Ingredients for a Good Start.

Ingredients for a Good Start.

Sometimes things just play out perfectly. You know the feeling - coming off the starboard end of the start line with speed, you glance under your sails to see the rest of the fleet directly below you. The wind shifts 10 degrees in your favour. You’re in control, you have options, you feel powerful and suddenly sailing seems very easy. Life is good.

Unfortunately, things don’t always turn out like this but with a few top techniques your starting can improve dramatically and these euphoric moments can become a more regular occurrence. I believe that the start of the race can be up between 10% and 90% of the final result so if you can consistently start well you already put yourself one step ahead of the fleet and this can maximise your chances of success.

On every start from club sailing up to Olympic level you would be amazed by the amount of opportunities there are on every start line. A common theme across every start is line sag – that is boats who are starting multiple boat lengths behind the line at go, despite thinking they are on the line. Go take a look on YouTube at some Olympic medal races and you can see that this is a trend that even happens at the highest level.

Granted, without a fancy GPS or other instruments it is very hard to judge where the line actually is, but there are a few ways to give you a good idea.

Transits

Transits are a very accurate method of determining where you are in relation to the start line. Simply line up on the line (or by the committee boat at the starboard end) and look down through the pin to see what lines up on the land behind.

In the example below you can see when she looks through the pin, the house on land lines up perfectly.

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Now when she is behind the line you can see the transit on the pin is high compared to the house.

Now in the last few seconds before the start the little boat can see how fast she is approaching her transit and ensure that she hits the line smack on go.

Too easy? Try taking multiple transits on and behind the line to get an exact idea about how far back you are lined up before doing some 'practice ‘run ups’ .

Line Up The Bow & Rudder

So, what do you do when you are miles out to sea and there is no land that lines up? Well one simple way is by using your boat as an instrument. Point your bow directly at the pin end and line your rudder up to be dead straight. Now, looking down the tiller it will point directly out the back of the boat. If you are perfectly on the line you should be looking directly at the committee boat!

This is quite useful to do in the pre-start sequence and allows you to quickly get your bearings.

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Know Your Boat & Keep Flow

In small boats like Lasers we rarely do big run-ups to the line but instead jostle for position a couple of boat lengths behind the line. To do this requires excellent boat handling and more importantly flow. What I mean by flow is the ability to move forwards and backwards without that horrible sliding feeling when you go to sheet in. To do this we generally sail upwind briefly, luff head to wind and then reverse backwards (whilst ensuring we don’t infringe!) before repeating this process over and over again. What this allows us to do is hold position quite effectively and minimise any sideways slip. Obviously if you’ve got a Swan 40 it might be slightly more difficult to do this but worth a good think on how you might be able to do something similar.

Understand What You Are Sailing Into

Have a good think about the strategy for the upcoming beat. The wind might be hard right at the moment but will it be when you start the race? Is there 10 knots more wind on one side of the course? What’s the tide doing? It may sound incredibly simple but in the mayhem of the start it is amazing how many people forget about this.

Personally, at three minutes to go before the start I stand up in my boat and have a good look upwind at the conditions which might hit us at go. Once I’ve come up with my starting plan I then continue with the start until one minute to go where I have another quick peek upwind to confirm that everything is as expected and I’m in the right place. Even with a poor start, if you are strategically in the right place you can still end up in a good position.

Be Confident, Decisive & Don’t Give Up

Starting always brings out lots of different personalities. You have the people who are scared of being over and are usually found reaching down the line with a few seconds to go, the people who are quite brash and trigger regardless of whether they are behind the line or not and finally you have people who can’t really decide and hover somewhere in the middle.

Obviously getting black-flagged for being over every start line is not pretty on the scoreboard, nor is coming last after being so line shy you could fit a small oil tanker in between you and the line. Hopefully using some of the methods I have talked about above you can start using more factual information to base your start line decisions on. Remember, facts don’t lie so be confident in your findings and don’t be afraid to poke out if the rest of the fleet is being shy.

Finally, whatever happens at the start, don’t give up. Sailing is a brilliant sport where anything can happen and regardless of the circumstance you should always race around believing that you can still win.

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Swanage Regatta

Swanage Regatta

After the Laser Nationals finished on Friday night a group of us (obviously crazy) Laser sailors drove all the way down from Scotland back to my home town for the Swanage Regatta. Despite getting less than 5 hours sleep we arrived on the Saturday morning keen to battle it out to try and win the £100 prize for winning all 5 races over the weekend.

