That's the shocker start; and every sailor who races has suffered at least one of these. We've all have been on board when the boat somehow ends up in the fourth row on a starting line with only two rows. But have you noticed that some sailors routinely are able to grind back from a bad start and turn the race into a solid result? And have you noticed that others are never quite able to climb out of the hole, and their bad starts turn into terrible results? Because having a bad start is such a common phenomenon, it's important to accept that these things will occasionally happen and figure out in advance just how you'll get yourself out of a hole at the starting line.
- You are over early and have to turn around and go back;
- Your timing was off and you are very late and in bad air;
- Your timing was off and you are very early and have to luff and go slow to avoid being over early;
- You have missed a layline and are caught barging at the boat or too far below the pin;
- Youíve gotten a decent start but because youíre going slow other boats roll you and force you to tack and alter your strategy in the first moments of the race. (This is perhaps the most frustrating of all bad starts.)
- You've collided with another boat and must exonerate yourself even before you start so the other boats sail off with you in their wakes.
Regardless of how or why you had a bad start, these situations will all have one thing in commonóthey prevent you from executing the pre-race strategy you worked out for the first beat, and force you to quickly adjust your approach to the race. Keeping this in mind then, the most important thing to do when you have a bad start is to simply stay calm. Donít yell at the crew, donít yell at yourself, and donít slam the tiller on the deck or otherwise throw a temper tantrum in the cockpit. All of that is distracting to your crew and keeps the focus off the issue at handógetting back into the race! Every experienced racing sailor can tell you a story of a bad start that turned into a good race result. So stay calm and adjust your mindset accordingly. In a good fleet you will probably not win the race after a bad start, but if you work hard, sail smart, and keep a good attitude, you can often turn the bad start into a decent result.
The classic mistake after the bad start is to split immediately with the entire fleet. Itís almost natural to say to yourself, ĎThe left is favored. We had a bad start. Letís bang the right corner!í This is not sound logic and can put you in an even worse position relative to the other boats. If you find yourself in the position of suffering a bad start, take a deep breath and quickly consider your options. To ensure that you make the most of a bad situation, keep the following points in mind:
Power up your sail plan. Since you are probably now sailing in dirty air and disturbed water, and will be for the near future, make sure your boat and sails are set up for power. Ease the outhaul and cunningham, and sheet both the mainsail and headsail with some twist.
Search for clear air. The most important consideration after getting a bad start is clear air, and this is where what I call lane management becomes critical. Because of your disadvantaged position, you wonít have the freedom to have clear air, so look for the best lanes you can find. The tendency early in the first leg after a bad start is to sail all the way to the layline. This will usually give you plenty of clear air for a while, because your competitors will avoid the laylines early in the leg. But later on in the leg, when everyone begins making their way to the laylines, your clear air will disappear and you will likely lose any distance you may have gained earlier in the leg. So avoid the laylines as long as possible. If you have bailed out and tacked onto port and are carving your way through all the starboard tackers, make sure someone on your boat is watching for other boats at all times.
A bad start doesnít mean the race is over for you and your crew. It just means you have given yourself a disadvantage early on. But by adopting a good, positive attitude and by adjusted your goals so that theyíre realistic relative to your new position, you can get back into the race and take some of the sting out of getting off the line in bad shape.
Making Your EscapeIn his classic tome Winning in One-Designs, Dave Perry cites statistics proving that every sailor gets one and sometimes two bad starts in any series of races. So donít let a bad start get you down, because as Perry says, "youíre right in there with the best of them." Instead put yourself in a position to make gains by escaping the worst of whatís holding you back as soon as possible.
Usually this means either bearing away until youíre in clear air or tacking to port at your first opportunity. Tacking onto port is normally the best option because it will usually lead you to clear air more quickly, but this depends on the kind of traffic around you at the time. If you can get onto port tack right away without having to duck too many starboard tack boats, do so. After that look for the first opportunity to get back on starboard in clear air, but keep your eye on the compass and the boats to windward so that when you make your move back on itís a lift, not a header. By then youíll well into your escape and back in the race.
Getting Good Starts by Zach Leonard
Avoiding Being Over Early by Dan Dickison
Port Tack Starts by Zach Leonard
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