The Racer’s Corner – The Start and On the Beat

So you didn’t do as well as you wanted to in the first race of the season. This month we will review some tips that are sure to improve your ranking in the next race, the Huddleston Cup, July 24 & 25.
Tip Number One: The Start
The start is the most important part of any race and many novice sailors do not understand the significance of the start in relation to the rest of the race and this is where they go wrong.
The start is the single most important part of the race for most sailors as if they are only moderately skilled, a bad start will break them. Only very skilled and experienced sailors can claw back to the top from a bad start.I am expecting you to be quite good, but always coming between last and middle place. You want to start to get some wins under your belt.
Well look no further, the start is the most important part of the race.
Here is a list of strategies that you should use on the line if you want to have a good start and a potentially good race:
• Get a stop watch! – All serious sailing racers need a stop watch in order to start on time and in the right place without being caught unawares
• Learn the Flag types – The flags are there to tell you what is going on in a race. So not knowing them is hardly going to help you understand what is going on in the race. It is highly advisable to find a good rulebook from your national sailing organization or the ISAF (International Sailing Federation) and learn all the flag types that will be shown at any given race. Preparation make Perfect!
• Learn where the marks are – If you are thinking of club racing regularly, then you should learn where the common marks that are used for racing actually are so that when the committee boat shows the marks you don’t have to glance at a map constantly during the race.
• Do a Transit – This little known tactic is a very useful technique in order to have a good start. A transit is where you put the boat between the committee boat and the pin buoy and look for a recognizable object on the other side of the pin. This tells you exactly where the starting line is and if there is a black flag shown, you will know whether you are over the line or not.
• Find out if there is a bias – A biased line is one in which a certain tack is favoured. To find out if there is a port bias, a starboard bias or if it is square (no bias), you can do it accurately or roughly. Doing it accurately requires a compass. Go along your transit and note the compass bearing. Then add 90 degrees to that bearing and turn to that heading. If the boat tacks then the current tack is the favoured tack and the bias. If the boat doesn’t tack then the current tack is the favoured tack and the bias. If the boat goes head to wind then there is no bias and it is a square line. You can roughly do this by seeing if you are beating up one end of the line and broad reaching down the other end. If it is a square line then you should be beam reaching from one end to the other
Starting Position – This is also highly important for competitive racing. If there is a bias then most of the boats will be there. If you don’t want to be in a scrum and get a rubbish start, then start slightly lower than the bias end or start on the opposite tack and then tack on to the biased tack after horn goes off. By doing this you will have your own unique heading and start.
If you can master most of those tactics, then your starts will become better and better. Make sure that you go over the line on the horn and at full speed as well as using the above tips.
So now the boat has crossed the line. You are on the beat! Tip Number Two: The Beat
This is the hardest point of sailing to master and this is also where the fleet spreads out with the well trimmed and faster boats at the front while the untrimmed and slower boats lag at the back.
Here are some great tactics to try and improve your position on the beat.
• Keep the boat flat! – Another incredibly common past time that I see on the race course is boats heeling constantly though out the race. This is terrible for boat speed as the sail is pulled away from the wind. Make sure that the boat is flat at all times. To actually achieve this make make sure boat crew members are hiking out of the boat in a comfortable position. If this doesn’t help then let out some main sail and pinch (go further up wind), this should bring down the heel. the moment this happens pull the main sheet back in so that when the boat is flat the mainsail is fully in. This has the effect of a massive pump on the boat, which causes a burst of acceleration. Continue to do this throughout the beat and you will find yourself overtaking everyone who is heeling constantly, greatly improving your position. You can also use the kicker and cunningham in especially high winds to depower the sail and keep the boat flat, but you must remember to remove the kicker and cunningham when the wind dies down or there is a lull.
• Sit forward in the boat – When the boat is not heeling your crew should be sitting on the centreboard and you should be sitting up against the shroud. If you both sit forward the stern comes out of the water and the boat is no longer hampered by an extra dead weight in the water.
• Make sure that the slot is trimmed – The slot is the distance between the Genoa and the mainsail. If the slot is too small the airflow becomes constricted and the front bottom of the mainsail begins to luff. If the slot is too large the Genoa begins to luff. The slot must be trimmed correctly so that the Genoa is about one and a half inches off the leeward shroud so as to provide optimal airflow. This slot distance changes with wind speed so it must be constantly watched by the crew.
• Take lifts and avoid headers – Lifts and headers are where the wind changes direction. If the change is more to windward, it is called a lift and if the the change is more to leeward it is called a header. You should always take lifts and avoid headers by changing the boat’s direction. In a lift turn windward and in a header bear away. In big lifts you should always expect a large header, which could make you tack so be careful about overshooting and taking the lift too far. Lifts are useful by taking you more windward of your opponent, which means closer to the windward mark.
Follow these tips and you are sure to improve your position
Remember that a season champion for both Cruiser and Dinghy class racers will be awarded at the end of the season. The top scores for each skipper for 50% of the races in the 2010 season will count toward the calculation for the season championship in each class.
Doug Roberts – Racing Chair
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