Holding Position Before the Start

Holding position in the countdown to the start is an important skill as it enables you to select your starting position on the line.

What the Experts Say

John Merricks and Ian Walker - High Performance Racing

"take special care not to get stuck in irons. Having no vang tension will help you bear off and will also help you accelerate just before the gun"

Videos with help for holding position before the start

In this video, Jon Emmett demonstrates holding position on the startline

And here he shows how to use double tacks before the start to hold position, make room, or get past the pin end at the last minute

The Finn Gold Cup fleet give a good example of holding position before the start

Books with information on for holding position before the start

Be Your Own Sailing Coach - Jon Emmett, pages 40 and 52

Websites and Online Articles about Holding Position Before the Start

Some brilliant stuff from Robert Scheidt on the importance of being able to control your boat at slow speeds at the start

This article has a number of very effective ways of holding position before the start

There are some good pointers in the "The Start (Keep Things Simple)" section of this article

This piece has descriptions of some starting drills, with one particularly useful one for holding position on the startline

From the Rooster Blog - a description of holding position and of double-tacks in a 420

What We Learned...

Holding Position Before the Start
Being able to hold position in the countdown to the start is an important skill as it enables you to select your starting position on the line. It is actually a very tricky skill to develop, but it is well worth the effort.

That said, it is worth thinking about the level of sailing that you want to race at. You need to be among the best at holding position for the fleet against which you are racing. For the club racer, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be able to hold a good position for a minute or more (it may, of course, depending on the level at which your club races): you just need to be in the top 5-10% of the fleet. This should enable you to get a good starting position in every race. In short, if you’re aiming to be national champion then you need to commit a bit of time to the skill, but if you’re aiming to win a club series then you can get away with a bit less.

Holding position is important for a few reasons:

  • It enables you to get in position early and watch the start develop from a position of strength.
  • It helps you be in control of where both you and other boats line up
  • If you are amongst the best in the fleet at this skill then you are in position early and almost certain of a front row start.

Practising holding position

Find a buoy and manoeuvre your boat so your bow is just to leeward of the mark and start your stopwatch. The boat will slowly drift to leeward. Try to stay as close to the buoy as you can without going beyond it (i.e. treat it as if it is the committee boat end of the line). As soon as you are more than two boat lengths away from the buoy stop and start again, taking note of the time on your stopwatch. The aim is to hold position for as long as possible, with the eventual aim being to be able to hold position within the two-boat length space indefinitely.

Tips for improving this area:

  • Release the vang – a loose vang will depower your sail. Even with the sail flapping a tight vang will push the boat forward, making it harder to keep the boat moving as slowly as possible. Also, a tight vang will try to push the boat head to wind; likewise a very loose vang will see the boat slip sideways. Play with the vang to find the best setting for holding station.
  • Use the tiller in short jabs to maintain a head-to-wind position. Be careful not to scull (clearly prohibited under rule 42).
  • Practise quick double tacks – sheet as little as you can to keep acceleration to a minimum (just enough to see you through the tack), use the tiller more than normal to create rudder drag, and push the boom out as you turn to back the mainsail and stop you moving forward and beyond the buoy.
  • Keep the boat flat – this will help stop the sideways drift. If you need sideways drift for some reason then raise the daggerboard.
  • Learn how to sail backwards

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