Port Tack Start

The port tack start is not for the faint hearted, relying on bravery, brinkmanship, quick and bold decision-making, and excellent timing

What the Experts Say

Ben Tan – The Complete Introduction to Laser Racing

To be successful, timing is essential, and the leading starboard tack boat has to be late.

Videos for Port Tack Starts

sail for gold 2010 wild start from alan williams on Vimeo.

Books with information on Port Tack Starts

Websites and online articles for Port Tack Starts

In this article the author describes a port tack start and talks about winning the pin end

This piece describes a couple of variations on the port tack start, with advice as to how to approach this type of start.

What We Learned...

The Port Tack Start

The port tack start is not for the faint-hearted. This is not (just) said in jest: a successful port tack start relies on bravery, brinkmanship, quick and bold decision-making, and excellent timing. It is rare to see them in high quality fleets as there isn’t often enough certainty about the necessary gap being available, but it does happen. More commonly, though, a port tack start can be a great way to get out in front early in moderate or weak fleets, and it gives you good control of the fleet early on in the race.

A port tack start is used when the pin end is biased (normally heavily biased). The general idea is that you sail past the pin end on port tack and across the front of all the other boats which are lined up on starboard tack in the usual manner.

The reason it tends to be used when the line is heavily biased towards the pin is that boats on starboard will be struggling to clear the line on that tack, making them slower than on a more square line. The boat making the port tack start will have better acceleration, and have a better wind angle to cross the line at pace.

There are quite a few considerations when deciding whether to attempt a port tack start:

It must not be signposted that you intend to make a port tack start
Two main reasons for this:

  • If the fleet is aware that someone is going for a port tack start, they tend to go earlier to block it. This can lead to mayhem at the pin buoy, and any gap that you might have been hoping for is likely to be gone.
  • Others may cotton on to the idea and attempt the same manoeuvre. It is a tricky enough thing to pull off without having plenty of competition trying to do the same thing.

You should be reasonably confident that there is likely to be enough of a gap for you to squeeze through as the gun goes. You can never be certain of this, but the quality of the fleet should give you an early indication, whilst the manner in which the fleet is lining up in the minute before the start should also help you decide. A lot of early bunching at the pin end should put you off, but if the fleet is holding back from the pin then perhaps it is worth a shot.

You need to be confident of your timing when approaching the start.

  • First thing to note is that this is not easy to achieve without drawing attention to the fact that you may be planning a port tack start. Get a few transits (if possible) so you can judge your approach carefully and not be early – you are unlikely to have anywhere to go if you are early.
  • You also should wait on starboard tack with the fleet until the last moment. With around 20 seconds to go, you want to peel off from the crowd, sail beyond and below the pin, tack onto port and head for the line, giving the competitors the minimum amount of time to respond. To this end, you need to have done a timed run beyond the pin buoy and back that takes around twenty seconds, and adjust it if you are likely to have to sail around any boats to get to the desired position for your tack onto port.

You should also consider the line bias. How much is it biased, and is the wind steady? A port tack start is still possible even on a fairly square line depending on the fleet, but it is a lot easier if there is a good bias on the line. If the wind is shifting, be aware of the phase it is in as the start time approaches: if the line is swinging between port-bias and square, you may decide to use a port tack start if it is in the biased phase, and a normal starboard tack start if it has swung into the square phase at start time.

You need to consider the type of fleet in which you are racing. If you are sailing a slow boat in a handicap fleet with other, faster classes then a port tack start will be highly risky (probably too risky). Even if you make it through the pin, as the rest of the fleet crosses the line and gets to race pace you will have a number of starboard tackers coming at you rapidly, and you will probably have to tack off sooner than desired.

Once you have decided to go for a port tack ‘flyer’, the general advice is to fully commit to it. Once you have peeled off from the starboard tackers with 20 seconds to go there is little room for reconsideration, and any uncertainty is likely to doom the approach to failure. However, as you come round onto port, check the gap at the pin, and if you are sure you have made a mistake then start looking further up the line for another gap. You may not cross the whole fleet, but you might be able to port tack 95% of it, so commit to your new strategy immediately. Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly or you will end up with a very bad start, or worse, in a collision.

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