Goodness me it’s Friday already!
Last week’s results are on the web – for those who watched the back to back races even the so called experts don’t get it right every time – I capsized on the first beat of the last race – major wind shift and dumped in before I could do anything. Well done to Quentin who won that race on handicap. Another good turnout in the class race with a tremendous tussle for second place between CJ, Paul and Quentin – rarely more than a few boat lengths apart. Looked as if CJ generally gained slightly upwind but Paul and Quentin faster downwind.
Apologies for a slightly late blog this week but I’ve been in the US all week and rather busy work-wise. We’re in August now so it will be pursuit race on Sunday – let’s use those extra few minutes to be really ready for the start. I’ve said before that I like to be near the line at least ten minutes before the start so I thought with the pursuit minutes to spare it might be a good time to reflect on what to do before the start. Hopefully something here for the old hands as well as thoughts for the newer members. I’ve tried to note (Basic or Advanced in the tips – new sailors just concentrate on the basics – once you have them under control start to think about the rest!)
(Basic common sense) Get weather forecast – see if any major changes in direction or strength are expected during the race. Why do I want to know – if I can predict which way the wind will shift I can know which way to go up the beat. Usually inland tactical playing shifts counts for more than strategic wind shifts because our legs aren’t long enough. On the sea with longer beats and generally fewer small shifts the strategic effects of wind gradually shifting or tidal differences tend to matter more.
(Advanced) Assess wind strength before launching – I change my rig slightly for very windy days or very light – adding more mast rake for very windy (slacken forestay a hole and move mast heel fully forwards) and reduce rake for very light weather, bring mast heel back one hole and tighten forestay one hole and slacken shrouds one hole. I always chock the mast solidly at deck level (where the chocks are, in front or behind depends on the rake set). That said the medium setting cover a lot of conditions.
OK so now we’re ready to launch...
(Basic) Once clear and in the middle of the reservoir I try a quick beat to again assess the wind strength and see where I will want the controls. Am I overpowered (add more Cunningham, ease traveller, raise plate a bit, lots of kicker, lots of main sheet tension) or underpowered (traveller all but central, Cunningham slack, kicker only just coming tight, not too much main sheet).
(Basic) At the start you want to start at the end which is further upwind.
Sail to the start line and try to see which end is most upwind. Lots of ways to do that – sail up and down the line and see which way you have to sheet in more (that’s going to the upwind end). Point the boat head to wind in the middle of the line and look across the boat you see which end is ahead and which behind – you want the end that is ahead).
OK, you say but all that doesn’t take ten minutes... Now here’s the part that matters. Pick one end of the line (probably the right hand end – usually the committee boat) and start to beat close hauled on starboard – note where you are heading. Perhaps beat for a couple of minutes and see how that changes. (If you have a compass you can note headings, but inland I usually just look at landmarks or buoys). You may find that the favoured end of the line keeps changing so you have to be flexible.
(More advanced) REPEAT the line assessment and heading check as often as you reasonably can. At least every couple of minutes or whenever you feel the wind might have changed. The goal is to establish the range that the wind is shifting between so that when you start you have a good idea if you are on a lift or a header (pointing closer to the windward mark or being pushed further away) than the average. If the wind hasn’t been changing at all you look ahead more for pressure left and right and think about any strategic changes based on the forecast. If, as usual inland, the wind has been shifting you want to be on the lifted tack.
(Basic) Standard approach to the start in a small fleet – start from roughly an extension to the line beyond the committee boat. That means you approach the committee boat cross wind but very slightly behind the line (remember last week’s rules note that we can’t barge in at the line). If we are aiming for the committee boat end we want to it on a close reach – not quite beating and quite slowly with the sail eased so we are ready to accelerate in the last 5 seconds. (In very light weather it takes longer to accelerate)
(More advanced) Now here’s a funny thing, let’s assume that the line was originally well set (square to the wind) but as usual the wind is varying a bit either way. Suppose the wind changes so that the port end of the line is now upwind. You obviously want to sail further down the line so that on the gun you start at the outside end, sailing fast of course. Which tack do you want to be on – you started on starboard so you are on the headed tack - you really want to tack and cross the fleet because the next shift will be a lift. That’s why a port end on port start if you can get away with it is so effective – not only are you in the right place but you are on the lifted tack. In other words you are in the right place but probably on the wrong tack, if you can cross the fleet (or if the boats above tack and give you room) you really want to get onto port tack which is now lifted. The next shift will go the other way. If the others tacked before you they will be sailing for longer on the lifted tack and will gain more on the next shift.
(Advanced and more contentious – you may not agree with this part) If you have spotted a pattern – for example the wind is shifting about every two minutes and it is almost due to shift again you might want to consider starting closer to the ‘wrong’ end unless you expect to be able to cross the fleet. This happened at our Open Meeting in the first race. The line had been varying from starboard end to port end, changing quite regularly. At about two minutes to go when everyone was making their minds up where to start it was clearly starboard biased (committee boat end) but I was fairly sure that the next shift would come very soon after the start so I started much further down the line than most of the fleet with plenty of room so I was going very fast on the gun. Initially it looked as if all the boats to windward of me would be ahead (due to the line bias) but, as expected after about 30 seconds there was a large header and I was able to tack and cross the fleet. You want to be sailing on the lifted tack for as long as possible and it is important to start in phase with the shifts. Of course if the shift back does not happen you started in the wrong place. It is about playing the probabilities, occasionally something bad happens like the wind goes further the other way, but with practice you can get it right more often than wrong. I’m actually finding it harder to decide which end to start and paying more attention to what I think will happen next and slightly less to the line bias at the gun.
Forecast for the weekend looks nice. See you Sunday I hope