Practicing starts…

I found a nice little write up on practicing starts that I sent to Timothy, but decided that I should save this on the ships log to recall later.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make a note of the author.  But I thought the routines he described makes sense, so I posted here with some minor edits and formatting to make it clearer…  Later, when I have some time to spare, I might make some diagrams to illustrate the maneuvers…


There are 4 primary things you want to accomplish in a start:

  • Start NEAR the favored end of the line
  • Start On Time
  • Start with 110%+ of upwind target boat speed
  • Start with clear air to leeward.

We can get into why but these 4 goals drive everything else. Now at starting lines, things happen fast, because boats are near each other and sailing TOWARDS each other, so the SITUATION is complex. That means your reactions need to follow KISS – Keep It Simple…Stupid! That does mean practice (and I’ll get to the exercises below) but it also means following a couple of general guidelines:
  • Zero is an Even Number… What that means is that if you have identified which area of the starting line you want to start in, in the milling about before the start, you want to be NEAR that area on even clock numbers and away from that area on “odd” numbers” And if you get out of phase on that, adjust your sailing around so that you get back in synch
  • Try to use THE SAME TYPE of approach for each segment of the line.  i.e. use the same technique ALWAYS for the Starboard end. For the Port End be consistent in your technique and same applies for the middle. that doesn’t mean all three have to be the same, but it does mean you keep a consistent pattern for each of those three.
  • Your boat needs AT LEAST 15 seconds of reaching power to get to 110% of upwind speed. your goal then is to make sure that your ‘space on the line’ allows you to do that.
  • A moving boat can adjust its position, a sitting boat is a target.
  • Stay within 5 boatlengths of the line ALWAYS during the sequence.
  • NEVER GYBE within 2 minutes of the start…ALWAYS TACK. Gybes stall the foils and the sails and make you a sitting duck for too long.
  • Always count down the time in steady increments.

Now each of these “rules” gets broken sometimes in the hurly burly of a start, but if you TRY to follow them, you will get ever improving and CONSISTENT starts. Now to practice starts you need 3 people on your boat – no more (4 if your main is so big you need a main trimmer). You need Driver, Jib trim, Bowman and optional main. You can add your tactian if you want, but your tactician should NOT be telling you how to start. its too confusing. I’ve tried coaching green drivers through starts, and it invariably is a cluster.

So then there are two sets of drills you can do – Single boat and Double boat. run ALL of these drills with 2 minutes LESS on your clock than your club’s normal starting sequence. That way when you get to actual racing you will feel like you have loads of spare time to get set up.

You have Three Commands: Power, Back, LUFF.

Your trimmer must respond IMMEDIATELY to these commands. Your trimmer should also call the time in either 10 or 15 second increments, counting down the last 15 seconds. But the intervals need to be consistent, and the trimmer should PAUSE before answering the time to stay in cadence… why?  because a cadence gets YOU in a rhythm. Random intervals knock you out.

Your Bow is responsible for calling two things: Distance to the line and the LAST THREE DIGITS of any boat hidden by your genoa that is on converging course.  The way the bow shows the distance to the line is by holding out fingers behind their back if you are below the line. A balled fist means ON the line.  If you are ABOVE the line then the hand comes up and shows fingers. this way the fingers are in a consistent place, AND when you get up in the competition – THEY can’t see them

Single Boat Drills:

Hover Drill

Find a mark – any mark. AT the “start” of your sequence, be at the mark reaching at full speed. Your goal is to sail at full speed UNTIL 1 minute to go at which point you want to be Fully stopped with your bow as close to the mark as you dare. for the next minute, you will luff you sails. You are allowed to pump them or back them periodically, but your goal is to hover as close to the mark as you can for a full minute. the first time you try this, you will probably last about 10 seconds. The longer you can do this, the better your downspeed boat handling.

The trick to this drill is to be CLOSE to “Head To wind” but not quite. and to have lots of slack in the main sheet and use ALL the parts of the mainsheet for trimming by grabbing the sheets as close to the boom as feasible.

Time and Distance Drill

Start as with the hover drill. But now your goal is to be At the mark, at 110% of target upwind speed, coming up to close hauled at ZERO. Sail until 1:30 from the start. Now rag the sails and coast. NO ADJUSTMENT ALLOWED. At 30 seconds to go, sheet in and make for the mark – once you sheet in, no slowing down is allowed. First few times you try this you will be completely off. Learn to adjust. Now the easy approach for this is coming in from STB. For a more advanced version of this drill, Sail off to the port of the mark and come back on port. coast through the tack once you let the sails go and see if you can still hit the mark.

