seconds onward, anyone with some speed would eventually slide forward and then when we got inside of 15 to 20 seconds they would have to peel away early to ensure they were not over, re-opening that space to leeward. In that case, I remained patient and let them slide through and away.
d. Pull the trigger: This simply takes practice. Make sure all your sail controls are set. Outhaul and Cunningham I set before the start. Vang, I pull on just before I start to sheet in. Then it’s a matter of knowing how much time and space you need to get up to speed and using what you have to get going as fast as possible and as close as possible to the line at the gun. I generally have found that the big swoop down to a reach to accelerate and back up to close-hauled isn’t fast simply because there’s so much rudder involved. Subtle movements are better, especially in flatter water when the boat accelerates so easily.
I attribute my good starts to a variety of things. Most of all, I use a consistent pattern for every start. I check the wind and favored end of the line, then I set up early, slightly to windward of where I wanted to start. Additionally, I didn't hold back and pressed the line on every start.
It is very dangerous to try and win the pin in strong breeze, as you drift sideways so much in the last 30 seconds. It's even more dangerous in a unstable breeze, where a left shift before the start makes it hard for anyone to fetch. In those situations, it is much safer to set up high and early closer the midline, so you don't risk not fetching. The weather end is a relatively easy start when it's windy, and is preferred unless you really want to get left.
Stuart's discussion pretty much says almost everything there is to say about starting technique. I should try and remember all that and do it all more consistently.
John says it in fewer words, but I like his comment about "pressing the line" on every start. I should do better at that.
And Ed's expert insights on a couple of situations when it may not be optimal to go for the pin even if favored are worth remembering.
Do you have anything to add on this topic?