The First 100 Metres

This page deals with situations when you have had a decent start. For what to do when you haven't got away well, go to this page on how to handle things when the start has gone wrong.

What the Experts Say

Nick Craig - Helming to Win
Gains in the first minute of the race are massively magnified as you go through the race because the early leaders benefit from clear air, clear water and control of their race plan...sprint hiking and trimming hard for 10 seconds can work to get your nose out.

Buddy Melges - Sailing Smart
Spend the first minute of the race working hard to get the boat settled down and moving up to its maximum speed.

Ben Ainslie - Laser Campaign Manual
...try to punish those around you as much as possible

Ben Tan - The Complete Introduction to Laser Racing
...stay in the first row...this means hiking hard and sailing fast

Mark Mendelblatt to Dick Tillman - The Complete Book of Laser Sailing
This is the time when you should have your head down and just concentrate on sailing the boat in a straight line as fast as possible.

Ed Baird - Laser Racing
You should begin using the information that you gathered before the start to make tactical decisions to sail the beat properly

Jim Saltonstall - Race Training with Jim Saltonstall
Start - Consolidate - Win

Clive Eplett - Club Sailor: From Back to Front
More than anything else the priority is clear air...(and) the freedom to choose which tack to sail on, because I want to be on the lifted tack asap.

Videos for the First 100 Metres

This is a good video for showing how hard top sailors work as they come off the start line. There's a particularly good shot here where you see them fully hiking, working the boat and the mainsheet in order to get their bow out in front and gain as much as possible on the boats around them.

Books with information on the First 100 Metres

Ben Ainslie - The Laser Campaign Manual, page 90

Ben Tan - Complete Introduction to Laser Racing, page 124

Ed Baird - Laser Racing, page 25

Dick Tillman - Complete Book of Laser Sailing, page 123

Buddy Melges - Sailing Smart, page 134

Jim Saltonstall - Race Training with Jim Saltonstall, page 116

Clive Eplett - Club Sailor: From Back to Front, page 44

Websites and online articles for the First 100 Metres

This excellent article on sailing the first beat has some discussion on deciding which way to go, and refers back to your pre-start planning when making decisions

What We Learned...

People often talk about the start being a huge influencer on how a race will go, but in fact it is the start AND the first hundred metres that have the big impact: it's no good getting off the line well at the right end if you are going to sink back into the fleet straight away.

Boatspeed and Boat Set-Up

We all like to think that we give 100% throughout a whole race when we're sailing, but the truth is that this just isn't possible. Unless you're racing in the Olympics, it is impossible to hike at 100% for the whole race. Instead most people work hardest towards the end of the race, when they're in close competition with one or two rival boats. But really, if you can only work at 100% for one period of the race then the first 100 metres after the start is the time to do it.


Because half a boatlength forward or back can be the difference between 5th and 25th in a competitive fleet. It is the only time in the race that a small bit of extra speed can gain you dozens of positions.

So the first thing to remember is to work as hard as possible for the first minute or two of the race.

But there is a caveat. A lot of sailors get very excited at the start and just after - either because they've got a good start and are doing well, or because they've got a bad start and they're upset and angry. Both feelings tend to result in sailors over-working the boat, and this can be slow.

You need to be hiking as hard as possible (assuming it is hiking conditions), but you need to be relaxed enough to sail the boat as well as you can for the conditions you're in. Your focus should be on keeping the boat flat and on sailing smoothly through the waves - slamming into a couple of waves in the first few seconds after the start can cost a lot of places.

You know how to sail your boat fast, so relax and do it.

Also, your boat should be set up for speed, and you don't want to be adjusting sail settings in the first 100 metres. If something is set up wrong you need to decide - would leaving it as it is cost you more than leaning in and sorting it? Whichever will cost you less will be the right thing to do.

And remember: setting up your boat for speed and sailing flat out for 2 minutes are both things that you can practice - getting them right will serve you very well.

Sailing the Correct Tack, and Having the Ability to Tack

So good boat speed is vitally important in this first part of the race. But, as the Paul Elvstrom quote goes, "The trouble with good boatspeed is that, if you go the wrong way, it is a lot further to come back". In other words, being on the correct tack is also hugely important in the first part of the race.

There are two schools of thought around this, but both agree on one thing - you mustn't get agitated or obsessed if it is difficult for you to tack should you want to. Coming off the line you generally have a boat or boats on your windward hip (unless you've had a brilliant start, in which case life is good). If the wind heads you you have a decision to make:

  1. You can relax and keep sailing fast until a path starts to clear and then tack, or
  2. You can relax and foot off to make room to tack and duck a stern or two to get on the lifted tack.

The important thing here is you relax and keep sailing fast. Looking over your shoulder every two seconds, cursing your luck or your fellow sailors, yelling at your fellow sailors, staring at your compass that's telling you you're on a header - all of these are pretty good ways to sail slowly and ruin a decent start.

Ok, so we know to keep sailing fast. But what should you do when the first header comes in - keep going or tack? Should you take option 1 or option 2? Like most things in life, the answer is "It depends...".

If the header is big enough then you need to tack. Ducking a couple of sterns won't lose you a lot, and sailing on the correct tack will make up any lost ground quickly - especially when you tack back on the next lift. Tacking will also help consolidate your position and keep you in touch with the rest of the fleet - separation from the majority is very rarely good you want to be sure (and I mean sure) that you know something that they don't.

If, however, it is only a small shift then sticking may be your best option - at least for now. Just don't get sailed to a corner. Also, if it is likely to be a persistent shift then keeping going will serve you well: but remember not to get separated from the bulk of the fleet - if the shift oscillates then you'll be very deep at the windward mark.

You should also bear in mind your strategy - if you want to go right then footing, tacking and ducking might be best; if you want to go left then sailing fast on the current tack is probably the best option. Generally you'll know what is best, especially when you remember that footing, tacking and ducking is a lot less costly than most sailors realise - particularly if you're only ducking one or two boats.

Clear Air

Clear air is also important - but then it's always important. But you can also think about punishing the boats around you - if you've got a better start than the boats above or below you then you can pinch to lee-bow the guy above, or foot to roll the guy below - either action can open up options for you as the race progresses.

So, to sum up the key points:

  • Set up the boat for speed
  • Sail as fast as possible for the first 100 metres - work at 100% effort
  • Stay calm
  • Get in synch with the shifts as soon as possible - sail on the correct tack
  • Keep clean air
  • Use the information you gathered before the start to inform decisions, and remember your strategy
  • Punish the boats around you
  • Don't separate from the majority of the fleet

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