Regardless of whether there are three boats starting or 30 or 130, the only two boats that really matter to you right off the starting line are the boats just to windward and to leeward of you. I call these boats my “neighbors.” Therefore, one of the secrets to getting a good start is picking your neighbors wisely.
A well-known sailor tells a story about a Midwinter event he participated in many years ago. Despite a poor result, he was proud of his good starts because he was always lined up next to the eventual winner. However, after the regatta he was listening to the winner describe his starting strategy: “I always try to line up next to a “marshmallow” or someone who I know will be really slow off the line.” The sailor’s heart sank as he realized that he was the marshmallow.
There are two basic approaches to final position on the starting line. One is to get onto starboard tack with about 1:30 to go and work your way along the line, trying to create a nice hole below you, and waiting for the perfect moment to pull the trigger (put your bow down and build speed). Two is to come along on port tack with about 1:30 to go, and look for a good place to tack onto starboard, preferably close to leeward of a boat already set up on starboard, with a nice hole below you.
The key to knowing who your neighbors will be is to look where you are at 1:30 to go. If you are on starboard reaching along the line, the boats directly in front and behind you are likely going to be your neighbors. If one is the fleet champion, slow down or tack out and reshuffle your neighbors. If you like who they are, then slow down and open up as much distance as you can between you and the boat in front of you, without risk of the boat behind you getting a leeward overlap on you. That way, you’ll have the largest hole to leeward of you when you head up to start.
If you are on port tack, be as selective as possible about the boat you choose to tack in to leeward of. When you make that tack, be sure to start low enough that you end up solidly overlapped with the new windward boat, as opposed to being too far forward and not securely pinning that boat. If they aren’t pinned, they can bear off and overlap you to leeward after your tack, which could be disaster.
by Dave Perry, author of Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing 2009-2012, 100 Best Racing Rules Quizzes 2009-2012, and Winning One Designs offers up these racing tips. Thank you to US SAILING for sharing them with us.