There are an awful lot of things you can do and decisions you can make before the warning gun goes that will help you have a good race.
What the Experts Say
Paul Goodison as quoted in Jon Emmett – Become Your Own Sailing Coach
‘I sail most of the beat before the start sequence to gain confidence in my boat speed and set-up’
‘It is good to have a routine for the pre-start so that you are not sailing around wondering what to do next’
‘If a fleet started before yours, look at the boats to see how each side is doing and where the wind pressure is’
Books with information on the Pre-Start
- The Laser Campaign Manual - Ben Ainslie, page 89
- Laser Handbook - Paul Goodison, page 119
- Complete Introduction to Laser Racing - Ben Tan, page 115
- The Complete book of Laser Sailing - Dick Tillman, page 59
- Be Your Own Sailing Coach - Jon Emmett, page 45 and 117
Websites and online articles about the pre-start
This is a top article on all the considerations of the pre-start period
This comprehensive article on starting has a useful checklist for the pre-start stuff
Paul Goodison writes an excellent article on starting, covering the key points about the pre-start on the first page
A Laser sailor goes over some important lessons from regatta sailing, including stuff about their pre-start routine
This article goes over a pre-start routine
America's Cup sailor Terry Hutchinson describes his pre-race routine. It's more elaborate than most of ours, but there are some good tips included.
In this article about starts there are a few great tips for assessing the conditions before the start
This article discusses the importance of pre-race routines to determine race success
In this piece on starting the author describes some of the many considerations for the pre-start
This article discusses using fleets that have started before you to help assess the conditions if you are sailing in a multi-start event.
What We Learned...
Racing to Win: Pre-Start
There are an awful lot of things you can do and decisions you can make before the warning gun goes that will help you have a good race:
- Know the weather forecast
- Assess the conditions
- Understand the race in the context of the series, competition or championship in which you are sailing (i.e. do you need to win the race, or should you sail conservatively; are there specific boats you need to finish ahead of; etc.)
- Work out line bias
- Plan your race, especially the first beat
- Know the course
- Practise tacks and gybes and other key manoeuvres
- Set sail controls
- Know the current/tide on the course, and get a feel for its effect
Pretty much all the experts agree one thing – try to be on the course area at least 30 minutes before the start. The point they are making is that you need to get a feel for the conditions:
- Is the wind oscillating or trending in one direction?
- Does one side of the course have more breeze than the other?
- Is the current having a noticeable effect, and is it different in different areas of the course?
- Are you comfortable on all points of sailing in the conditions?
- Are you comfortable with all key manoeuvres in the prevailing conditions?
- Have you decided what boat set-up will best suit you in the prevailing conditions?
- Do the conditions match the weather forecasts you have seen? If not, why not?
- Do the conditions suit you? If so, does this affect your strategy?
It is also useful to have a training partner, especially for a big championship. Sail on opposite tacks for 2 to 5 minutes (have an agreed time) before tacking towards each other. See who comes out on top and discuss why – more breeze on one side; wind oscillating favouring one side; wave pattern more favourable on one side; tide more favourable to one side. Once you are confident with the reasons you can decide on your strategy.
Here is a basic pre-start checklist to help you focus on what information you need to have and what decisions you need to make before the start sequence begins.