Choosing Where to Start

Choosing where you want to start can be crucial to how your race pans out, and three simple questions can help you make the decision.

What the Experts Say

Ben Ainslie – The Laser Campaign Manual Try not to make your plan look too obvious, for example if you are planning to try and port tack the fleet don’t sit by the pin end…on port as the rest of the fleet will catch on and try to stop you.

Jon Emmett – Be Your Own Sailing Coach If one side of the race course is heavily biased…it may well be worth considering starting away from what you would consider the favoured end of the line

Ben Tan – The Complete Introduction to Laser Racing In shifty conditions…it pays to determine the line bias again nearer the starting signal and hang around the middle so that you can rush to either end in time

Paul Goodison – Laser Handbook If the line is heavily biased it is really important to be as close to that end as possible. If the bias is only slight this is less important

Books with information for Choosing Where to Start

Websites and online articles for Choosing Where to Start

A useful article on getting off the startline well (from

Paul Goodison explains how he chooses the favoured end of the startline on the first page of this excellent article on starting

In this piece about winning your chosen end, Jon Emmett also describes how to choose where to start

This comprehensive article on starting well has some good advice on choosing where to start

Another comprehensive article on starting with information on choosing where to start

This useful article for beginners and less confident racers has some good advice on choosing where to start

An interesting article on assessing line bias, with another bit of advice from the same collection of articles here

Terry Hutchinson talks about choosing where to start when line bias and course favor disagree

A nice little post about choosing where to start when the first beat is short

What We Learned...

Choosing where to start is based on three main things. However, if you are not a confident starter at the moment then you should really first work on being in the first row and accelerating off the line well. You can be in the ideal position on the start line, but if you are in the second or third row or going slowly then you won’t get a good start. However, once you are reasonably confident of your boat handling and acceleration (you don’t need to be perfect, just good enough to get out of trouble – these skills will improve the more you use them), then you should be looking to start in a favoured area of the line. You should base your decision on one, two or all of your answers to the following questions:

  • What is the line bias?
  • Which way up the first beat do you want to go?
  • Where is the windward mark in relation to the startline?

What is the line bias?The bias of the line will have a big influence on your decision as to where to start. There are several ways of determining line bias:

  • Once you have secured your transits for the start, sail to the middle of the line and go head to wind. The end to which your bow is closest (i.e. the end to which it is tending to point) is the favoured end of the line.
  • Again, using your line transit sail along the line with the sail perfectly trimmed and cleat the main. Tack around and sail back along the line, and if the sail is luffing then you are sailing towards the favoured end. If the sail is over-trimmed then you are sailing away from the favoured end.
  • If you have a compass then take a bearing of the start line and the wind direction. If the wind direction is less than 90 degrees to the start line then the port (or pin) end is favoured. Likewise, if the wind is greater than 90 degrees to the startline then the starboard (or committee boat) end is favoured.

Assessing the amount of bias can also be very important. A heavily biased line means you need to be pretty close to the favoured end or you risk losing ground very early on. A nearly square line decreases the relevance of line bias in your decision making. It is also very important that you have an idea as to what the wind is doing, and that you are conscious of shifts as the start time approaches. If the wind is oscillating significantly then a line may be biased at one end for a while, then at the other end for a while. Also, a big shift before the start can change the line bias. Be conscious of these possibilities, and make sure you are in a position to react to them should they occur.

Which way up the first beat do you want to go? If you have decided to go left or to go right up the first beat, then you need to consider how you are going to achieve this from your starting position. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you will start at that end of the line (line bias will have an influence on your starting position too – e.g. you may want to go right on the beat, but the line may be heavily biased to the pin). The key here is to find a place that will enable you to have control over where you go once the gun has gone. It is heavily dependent on having a good start to retain this control, but it should be involved in your thinking when deciding which spot on the line to go for.

Where is the windward mark in relation to the startline? This tends to be less of a consideration in championships (though not unknown to be important), but is often a factor in club racing. For example, the line may be port biased, but the windward mark may be so off-set that you can fetch the buoy from the starboard end. If this is the case, you need to consider whether the time lost by having to throw in two tacks is more than the time lost by starting from the unfavoured end. If your boat is one that loses a lot of speed when tacking, or your tacking is poor in the prevailing conditions, then the time lost could easily be significant enough to make it worthwhile fetching the windward mark from the unfavoured end. Another consideration is the prevailing sea conditions. In the above example, if the chop is offset to the wind, making port the slower tack, then this would also sway you to trying to fetch the windward mark from the unfavoured end.

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