Thursday, January 17, 2013


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...

Stuart Streuli 
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.

John Kirkpatrick
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. 

Ed Adams
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?


Vaughn said...

A great topic, and some awesome insight!
After having done my pre-game research and have a good idea of where I want to start, I set up on the line, then use the remaining time (usually between 1 minute to 1:30 left) to create a bigger hole to leeward, and defend from poachers. The skills to increase your hole are "downspeed manoeuvres" and they can be classified as 1. shooting up, 2. sailing backwards, 3. double tack. The most common is shooting up. This requires a very strong ability in skulling. Use your tiller to pivot your boat down while sheeting out. As long as your sail is completely luffing, you should be able to pivot around your daggerboard without moving forward. From a beam reach course, add leeward heel and sheet in slightly to swing your bow back into the wind while minimizing moving forward. It is important to gain distance to windward to maintain "bow even" with the other boats, but never too much to risk going over the line early, or forcing the boats around you to do the same. Having "shot up" into the wind, there will be several moments when your boat is NOT slipping sidewards towards the port end of the line. This is where you make gains. Once you start going backwards again, you need to re-gain control by skulling down again. Having repeated this several times, you will open up a gap to leeward and allow for the other boats to drift away. You can also use the technique to make your hole look unappealing to poachers. to practice: setup 2 marks about 10 boat lengths apart. sail your boat up to the starboard end and stop once you become overlapped by heading up head to wind and slightly backwinding. Begin repeating the process of skulling down, then shooting back head to wind and try to NEVER become un-overlapped between the 2 marks. Obviously the longer you can make your drift time between starboard end and port end, the more your are eliminating drift. Once you have reached the port end of the line, stop your clock then repeat the drill and try to beat your time. If you can keep your boat under control for more than 4 minutes without losing overlap, that is mighty impressive!!

Tillerman said...

Very interesting Vaughan. That sounds like an extremely effective technique.

But are you saying it is OK to to scull down to a beam reach course? If so how does that square with Rule 42.3 (d) "When a boat is above a close-hauled course and either stationary or moving slowly, she may scull to turn to a close-hauled course"?

I always thought you could only scull down to close-hauled but no further.

Vaughn said...

That's correct, the rules state that can only skull down to a close hauled course and you must use your sails to head back up. There is a sweet spot somewhere between beam reach and close hauled that is on the edge of slipping sideways and being noticed for over-skulling. I think it's safe, because the juries are more preoccupied watching to see if you will skull back up. More commonly people are flagged for skulling to leeward, or standing up and pressing on their booms

Vaughn said...

To be more accurate, you don't actually need to skull further than close hauled. You just need enough to get some grip on your foils, enough so that the flogging of your sail and the waves smacking your bow will help the boat to pivot further.. the further you end up (closer to close reach than bream reach) the less side slip you will have when spinning your bow back up head to wind.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree with Ed Adams.....well the point about starting weather end. Whilst it certainly is safer, it doesn't yield the same gains up the course for the same amount of shift. That is, a 5 degree left hander (and then tacking) is a significant gain compared to the 5 degree right hander and footing. In other words, you tend to make more gains by heading and tacking compared to being lifted and footed. This is for Lasers anyway. Other faster classes are different. Many will now start debating that everyone will tack on the left hander - but not everyone will arrive at the left hander at the same time and it is this period where the large gains are made.

Perry said...

The best advice I ever heard was what Chuck Rudinsky passed on from a high school running coach: "Get a good start, pick it up in the middle, and finish with a kick."

Tillerman said...

Anonymous, I don't think Ed's point was about the relative gains to be made up the course from correct positioning on the start line. He was talking about the risks of being so close to the pin that you can't fetch it, and how this risk is greater when the wind is very shifty or strong.

To put it into context, the quotation I used from him was in response to this question - "The frequent shifts made starting difficult. Personally, numerous times I felt well set up, only to get a left shift in the last 30 seconds and find myself in the bad air of the boat I'd thought was comfortably to leeward of me. What were your secrets for getting a good start on Sunday?"

Tillerman said...

Hmmm. Isn't it a bit easier to get good start in a running race (excluding sprints perhaps) than it is in a sailing race?

George A said...

Huh, I thought that WOW stood for "wine of the week". That must be my problem with starts.

Tillerman said...

LOL George. I'm still trying to work out which drinks on a Saturday night do the most to enhance my sailing performance on Sunday. Further research is required.

George A said...

While I'm thinking of it, "BOW" really has nothing to do with the pointy end of the boat. In stands for "Beer of the Week". There you have it: BOW-WOW.

MJ said...

Greg Fisher wrote an article (or maybe he was being interviewed) where he said that he sees great benefits in picking your favorite starting approach (be it a port tack approach or coming in from the right of the committee boat or some other) and using that approach every time you race. No matter where on the line you plan to start, use the same approach.

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