10 Steps to a Winning Start

There's obviously more than one way to achieve a good start but this is a fairly well used method whose 10 simple steps should give consistently good results.

  1. If you have time before the 5 minute gun sail up the beat a bit to get a feel for the wind, angles you will be sailing on each tack and any shifts. Don't go too far so you don't miss the signal. Keep looking at the committee boat; you can usually see when they are ready.
  2. Make sure you get the 5 minute signal, so be near the committee boat and heave to on starboard with some space to drift a bit so nothing stops you getting the signal.
  3. Get a transit and check line bias.
  4. If you have time you could try a practice start on the 4 minute signal but watch out for others drifting around. Try a practice approach to both ends to get a feel for the lay lines and the tide (you can see this on the buoy or committee boat).
  5. Have an occasional look upwind to check wind and the like, and head the boat into wind near the start line to check the angle of the wind / favoured end.
  6. Choose your spot and practice a start there. Consider strategy / plan, line bias, tide, congestion and relative skill level!
  7. With between 1 minute and 30 secs to go (depending on line congestion) be on starboard and approaching the line and trying to stay in or working your way into the front row. Have outhaul and downhaul set for upwind but with kicker half off for control. At 30 to 20 secs - try to pinch upwind as you hover to create a gap to leeward so that you can bear off a little at the gun.
  8. 10 secs to start, be 1 or 2 boat lengths from the line and steer the boat off the wind a little ready for acceleration and start to sheet in.
  9. 5-3 secs to go, sheet in (this time needs to be adjusted for boat type and conditions), accelerate and go as fast as you can. Don't pinch too high unless you are trying to clear a leeward boat. It's better to crack off a little for speed.
  10. Go for speed, try and keep a clear lane and move forward on surrounding boats - win the race!

As you can see there is a lot you can do instead of aimlessly sailing around or just keeping out of the way. You might not be able to do all of this initially so start of with a few key points and practice, practice hovering/slow speed boat handling.

10 steps to a winning start - By Dave Holloway, Principal of Avonmouth Watersports