Yacht Racing - Maneuvering For Position At Start
( Originally Published 1911 )
THE position that a yacht is in at the start sometimes is important enough in itself to decide the race. Take for instance, a fleet of ten or fifteen knock-abouts, all practically alike, varying only in small details, your boat being the best to windward, but only slightly so. Your start is bad on account of getting to the line too soon and the boats coming along behind you take the windward berth, as you have to bear away in order not to cross too soon. The gun goes and you are covered up, your wind spoiled by a number of boats. It then be-comes necessary to beat them out, you being at a disadvantage to begin with. You finally succeed in passing all but one boat; she rounds the outer mark ahead, and the next leg is a very free run before the wind or a reach home to the finish line ; but you cannot catch her, as she is slightly faster than your boat going off the wind. If, however, you had got away clear at the start you would not have been blocked by the slow boats on the windward leg, and you would have worked out a winning lead at the outer mark. This is merely an example to show what happens time and again when the race is lost on ac-count of a poor start.
Be sure your watch is running all right, and test it with some of the guns that are fired for the larger classes. Then watch your fleet, see what they are going to do, and which end of the line has the advantage if there is any. If there is none take the starboard tack end, as then you will hold the right of way over the fleet at the other end.
Try your boat over an imaginary distance to the line and time her carefully, then you will know approximately how long it will take to sail that distance, and will save getting to the line too soon at the start, thereby losing your advantage. It is always a good rule to be just ahead of your fleet and be pushed over the line, so to speak.
If you think you are going to reach the line too soon jibe your boat, if there is room, or give her the sheets ; then by pulling the main-sail flat in or letting it out you will kill her head-way. Be on the alert and take some chances if it is necessary to get out of a bad pocket.
If you need room on the mark to keep from striking it, or if some other boat is going to strike you if you leave the right-of-way, give your adversary plenty of warning by calling "Right-of-way" before it is too late to avoid a catastrophe. Be polite in your requests, but take your rights, because if you give in once you will be expected to again. Use, however, common sense, and if your chances of winning are pretty good, let the others mix it up and come in collision, but keep clear of it yourself, sailing out and around the trouble and get away clear with a good lead before they get separated and started again.
If the first leg is a close or broad reach to the first mark, get to the windward end of the line five to fifteen seconds too soon, with your sails trimmed flat in and with little headway. Then sail down the line, dodging anybody coming to it closehauled with the right-of-way, and swing across the line on gun-fire, having started or freed your sheets to get headway a second before, because it is essential to have your wind clear on a reaching start. If some of the boats to windward get into a luffing match, let them go, as the shortest distance to a mark is a straight line. If the wind is shifty, keep somebody on each sheet, trimming and freeing as the wind varies its direction.
There are, of course, hundreds of combinations in starting, but it is impossible to attempt to cover them all.