What the Experts Say
Nick Craig - Helming to Win
"It is rare that there is a perfect transit on the shore in line with the start line. If not, this should not be a concern. You should aim to have two or three transits at either end of the line. Ideally, one for when you are over the line, one on and one behind."
Ben Tan - The Complete Introduction to Laser Racing
"Transits are essential to a good start"
Dick Tillman - The Complete Book of Laser Sailing
"The best method of locating the starting line is to use a line sight"
Paul Goodison - Laser Handbook
"Another safe transit is needed to help the approach to the start...if this is taken from two boat lengths behind (the committee boat) then you will only be one boatlength behind the line in the middle of the line on this transit."
Ed Baird - Laser Racing
"If you can get this line sighting with a marker on the shore...you can tell exactly where you are on the line. You will be able to get a much more accurate start time after time..without having the guesswork and anxiety of approaching the line with no definite means of knowing when you are on it."
Jim Saltonstall - Race Training with Jim Saltonstall
"(A good transit) will assist you in judging exactly where the line is, especially when you want to start out of the middle on either of the penalty flag starts."
Buddy Melges - Sailing Smart
"Pick an object ashore and line it up with the starting mark, then use the two objects as a range. When the two are lined up on your final approach, you know you are up on the line."
Jon Emmett - Be Your Own Sailing Coach
"What you really need are some transits: two objects lined up that tell whether you are on the line or not."
Steve Hunt - Sailing World
The longer the line is, the greater the illusion you’re on the course side when you’re actually not. This is especially true in the middle. (Paul Elvström says that, because of this illusion, when starting in the middle of the line, he makes himself feel like he’s half a length over.)
Videos for Transits
This is a video taken from the Optimist Worlds in 2005. In all of the starts you can see a massive mid-line sag where the competitors didn't have good transits and are therefore a huge distance behind the line. In this start a handful of boats do have a transit, but the rest of the fleet hangs back, giving themselves a large handicap before the race has even begun. This start shows that you need to be brave - one boat sits out on the line, trusting their transit, while everyone else holds back (and the brave guy gets a good 3 boatlength headstart on everyone around him).
This video shows how a good transit allows you to get a headstart on your competitors
This is a Black Flag start, so the fleet hangs back to avoid disqualification. SLO271 takes advantage by sailing straight down the line at full speed (with a good transit) and gets away well ahead of those around him.
This is from the last race of the Laser Olympic regatta in 2000. Pause the video at the start, or a second or two before, and you can see how these sailors are almost all on the line, with no second row - the sign of a really top fleet.
Books with information on Transits
The best books for further information on Transits and Line Sights
Nick Craig - Helming to Win, page 58
Paul Goodison - RYA Laser Handbook, page 119
Other books with good information on Transits and Line Sights
Buddy Melges - Sailing Smart, page 119
Jon Emmett - Coach Yourself to Win, page 28
Jon Emmett - Be Your Own Sailing Coach, page 49
Jim Saltonstall - Race Training with Jim Saltonstall, page 113
Ben Tan - Complete Introduction to Laser Racing, page 117
Dick Tillman - The Complete Book of Laser Sailing, page 47
Ed Baird - Laser Racing, page 18
Websites and online articles for Transits
Some brilliant stuff from Robert Scheidt on the importance of transits and how best to use them
This is also great - Jon Emmett talks to Paul Goodison on starting, with some good advice about how and when to get your line transit.
This comprehensive article on starting well has some useful thoughts on transits
This article covers the tactics of starting, including sorting out all your transits
There is more stuff on transits here
This piece is about laylines, but the stuff on startline laylines is useful for determining where your startline approach transit should be.
What We Learned...
Learning to get and use good transits is a very easy and simple way to improve your starts. If you don't already do it (and you're far from alone if you don't) it is well worth making it a habit as it can be the difference between a great start and a bad one.
What is a transit or line sight?
Used right, it is a powerful tool for judging where you are in relation to the start line. Mark Rushall gives a good illustration of what a transit is and how to get one in his excellent article "How to Start Faster" on the Yachts and Yachting website (the stuff on transits is about a third of the way down the article).
How do you get a transit?
Most experts recommend lining up to the right of the committee boat (looking upwind) and looking down the line. Line up the committee boat mast and the pin end and look to the shore beyond. Whatever object is directly in line with the committee boat mast and the pin end is your on-the-line transit.
Many also recommend getting a transit from the pin end, so you simply reverse the procedure - sail past the pin end and look back down the line, lining up the pin end and the committee boat mast. Whatever feature on the shore beyond is in line will be your second on-the-line transit.
These on-the-line transits are useful, especially in club racing where the lines are short and the fleet is less competitive. But in large and/or high quality fleets they are often not enough. You'll almost never be able to see your on the line transit for the last minute or so. So what should you do?
Nick Craig and Paul Goodison both recommend getting "safe" transits - transits that are one or two boat lengths behind the line. For example, set yourself up two boat lengths behind the stern of the committee boat and look over to the pin end. Whatever you see on the shore lined up with the pin is your safe transit - if, before the start, the pin and this safe transit are lined up, you know you are behind the line. And, better still, you have an idea how far behind the line you are - if you have got your safe transit from two boat lengths behind the committee boat then halfway down the line you would be one boat length behind the line.
Each of these are progressively better: one transit; a transit from each end; a transit from each end plus a safe transit. But the thing that works best is the last, especially if you can remember the landscape between the transits. The better you can recall this, the easier it is to monitor how close you are to the line, making it easier to get a great start.
Things to remember about transits
- Get into the habit of always getting transits - even at times when you think you won't need them. It helps make it natural and normal for you at the times when you do need them.
- If your on-the-line transit is ahead of the line then you are over; if your on-the-line transit is behind the line the so are you.
- Remember that if your on-the-line transit is accurate, then you may need to be slightly behind it at the start gun - this is because where you are viewing from is probably not the most forward part of your boat, so while your eyes might be on the line, your bow may well be over it.
- Always make sure the thing you use for your transit won't move (for example, don't use a car). I know this goes without saying, but there's a lot of things that go without saying that I still manage to get wrong.
- Check your transits after the Preparatory Signal - the race committee can't change the line after this time.
- Once you've got your transits you should move out of the way so others can get theirs.
- Be confident using your transits - they are especially useful for Black Flag starts when the fleet is much more "line shy".