Getting Off to a Good Start

By Kim Pandapas

It’s all about the start. Getting your nose out at the gun lets you play from strength and improves your chances of executing your game plan. My primary goal on every start is to get off the line with speed and in clear air. Speed and clear air. Sounds simple enough, right? But it’s not always easy to execute consistently. Speed and clear air are doubly important for us because Rhodes are so slow to accelerate. In contrast to a dinghy or any boat with a more powered-up sail plan, if you don’t hit the line with speed, you’ll get rolled, forced to tack and probably forced out of your game plan. So forget about the head-to-wind with 15 seconds left in chop approach. It’s just not effective in a Rhodes. So how do I approach it? I follow three simple rules. The first is to sail within myself. To achieve consistency, you need an approach that you’re comfortable with and that is repeatable. That’s not to say that you’ll start that way every single time – ultimately you have to take what the race gives you. But using a basic framework that you’ve executed consistently over and over again improves your odds. My approach is to be at the pin sailing towards the boat with 1½ to 2½ minutes left (depending on which end I want), and then tack into a hole when I find one. I like that approach. I’m comfortable with it and it works for me, so that’s always my default.

The second rule is to avoid high risk starts. I tend to stay away from the ends (especially the boat end), because only one boat can win an end and the losers often end up OCS, spit out the back or with no room to put the bow down. The ends are a low probability, go-for-broke game. Of course, there will be times when circumstances dictate that you win an end, and at those times you go for it. But most of the time, I’ll gladly trade a boat length of line bias to increase my chances of starting with speed and clear air.

And the third rule is to sail cleanly and focus on my own start. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen people go out of their way to engage other boats, only to pooch their own starts in the process. There will always be times when you need to hook someone to defend a hole – that’s inevitable. But why go out of your way to mess with other people? That does nothing to improve your start. Focusing attention on anything other than getting your own clean start will almost always guarantee that you don’t.