The trick to this drill is to use a CONSISTENT APPROACH Pattern (notice the reinforcement of my earlier comment). this will get you used to CONSISTENTLY being where you need to be for a given wind condition, and give you an idea of how long your boat takes to accellerate

Sheet In and Go Drill

Start as with the Hover Drill. But now your goal is to hover exactly at the mark from 45 seconds to zero. this will teach you how to accelerate when you are almost pinched off and how to transition from Hover to closehauled without your trimmer dragging your bow down with the Jib. Sail at full tilt until 45 seconds. at 45 seconds you need to be stopped with your bow as close to the bouy as possible. Hover for 30 seconds. At 15 seconds sheet in, but keep your bow “below the line”. The goal is to be “close hauled” at zero as close to the mark as feasibly and still with good speed.
the trick to this drill is that your jib trimmer has to start trimming in the jib gently so that he doesn’t pull the boat down with the Genoa while the foils are still stalled. And you need to get the main on quickly
OK, get good at those drills and you will be in the top 1/3 of your fleet’s starters. But you still will lose out to “Mr Starting Line” as he comes and plants his boat immediately to leeward of you. So you need to learn how to defend “your hole” (the space to leeward of you on the starting line that you are going to use to accellerate into). and you need to learn how to ATTACK Mr Hover (the guy who gets to the start line with 1 minute to go and then hovers there).

2 Boat Drills

This requires 2 boats, and there are 2 drills with each boat having a different assignment. the “target” is always the boat on STB. This boat on STB ALWAYS starts out in Hover Mode – ie near the Mark, stopped with sails ragged.

Port Attack/Defend Drill

In this drill the Target boat gets 30 seconds to get into “hover mode”. The ‘attacker’ starts out on port 10 boatlengths away. the “Target’s” goal is to drive the defender either behind him, or far enough to leeward of him on the line that the Target can accellerate for at least 15 seconds prior to the start.

The Attacker’s goal is to tack underneath the “target” and get close enough that if the “target” sheets in before the attacker has started to bear away, contact would occur. The Attacker does this by sailing towards the Target from port, tacking below- completeing the tack with ragged sails, and then luffing as close to the Target as possible without fouling the Target.

The Target defends by… pulling the bow down from “almost head to wind” quickly by having the jib trimmer drum the jib on hard for a few seconds (but ONLY a few seconds) to start the rotation. the sails BOTH get luffed completely as the bow is pointed STRAIGHT AT the bow of the Attacker. Remember this “bow to bow” change of course has to be done while the attacker is at least 3BL away, but you don’t want to do it until they are about 5 BL away because otherwise you burn too much distance to leeward.  Once ‘bow to bow’ the Attacker cannot tack closer than your bow. As soon as the attacker starts to tack, dump the helm to leeward to push the bow up, and grab all parts of the main and sheet it in PAST MIDSHIPS. this will cause the boat to weather vane. Now its important to release the main as soon as the boat starts to turn, otherwise you will get too much speed and push your bow across the line OR WORSE, force yourself into a tack.  THIS is the mechanism for protecting your leeward hole from attackers from Port.

Both boats hover until time to start and try to beat the other boat over the line at speed. If Target TIES Attacker, then Target wins. If Attacker pins out Target, Attacker wins. Reverse roles every 3 tries.

Drill 2:

Attack from behind:

Shark Attack
setup the Target as before. Attacker instead starts 10 BL to STB (astern) of Target. But the goal is the same. Sail below Target’s stern and luff up under them as close as possible.  Attacker’s trick here is to delay the turn up as long as possible and use backwinding the jib to stop (but not tack).  This is the one place where your tactician can help you in the start. They can call “Shark coming”. But otherwise when the ‘shark’ is 3-5bl astern (depending on speed) helm calls “Power” until the bow starts down followed by “LUFF”. again the goal is to come parallel to the line with as little fwd speed as possible.
Now the Attacker will start yelling ‘come up’ quite a ways out (this is common practice by Mr Starting Line) but YOU don’t have to react UNTIL their bow overlaps your stern. THEN YOU MUST IMMEDIATELY BEGIN to come up. But Attacker must give you ROOM to ‘stay clear’ that means they have to give you room to pivot the stern of your boat.
what this means is that you put the helm down and sheet in the main (again with all parts agressively) to force the bow up AND THE STERN CLOCKWISE. Attacker MUST KEEP CLEAR of your swinging stern. Because if they don’t they have violated RRS 15 by failing to Give Room To keep Clear.
Now the trick here is that Target swings the stern faster the faster the attacker is moving. if the attacker is moving slowly, then you swing your stern a bit more slowly. the goal hear is to use the swinging stern to keep them from turning up towards the wind until their keep has passed well behind your stern. That way you are guaranteed they cannot get closer than 1/2 BL to you. and that’s enough to start accelleratig at 10 seconds.


