The first thing we have to say is prevention is definitely better than cure. That is, it is better to be good at avoiding a poor start than being good at recovering from one! That said, every sailor gets a poor start from time to time, so both knowing how to mitigate the chances of a poor start and how to recover from one is very important. You can deliberately practice recovering from a poor start when training by one boat having to start 30 seconds late and try and pull through the fleet.
Practice makes perfect and doing a warm-up regatta can be an excellent way to practice starting before a major event and at international events, coaches are increasingly putting on “Coaches’ regattas” before World Championships, etc to give their sailors starting practice at the venue before the main event (and perhaps get those black flags starts out of the way before the real thing).
You don’t need a coach to practice starting, just get a group of friends together: it doesn’t take long if you use two or three minute sequences rather than the usual five. A good little routine is to do a few practices starts before every club race because this will greatly increase the number of starts you do in a year.
What causes a poor start?
In order to start, you need to be able to cross the line on time and with good speed! This is true at both ends. Take a look at the opening photo to the right: either being able or unable to cross the line on port as we can see here for 199101 [note what a good start 216166 has!!] or being stuck behind the committee boat and unable to get to the start line. In this situation 199101 has no choice but to gybe around and come back for another starting attempt. Remember he will have to avoid any starboard tackers. A boat behind the committee boat however may be forced to wait until a gap opens up for them to get through but at least they will be on starboard tack on a close-hauled course and therefore will have right of way.
Reasons for being unable to cross the line are related to time and distance (getting into position too early or too late) and maybe caused by not allowing for the current plus increases or decreases in wind strength and direction in the final minute.
The key to recovering from the poor start is to find a lane of clear air as early as possible and get racing as soon as is possible! Remember you may want to go one way up the beat for strategic reasons (that is you started near the pin end because you wanted to go leftor you started near the committee boat because you wanted to go right). You however need to get clear wind and the corresponding good speed, and then head in the direction you want to go: first things first.
In the picture above leftyou can see 028 has a poor start and is probably already 2–3 boat lengths behind the leaders just a few seconds after the start line but he has punched out into clean air and will comfortably cross the committee boat. A good recovery, especially if it pays to go right!
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