The goal of a good start is to be at the favoured end, fully up to speed when the gun goes with a clear lane off the start allowing options to tack off.
Get a transit. The longer the start line the more important transits become. If possible get 3 transits. The first is sighting from the committee boat to the pin when you are on the line. The second is a 'safe transit' taken when you are approximately 2 boat lengths back from the line. If possibly get a back-transit, sighting from the Pin end back to the committee boat.
Assess line bias. This can be done by pointing your boat head-to-wind; whichever end the bow points to when head to wind is the favoured end in terms of line bias. That is not to say it will be the correct side to start on. e.g. If you know that because of favourable tide/wind bend that the left of the beat will pay, then starting near the pin end is preferable unless the Starboard end is exceptionally biased.
If the line is only marginally biased the only way to properly assess bias is to use a digital sailing compass. Do this by first taking a wind bearing reading. In an unbiased line the course from the starboard end to the pin should be the wind bearing minus 90 degrees. The reciprocal course back from the Pin end to the Starboard end will be the wind bearing + 90 degrees.
Example: If the wind is say due North, the bearing will be 365 degrees. Begin by sailing straight down the line from Starboard end to the Pin end and take a reading, which shows 295 as the bearing. The sail back from Pin end to Starboard the end shows 110 degrees. 365 - 90 = 275 but you reading shows 295. So, 110 - 90 = 20 therefore in this example the line is biased 20 degrees to Port! On long start lines even a 10 degree bias equates to a big gain, but it is hard to detect without a compass.
Ensure you have space to leeward to accelerate into. In the final 60 seconds, be aggressive and very proactive with your boat handling to ensure you have a gap to leeward when coming off the line. Be aware of boats coming in late trying to steal you space to leeward. Having a gap will ensure you can put the bow down to accelerate and avoid a 'lee bow' situation from the leeward boat. Know how long it takes you to get up to speed. The longer this is the earlier you need to sheet on and the further back you need to be from the line to avoid an OCS.
Know your setup laylines. For a heavily biased pin end it will take longer to cross the start Line so you need to allow more time to accelerate the boat. If there is adverse tide then it can sometimes be hard to lay the pin end, so avoid setting up on the line too early as you will drift below the layline. Conversely if the line is biased to Starboard it takes less time to cross the line so accelerate later to avoid being OCS.
Unless a line is extremely heavily biased you should start at the end you wish to sail up the beat. If you think the right will pay then a start near the Starboard end will be less risky.
Port favoured line. In a heavily Port favoured line but right hand favoured beat you should start near the Pin end but just to windward of the main bunch of boats. This will give you an option to tack soon after the gun and lead the fleet to the right hand side of the course.
Get a proper sailing watch and always carry a spare. Top sailors use a sailing watch which can be mounted onto the boom or mast. The Optimum Time Series 3 sailing watch (big yellow) is a top choice. Having the watch attached to the boat ensures the watch is always in your line of sight and you don’t have to glance down at your wrist.
Read the previous article in the series - Sailing Rules of Thumb: Rule #1 Pre-Race Routine
Read the next article in the series - Sailing Rules of Thumb: Rules #3 The First Beat
Read the other articles in the series, Sailing Rules of Thumb.
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