Starting Strategy

Having a starting strategy gives you a clear idea as to what you are trying to achieve, and to prioritise if you need to make compromises

What the Experts Say

Paul Goodison – Laser Handbook

For example, if you generally sail your boat high upwind and pinch, you do not want to start below somebody who sails their boat more freely than you

Ben Tan – The Complete Introduction to Laser Racing

Stand up to look for large gust patches that may be coming down the course

Videos for Starting Strategy

Books with Information on Starting Strategy

Websites and online articles for Starting Strategy

This is a comprehensive article on starting tactics and strategy

There is a good guide to planning your start in this article

Ideas around planning a starting strategy can be found here

Paul Goodison writes a little bit about starting strategy in this excellent article about starting

This piece has advice from a number of successful sailors about starting.

This article has some useful material on planning and executing good starts (as well as other good stuff)

This is a good article on getting into position for a good start

Finally, this article talks about why you should stick to the strategy that you've decided upon. Usually.

What We Learned...

Starting Strategy

Having a sound strategy for your start is important, as it gives you a clear idea as to what you are trying to achieve and why, and helps you prioritise what is most important to achieve if you can’t have it all your own way. Your strategy will revolve around several key aspects:

  • The start line bias
  • Your plan for the first beat
  • The make-up of the fleet you are racing
  • The state of play in the championship or series in which you are competing
  • The type of start you are involved in

The start line bias

Once you have assessed the bias on the line you need to quickly decide how important it is going to be in terms of the effect it will have on your fleet position. Decide how near to the biased end you will need to be, and how you are going to achieve this goal

Your plan for the first beat

There are a number of possibilities here:

  • Start line has starboard bias and you want to go right
    your first consideration is to make sure that you will have the option to tack off fairly early. Be prepared to duck a few sterns if you don’t think you can win the starboard end.
  • Startline has starboard bias and you want to go left
    a key consideration here is how long the line is. A long line forces you to consider what is more important: will you gain more from starting at the favoured end, or is it more important to get to the left hand side of the course? A short line gives you the freedom to start at the favoured end and head left fairly easily – and, of course, there is less pressure to win the end. A good clear lane in the front row towards the starboard end should put you in a good position.
  • Start line has port bias and you want to go right
    as with the point above, take the line length into consideration. Also, do not get too involved in trying to win the pin unless: a) it is a very biased line; b) you are confident, given the fleet standard, that you can win the pin; or c) you think you can pull off a port tack start. Otherwise, once the line is short enough for you to get to your preferred side, get towards the pin end, but avoid the mayhem of rafting that can often occur and give yourself the opportunity to tack off early and head right.
  • Start line has port bias and you want to go left
    get a good, clean start as close to the pin as you dare and work hard to get your nose out in front
  • Start line is square and you want to go right or left
    start at the end that is closest to the side of the beat that you want to go. As with the first variation, be prepared to duck a few sterns if you need to go right; or, as with the previous variation, get as close to the pin as you can without getting into trouble.
  • Start line is square and you have no favoured side
    a good clean lane is essential, and as you are not gunning for one end or the other, there is no excuse for not being in the front row with good room for acceleration. Try and get some really good transits so that you can avoid any bunching at the ends and go for a more central start, and work the shifts up the beat.

The make-up of the fleet you are racing

It really pays to know something about the fleet in which you are racing. A lower standard fleet will make winning an end easier, and give you more freedom to go for more ambitious starts, whilst the opposite is true in a high standard fleet.

For club racers sailing in handicap fleets, be conscious of how your boat’s characteristics compare with those of the other classes you are racing with:

  • Try to avoid starting just to leeward of a quicker class which is likely to get sail over you and leave you in dirty air.
  • Try to avoid starting just above a class that tends to have better pointing ability than you, and which may luff you above your desired close-hauled course, or force you to tack off when you don’t want to.
  • Bear in mind your boat’s characteristics in the pre-start. Quick, manoeuvrable boats should take advantage of their slower counterparts when possible.

Also, knowledge of your competitors’ abilities and natural tendencies can be useful (but do beware of this, too). It can be helpful to start next to sailors whom you are confident you can out-accelerate and out-pace early on.

The state of play in the championship or series in which you are competing

There is little point in going for an over-ambitious start in the first race of an important championship, so try to avoid doing this if at all possible. An OCS on the first day puts you on the back foot and leaves you playing catch-up. However, if you need a result on the last day then you have to go for it, so factor this in to your strategy.

Similarly, if there is a certain boat (or boats) that you need to beat then you should consider their positions approaching the start. You need to aim to be in a better position than them, preferably controlling their situation.

The type of start you are involved in

If there is a black flag, Z flag or I flag start, this should affect your strategy, either in terms of aggression, ambition or position. Over-aggression may result in disqualification or a costly bail-out, over-ambition the same, and a mid-line start when the round-the-ends rule is in place could result in a long sail just to begin your race.

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