Tips for race starts

Experienced sailor Ben Keys discusses how to get a good race start. Ben covers running the line, prevailing winds, stalling the sails, roles for the crew, following the rules and being flexible.
Race caller: 10, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Now.

Ben Keys: G'day, I'm Ben Keys with Club Marine TV and today we're going to talk about getting a good start in your racing yacht. It all really comes down to experience. You're going to be doing lots of twilight racing, getting out on other people's boats, but more importantly you want to experience racing your own yacht.

On the race day you want to practice in the prevailing winds though. You want to be running up and down the line, establishing which end is going to have a preference for where you're going to start.

The other thing you want to do is establish priority amongst your crew. You want to make sure everyone knows what they're doing, and when they're going to do it. You also need to make sure everyone communicates appropriately. You don't want three people yelling at you as you go across the line. If you've got a bowman, he's the one calling back to you to make sure the water's clear ahead, and he's really the only one who should be talking as you cross the line.

Run the line and practice stalling the sails as well. You want to know how long it's going to take you to accelerate out of a stall in that wind. As you roll into your start, it's going to get pretty crowded on the line, so make sure you've got a good knowledge of the rules.

When you're running up and down the line make sure you determine which end of the line is biased, whether on a port or starboard tack. By the time the five minute gun goes you should know how you're going to cross the line, and which way you're going to approach it. Stick to your plan, but be ready to change it in an instant. Other boats might come at you out of nowhere, and the conditions can change too.

As the seconds tick down towards the start, keep assessing boats, keep assessing conditions, and then get ready to go when the time is right. As the start approaches delegate someone on the timer. They're going to be counting down the seconds as you get ready to start. As you roll into the start they should be the only one talking to the skipper, along with someone on the bow who's calling clear water.

Ideally as you cross the line you should have a bit of room to leeward. Hopefully there's no other boats there, you can dip down, build some speed, and then power into your first attack. Then you're out of there.

So quality starts really boil down to good communication with your crew, and assessing the conditions as you get closer to the start time.

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