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.

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’

Ben Ainslie – The Laser Campaign Manual

‘It is good to have a routine for the pre-start so that you are not sailing around wondering what to do next’

Ben Tan – The Complete Introduction to Laser Racing

‘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

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.

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