Understanding a race start

British Sailing Team 470 sailor Anna Burnet talks us through this critical part of a race�

British Sailing Team 470 sailor Anna Burnet talks us through this critical part of a race�

Successful execution of the start is often the most influential factor in a sailing race, explains British Sailing Team 470 sailor Anna Burnet. This is particularly true for dinghy and inshore racing because a shorter race emphasises the need to start well and gain an early advantage on competitors. �

There are a number of factors to take into account when considering how to approach a start. Implementing a pre-start plan is a great way of ensuring you have all the knowledge you need to start well and with the best chances for a successful first beat. �

Within a pre-start plan, be sure to incorporate checks of rig set-up, wind patterns, line bias and transits. �

Knowing where to focus attention within the starting sequence can be a difficult task and establishing a regular routine, such as below, will certainly help to enhance your confidence in the start. �

Five minute, warning signal

Start your stopwatch (preferably two stopwatches) and double check the committee boat for the course number and bearing to the windward mark. Take a head to wind bearing to compare the two numbers. This will highlight if the windward mark has been offset to one side of the beat, a factor that could be very important to your first decision.

Four minute, preparatory signal

Most importantly, note which flag is being used � P, I, U, Z or Black � check your Racing Rules as to which ones to watch out for! �

The different preparatory flags will have an implication on your approach to the start line. For example, if the �black� flag is used, you cannot cross the line in the last minute of the start and therefore you may need to line up further away and with enough space to safely manoeuvre behind the line.����

Continue to check the wind bearing until as late as possible, to ensure that you are confidently in phase with the shift pattern. At this stage you should be aware of the first decision you are going to be making and how this will tie in with the first beat strategy. �

One minute, preparatory flag down

Depending on the flag being used, at this stage in the start you need to be in your desired starting position and lined up with enough room to accelerate onto the line. Ensure there is a constant stream of communication to the helm regarding time and distance to the line. If you have timed your run up as part of a pre-start routine, this can be used to call when to trigger the acceleration. Be prepared to react quickly if surrounding boats do decide to accelerate earlier than you anticipated. �

Start, class flag down

Maximum speed across the line, with an immediate focus on the sail set-up. This is much easier if you are pulling the sails in to the same markers as decided in the pre-start rig check. As the first decision has already been pre-empted, heads can generally remain in the boat and focussed on maintaining speed. Sailors who haven�t prepared for their first decision are likely to either miss an opportunity or lose speed as their focus wanders to what�s going on around them. � �

Even with the best preparation for a start, there is no guarantee that it will all go to plan. In the event of a setback, the key is to stay calm and revert to the information you have gained. Once out of danger, the next decision you make should revert to the priorities you had for the first beat and all will not be lost! �

For more information about Racing Rules pick up a copy of the RYA Racing Rules 2013-2016���

Find out more about Anna and the British Sailing Team at www.rya.org.uk/britishsailingteam/