Whilst the Saturday went pretty well for me, winning all 3 races, the Sunday proved much more challenging with a variety of fun, but uniquely tricky, courses. Whilst I did not win the £100 prize with my 2, 4 scoreline on that day, I still won the regatta. Very happy. I seriously would encourage everyone to come and attend next years regatta. It is a lovely area with some awesome sailing. there is always so much going on in the local area and even better there is a huge free BBQ on Saturday night. Check out some of these awesome photos from the weekend:

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Thanks to Ben Childerly, Joe Drake and Jake Bowhay for coming down and pushing me all weekend.

Sam

Laser National Champion x 2

Laser National Champion x 2

The Laser Nationals this year was held in Largs, 505 miles up north in Scotland. Despite the long distance I was determined to travel up and defend my title from last year. The nationals always has a great atmosphere with some really close racing so it is a worthwhile event to put in the calendar, especially as I was back in the UK anyway.

505 miles and 13 (slow) hours later we arrived in Largs.

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As per usual the Scottish weather put on a great show of wet and cold conditions when we arrived, a bit different from the near 30 degrees down back home in Swanage.

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Nonetheless I unpacked and set up my new boat, 216656. Pretty cool when your favourite number is 6.

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Shout out to some of my amazing sponsors, Actisense and Sailing Chandlery for continuing their amazing support over this past year.

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After a day of setting up we got straight into racing, with some funky racing dominating day 1, followed by some more consistent wind in strength and direction on day 2.

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Unfortunately after day 2 a theme of light winds quickly took hold and we had some loooooong sails in. Or paddles, in this case.

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The penultimate day brought about some interesting thunderstorms and unfortunately no racing. However that evening we had the fantastic Gala dinner, which is always fun.

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Even better, the next day I went out and after two light wind races managed to win the nationals for the second time. A great end to a good week.

That’s it for another year. And what a week it was! 2 x national champion.

Thanks to all who helped organise the event. Onto the next one.

Sam

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Kiel Week 2019

Kiel Week 2019

Once again this year we travelled to Kiel for the worlds largest sailing event. A massive two week sailing regatta/city festival, this area of Germany not only is very pretty but also offers some nice on-water conditions in (mostly) flat seas and shifty winds.

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I had a reasonably consistent week with some stand out moments but unfortunately two black flags (disqualifications for starting too eary; ie a false start) put me out of the medals and heading into the medal race I couldn’t move up or down in position.

I won the medal race happy but slightly bitter at not being on the podium and finishing 8th overall. Still I was happy with a great improvement from last year in terms of performance and result. In what has been a difficult year I have been chipping away well and steadily correcting my weaknesses to become what I feel like a much more well rounded sailor.

Next up for me is the Laser Nationals, held in Largs in Scotland, which start tomorrow. I am defending champion so there is certainly expectation to perform in what is looking to be a light and tricky week. Apart from the torrential rain forecast I am looking forward to it!

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San Francisco

San Francisco

After the Waszp Nationals finished in Rutland I drove home and immediately started packing for a great opportunity to go to San Francisco. Waking up early the next morning, I hopped onto a flight across the pond and arrived that evening (or afternoon in California). After a 2 hour wait at customs I was through and on my way to St Francis Yacht Club to start the two week camp.

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I was staying near Mill Valley, which was a beautiful area with plenty going on.

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I even managed to borrow a road bike and went on a fantastic ride in the nearby nature reserve. 50K down!

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My real purpose in San Francisco was sailing with the American team. Starting our training the day after I arrived, we encountered some great weather as we were hit with an unexpected heatwave. This meant whilst the wind was less that what we had hoped for, we still got a solid 6-17 knots everyday.

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The scenery was absolutely stunning and most of our training took place under the Golden Gate Bridge, an incredible experience.

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There was also pretty strong movement around the bridge, sometimes meaning it took minutes to move a couple of metres forward. Check out this video!

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My sailing fitness was tested hard as there were full hiking conditions pretty much every single day.

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It was good to focus on getting more comfortable with a tighter hiking strap. Being a quite long legged human I have slowly realised that I don’t need a loose strap for pure leverage and instead am more comfortable being locked into the boat.

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After almost two weeks of solid sailing it was unfortunately time for me to head back home. On the final day we did a quick morning sail before I spent the afternoon being a tourist visiting the sights around SF.

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We all went for one final dinner at Sam’s (a pretty nice restaurant actually!) before I got back on the plane the very next morning. Heathrow here I come!

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So that was the end of my time in San Francisco. An incredible experience - and one I hope to repeat in the future. Thanks to Chris and John for making it all possible and allowing us to get some solid training in.

Sam