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Performance Racing Tactics

by © Bill Gladstone

Chapter 6 - Offbeat Starts

6.1 Running Starts

6.2 Reaching Starts

6.3 Starts on One-Legged Beats

6.4 Conclusion

Chapter 6: Offbeat Starts

While reaching and running starts are far less common than upwind starts, the keys to success are familiar: Planning, timing, and judgement are critical as always. Offwind starts lack some of the order of upwind starts; they can be unpredictable, and some of the techniques differ from those we use upwind. Below are a few thoughts on starts in a variety of wind angles, from straight downwind to reaches and one-legged beats.

6.1 Running Starts

As chaotic as upwind starts are, they pale by comparison to running starts. Starting near the ends enables you to reach out to the side for clear air, but you are then committed to that side for the first part of the race. Starting in the middle of the line leaves you in bad air. Pick a side which will give you clear air, and try to anticipate crowds and wind shadows (Fig.1).

Fig. 1 - For Strats on a run, timing is trickey. Set spinnaker early and sail fast. Control your approach by oversteering, but keep speed. Pick a side to get clear air.

One of the most common mistakes in downwind starts is delaying the spinnaker set. To hit the line at full speed you must have your spinnaker up and drawing on your approach. Hoist your spinnaker in stops (rubber bands or thin yarn). Break it out and trim for full speed as early as you can—thirty seconds to one minute before the startto get a jump on those who wait for the gun before hoisting. As a small boat in a mixed fleet, this is a great time to draft on the stern wave of a larger boat.

6.2 Reaching Starts

Tactics on reaching starts depend on the exact wind angle of the line and to the mark.

Wind Forward of the Beam

If the wind is forward of the beam, a start near the leeward end of the line gives room to drive off to accelerate in puffs. You are also in position to work up to the fleet, and you have luffing rights. A good start is essential. If you fall into bad air, you risk being rolled by one boat after another.

As a small boat in a mixed fleet, the leeward position may not work out as you get rolled by faster boats. In hull speed conditions, there is an opportunity to hitch a ride on the quarter wave or stern wave of a larger boat by dropping in from close to windward (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 - On a reach when the wind is forward of the beam, a start at the leeward end of the line gives the best sailing angle. An on time, full speed start is essential. there is a danger of getting rolled by one bioat after another if you fall into bad air. In a mixed fleet, there are particular problems for small boats.

Wind Aft of the Beam

With the wind abaft the beam, clear air is available only at the weather end, and everyone knows it. Reaching up the line will give you luffing rights on those reaching into the line from above, but no wind.

Dont be surprised if the entire fleet does not respond to your hail to clear out as you charge up the line. In a crowd boats are insulated by their neighbors, and often there is no way to respond. Boats with right-of-way and no air are often bowled over by the mass of boats reaching in.

A start which gets your nose out in front of the crowd and into clear air can mean winning the race. Here again there is an opportunity for small boats to draft in the stern wave of larger boats (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 - When the wind is abaft the beam, then clear air is available only at the windward end. The battle there can be unruly, with right-of-way boats bowled over by the sheer mass of intruders.

6.3 Starts on One-Legged Beats

When a big wind shift turns the first leg of a race into a fetch or near fetch starting tactics change. Typically the line is square to the mark (and original wind) and heavily skewed to the new wind.

Ideally, when there is a big shift before the start of a race, the Race Committee will delay the start and reset the course, but that is not always the case. When a shift turns the first leg into a one-legged beat, the goal of starting strategy is to get off the line with speed sailing on the tack to the mark. The exact position on the line is not important. Lets take a look at the two cases: Port tack fetch and starboard tack fetch.

Port Tack Fetch

When a big left hand shift makes the first leg a port tack fetch (or near fetch), blast off the line on port tack. The fleet tends to bunch up at the port end to the line, barely fetching or not fetching the line on starboard tack. Avoid the jam up, and start in the middle of the line.

Two approaches are recommended. One is a port tack approach, ducking starboard tackers, and finding a gap in the crowd. The other is a starboard approach. Sail up the line on starboard, find an open space, and tack. Allow time to build speed on port. Regardless of approach, the goal is to reach in and blast off!

From a midline position you will be ahead and to leeward of the pack. If the breeze backs further, you may fetch. If the breeze clocks, you will lead the fleet into the header. Meanwhile, the pack at the port end will be jammed up, sailing the wrong way, and unable to tack out (Fig. 4).

Fig 4 - Port Tack Fetch. Approach on port and duck starboard boats, or approach on starboard and tack into a hole. the critical thing is to blast off on port tack.

Starboard Tack Fetch

When the breeze clocks to create a starboard tack fetch, the same principles apply. Blast off the line on starboard tack. Your position on the line is not importantgetting away clean is. Avoid the crowd at the starboard end; boats in the crowd push each other up as they fight for clear air, and they end up sailing extra distance. Take off from the middle of the line. You will be ahead and to leeward of the crowd; you will be inside (for a port rounding) if the leg becomes a fetch; and you will lead the fleet into the header if the breeze backs. A timed out and back approach is best (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5 - Starboard Tack Fetch. Once again, position on the line is not important. A fast, clear air start is the goal. Avoid the crowd at the windward end, and take the preferred position to leewrd.

One-Legged Beats

The tactics for starts on one-legged beats boil down to starting with speed on the tack toward the mark. Position on the line is not important, but clear air is. This strategy applies to any reaching start with the wind forward of the beam and the line perpendicular to the leg.

6.4 Conclusion

Starts are critical, and offbeat starts are no exception. Offbeat starts provide a great opportunity for those who can take advantage of their unique characteristics. It is remarkable how the start can shape the entire race, even a distance race. Try to anticipate the actions of other boats, and get in position to start with clear air and good speed.


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