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Home / Sailing / Sail Training / Start Racing - A beginners guide / Racing - At the start
Home / Sailing / Sail Training / Start Racing - A beginners guide / Racing - At the start

Racing - At the start

What you need to do in order to start the race

Now that you have done all your pre race preparation and have launched off the shore, you are ready for a race. This section provides various tips and guidance to help you understand what you can be doing and should be doing while on the water, between the time you launch for the race, and when your start-gun goes.

    1. Get to the start line
    2. Check the course
    3. Check the start line
    4. Check the time
    5. Check the flags
    6. Watch other starts
    7. Start!

Sail to the start line

The start line may be 10 yards from the club-house, or down at the other end of the lake. If its down the other end of the lake, then it can take up to 10 minutes to sail down there, so make sure you leave in plenty of time The actual location of the start line will decide on how much useful information you can gather while getting to the start:

  • Can you hold the spinnaker between the buoys on the course?
  • Where will you want your centre-board and sails on each leg?
  • Will the islands get in the way?
  • Where are the wind shadows?
  • Is the wind in the same direction at both ends of the lake? Or is there a wind bend?
  • Which side of the lake are the gusts coming from?

Check the course

When you get to the start area, sail to the back of the committee boat and check that the course on the back of the committee boat is the same as you have written down. If they are different, the course on the committee boat takes preference (especially if the L flag is flying indicating a change of course has been made). The buoys in red should be left to port, and those in green to starboard (i.e. you sail around the buoy with it on your right hand side).

What is "the start-line"?

The start line is an imaginary line between the mast on the committee boat (which normally forms the starboard end of the starting line) and the outer distance mark (ODM - a small orange buoy with a flag on top) marking the port end. You should always start in the direction of the first mark, and that is normally a beat to windward. Your boat has to be fully behind the line when the start gun goes although it should be very close to the line and travelling as fast as possible in the right direction.

Check the start-line

As long as a previous class is not about to start, you should ideally sail from one end of the line to the other, turn around and then sail back. This exercise can be done 3 times, or once fulfilling all 3 tasks at the same time:

    1. Time yourself, so you know how long it takes to get from one end to the other.
    2. Check for a transit. Sight down the line looking past the Committee boat, beyond the ODM, for something on the shore (e.g. a tree or pylon) that is in line with the ODM. Proper use of this transit mark and the ODM means that you can judge where the line is when you are between the start boat and the ODM.
    3. Check for line bias. Sail down the line with the sail nicely set, then tack without adjusting the mainsail at all and sail back down the line in the other direction. If you want to pull the sail in when heading back, then you are pointing to the best end to start at. If you want to let the sail out, then you are pointing away from the best end to start

Check the first beat

Ideally you should sail the whole of the first beat, so you can judge where the wind-bends, wind shadows, gusts and shifts are. In practise, at Burghfield, very few people do this! However you should at least sail from the start line to where you would put in the first tack. From this point, look up towards the windward mark, and see if you can identify where there is more wind. Look for trees that may be sheltering parts of the course, or dark patches on the water indicating where there is more wind. Look for the islands and shallows that might prevent you saiing where you want to. You are trying to decide whether you should be on the left or the middle or the right hand side of the beat. This can then affect where you should be starting on the start line.

Get the right time

You need a good watch, with a digital or sweep second hand. You need to know when your start gun will go, and therefore where you should be 30 seconds before the start so you can sail into the correct place. The starting sequence for your start is as follows:

    1. 6 minutes before your start a horn will sound and your class warning flag will be raised.
    2. 3 minutes before your start a horn will sound and the Preparatory flag will be raised. Note: the Preparatory flag might be up already from a previous class, in which case it will remain up.
    3. 0 minutes: the class flag comes down, and if you are the last in the sequence the Preparatory will be lowered as well. If someone starts on the wrong side of the line, a second hoot will be sounded, and the culprit will be encouraged by everyone to return to the correct side of the line

NOTE: At Open Meetings and other clubs, the sequence of sound signals and flags is often 5, 4, 1, Go; rather than 6, 3, Go as we use on a Sunday.
NOTE: On a Wednesday Evening and other Pursuit Races, there will be a sound signal every 30 seconds, and the current start number is shown by numbers. You start when your number is shown.