Ok do those drills – ideally for 2 weekends prior to the start of your season, and you will see a marked improvement in your starts. I do the “single boat” drills in every new boat I go racing in. Because its the quickest way I have found to get yourself in tune with how the boat handles, and it also gets your crew in tune with how you start.

sailing without a mast

Since April 18th when Mist broke her mast during a beercan race, she has been sitting at her slip looking a little forlorn. A sailboat without a mast is very conspicious and obviously crippled. Perhaps in part as compensation and in part as making lemonade when life hands you a lemon, Keith and I tackled a number of deferred maintenance items aboard Mist. It may also been a case of working on a boat is still a lot more fun than working on anything else.

First thing we tackled is polish and wax the hull. It’s been over two years since we had given Mist a good buffing and waxing. The last time we did it was at the haulout and took two days of back breaking work. By the time we were done, both of us were incapacitated for a full week with sore arms, shoulders, and back – there has to be a better way! So this time we decided to hire a couple of day laborers to help us buff the hull. It took the two of them a full day to wash, polish and wax the hull while I took care of buffing and waxing the topside. Scratch that off the to-do list…

In the mean time, Keith began to formulate a game plan to upgrade the electrical panel on the boat to accomodate the new LED navigation lights on the mast. First thing we had to do was to decide to add another panel or to consolidate the main panel. The determining factor was whether we can find an electrical panel that has the form factor that we needed. Keith was able to find a Microlog electrical distribution panel from Canada that had everything we would need for an upgrade to the existing switches. We made the decision to proceed with the purchase and Keith begin to document the existing wiring to see what he can do to improve upon the system. He first had to clean up all the sins of previous wiring – he consolidated all the interior lights to a bus, so that the leads to the switch panel is just two leads. He upgraded the feed wires from the battery banks to a higher grade in order to accomodate the amperage, installed a new shunt for the meter so we can tell how much is charging and how much is discharging as well as the voltage of each battery bank. In addition, we found that we had to fabricate a backing plate that will fill-in the available space while still covering the old holes. In the process we found several neat sources for metals and wood works that will be useful for future reference.

In between the electrical work, Keith and I worked on re-covering the interior liners in the cabins and installed battens to the liners so that it will not fall down if the adhesive is weakened. That was a big job, scraping the foam backing off the liner and fiberglass, but we perservered and now the starboard stateroom and the v-berth stateroom is completed. What’s remaining is the port stateroom which shall be done soon.

We stripped and re-varnished the hand rail and companion trim as well as re-caulked the cockpit teak decking. We sent the Harken stay tensioner back to Harken for a full service. We oiled the interior wood work, washed and vacuumed the interior surfaces a number of times, tooked the mainsail to the sailmaker to have new slugs put on the main, replaced the webbing on the clew of the jib, replaced the spinnaker halyards with new lines, spliced new lines and rigging.

After 90 days of waiting for the new mast to be fabricated and three weeks of full time working on the boat, Mist was ready to receive the new mast. On July 27th, 2007, the new Ballanger mast was delivered to KKMI and we started another week of full time work to prepare the mast for installation: pulling wiring for the masthead lights, installing running rigging and standing rigging, cleaining the old reusable parts from the old mast for installation to the new mast, install mast base and collar, splice new lines, splice old lines, lead new blocks….etc. But we were able to achieve one thing at KKMI according to the rigger Jonathan: we were the only boat he has know to be able to turn around a mast installation in one week’s time.

broken wings…

At 1830 on April 18th, 2007, we broke the mast while heading out to the starting area on the CPYC Wednesday Beer can race. We had hanked on the 100% jib, reefed the main and by all accounts should be in good shape when we heard a crack from the mast but nothing appear to be broken.

Here’s the e-mail on the following day to the racing crew:

Last evening, the wind was blowing from the West in the mid 20’s with occasional gusts in the 30’s, seas were ebbing and made the sea state quite choppy. The mast broke just after we reefed the main outside the harbor and we were bringing the main in to close haul position when a sudden gust developed and we heard a loud crack coming from the mast. Initially we did not see any obvious signs of problem and continued sailing for a short while, but soon we notice the mast bend uncharacteristically and the bending is excessive given the tension of baby stay and sail trim. After some internal debate whether to continue sailing (as the condition is not extraordinarily above what Mist had been before), discretion bettered valor and we decided to head back to the harbor to reassess. Once we headed down wind, we saw a gapping crack at the base of the mast opening wide when the wind pressure increased. When we docked the boat, we cut open the mast boot and discovered a crack all around the base with the exception of 3 inches near the spinnaker track. The spinnaker track grove was the only thing holding the mast in place and prevent the mast from toppling over. We immediately put on the running back, and kept the mast from flexing. We were very fortunate that the mast did not fall and cause further damage to boat or people. The boat is put away at the dock and resting peacefully until we develop a get well plan.