Before the Start, Putting the Pieces Together

by Charlie Pendleton

Getting out to the racecourse and prepared for the start gun is a lot like building a puzzle. In order to see the big picture, you have to put the pieces together. Instead of sailing out to the starting line and drifting around waiting for the race to start, use that time to develop a picture of what your start and race tactics are going to look like. Get your boat setup, monitor the breeze, understand the current, practice and orient to the racecourse.

Setup your rig and sails for the conditions

Once you get to the vicinity of racecourse and can start sailing close-hauled, adjust your lowers and make sure the mast is set-up with the right amount of mast sag or stiffness (more on this in a future article). Look critically at the sails. Is the jib halyard too loose or too tight for the conditions? Are the jib cars in the right place? Outhaul? Cunningham? Is the mainsail up all the way?

Tune into the breeze

As soon as you can, shoot head-to-wind and take a compass bearing. Write it down. Next write down your port and starboard tack numbers. Continue to monitor and write down these numbers right up to the start. Develop an understanding of what the wind is doing. Oscillating back and forth? Clocking to the right? Puffs every 15 minutes?

Check the current

Find some lobster pots or course marks. Sail by them and see how the water is flowing past them. Get an understanding for the current’s strength and direction. Check both sides of the racecourse.

Warm up/Practice

Pick someone that is already sailing up wind or ask someone to match race for a few minutes. Watch Compare your point and speed to the other boat and make adjustments if you feel off the pace. Throw in 10-15 tacks to get a feel for weight placement and then turn back to the starting area and fly the spinnaker. DO THIS! It’s amazing how often we go to practice a set and find the spinnaker is not setup properly. Write down your gibing angles so you have a point of comparison on the first downwind leg.

Orient to the racecourse

Once the race committee has setup the start and windward marks, get on the starting line and get oriented. What is the favored end of the line? How will current effect your start? What is the compass bearing to the windward mark? How long does it take to get the boat up to full speed? Time it. Stand up on the deck and look upwind – what does the wind pressure look across the racecourse?

Last, but certainly not least, talk to each other and build a game plan. While we check these items off, Jim and I talk to each other constantly, building a total picture of what’s going on and agreeing where we want to be at the start and where we want to go on the first leg. When you have all the pieces in place, by the time the warning gun goes off it’s all about executing

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