What do those flags mean?

B: Slow handicap warning (i.e. 6 minutes before the start)

F: Fast handicap warning

G: Wednesday evening or other pursuit race warning

L: Change of course

Laser: Laser warning

O: Optimist warning

P: Preparatory (i.e. 3 minutes before the start)

R: Fast Asymmetric warning

S: Shorten Course

T: Topper warning

W: Sailboard warning

X: Individual boat over the line

AP: Postponement (lowered 1 minute before the next flag)

1st Sub: General Recall

Watch earlier starts

If you are not the first start, then it can help to watch some of the earlier starts, so you can judge the best position on the line, or identify where the most crowded area of the line is going to be so you know to avoid it! Get yourself positioned off to one side of the line, 30 to 60 yards from it and slightly to windward of it. From here you have space to manoeuvre (don't get in the way of the class just starting) as well as having a good view of the start line.

How to rest when its windy?

One of the problems that beginners often face, especially when sailing away from home, is that they get to the starting area early ready for the race and when its windy they wear themselves out while sailing about waiting for the race to start. The experienced people often seem to be sitting around, with their feet up, relaxing. Probably, the experienced people are "hove-to". How can you do this? Note: This technique is only for boats with jibs. Single-sailed boats typically just let the sails out and flap.

    1. Get yourself onto a close-hauled course (on starboard is best) and slow down by letting the main out.
    2. Once the boat has slowed down, pull the jib to the windward side and cleat it tight. This will make the boat bear away - so you will need to push the tiller away (to leeward).
    3. If you are still going too quick, pushing the tiller to leeward will make the boat turn. What you are wanting to do is to push the tiller to leeward just enough to match the turning created by the jib to windward, so you stay on a straight line.
    4. Gradually let the main right out, while keeping the tiller pushed as far to leeward as possible.
    5. The boat will enter a state of equilibrium and balance - where the jib makes you bear away, and the tiller / rudder makes you luff.
    6. The boat in this position will NOT be sailing forwards, but will be going sideways approximately in the direction that the tiller is pointing. So be VERY careful if you are on Port; and if you are sailing about and other people are hove-to, try to go to windward of them, and not to leeward.
    7. Like many things in sailing, its well worth practising this manoeuvre in lighter winds first, before you need to use it in earnest.

Start !

Using your knowledge of how long it takes to sail from one end of the line to the other, you can judge where you should be in order to be on the line (well, about 1 yd behind it!), moving fast and in the best position when the start gun fires. If you are a new racer, you might decide to start behind the other boats. This is OK, but do NOT make it too far behind! The keen racers will be well gone, leaving the line nice and clear by about 10 seconds after the start gun.

Improve your starting

When you first start to race, you might feel that you want to be well away from the line at the start, and well away from the other boats who all seem to be careering around in random directions. As you get more practise in, you should be able to improve your starting technique and join in. Often people go through these stages:

    1. Well away from the line
    2. 15 seconds behind the line
    3. Almost on time, but at the least favoured end where it is much less crowded
    4. At the wrong end, but on the line when the gun goes and moving quick
    5. Half way or 3/4s of the way towards the best end
    6. At the best end
    7. In the best place, at the best end, and moving fast, but not over the line!

But it can take 3 or 4 years of sailing every week to progress through this sequence!

If you are over the line?

If you are over the line, a second hooter will sound, and either code flag X will be raised (the correct procedure) or the class flag will remain half way down (the old way of doing it from a couple of years ago!). It is most likely that the Race Officer will call out your boat number, although this is not required if he is busy doing other things. It is then up to you to return to the correct side of the line without getting in the way of the other boats who are starting correctly. At some clubs, or if the code flag I has been used in the starting sequence, this "return to the correct side of the line" must be done by going around the ends of the lines (committee boat or the buoy); but at Burghfield this extra stage is not usually needed, although if you are near one end it is often the easiest way of returning correctly and avoiding the other boats who are starting correctly. If there are lots of boats over the line at the start and the Race Officer can not identify who is over, he will call for a General Recall and fly code flag 1st Substitute. This will be accompanied by 2 sound signals (i.e. the start sound plus 2 more). The class that is recalled will then re-start at the end of the normal starting sequence, after all other classes have started.

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