Optimist technique - starting


Good starting makes sailing look easy

It is easier said than done: ‘A good start makes sailing look very easy’. Every sailor knows the feeling to be leading out of the start. The shifts are easier to recognize, you are the first in the new pressure, etc. More often than not the rich get richer in a yacht race.

The start is only the beginning of the race. You cannot win the race at the start but you can certainly loose the race at the start. It is important to see the start as the beginning of the race. A good start is only the first step in a long process to get to the finish line as quickly as possible.

Start position

It is very important to choose the right place on the starting line. There are numerous variables that influence your decision where to start. We could probably write a book about starting and still forget some of the aspects. The first step to answer your question ‘where to start?’ is to connect your starting positions to the upwind strategy. Your position on the starting line should reflect your strategy for the first leg of the race.

Choosing your position on the starting line is only the beginning. It is very likely that there will be other sailors aiming for the same position. This is the moment you have to ‘fight’ for your spot. A few aspects are important to take into account:

  • Lay lines
  • Time and distance
  • Leeward space
  • Acceleration
  • Hold your lane
The lay lines are the lines to sail towards either end of the starting line on a close-hauled course. If you don’t know where the lay lines are, you are taking the risk of missing the start line completely. Always stay between the lay lines of the starboard and portend of the layline.
The objective is to hit the starting line at ‘0’ seconds, sailing on a close-hauled course. Depending on the boat you are racing and the circumstances, you need to know how long it takes to accelerate to maximum speed. This is really quick in optimist sailing, but can take quite some time in keelboat racing. Al the time you are accelerating you’re making meters towards the line. To avoid being over the starting line early (ocs- on course side) you need to know the distance that you travel to achieve maximum boat speed. This is called time and distance.
To accelerate properly you need a certain amount of space to leeward. As soon as you start sheeting in to accelerate you’re boat will slip sideways before moving forward. If you start to close to another boat it is almost impossible to accelerate. The space to leeward is also very important for holding your lane after the start. A leeward boat can easily disturb your airflow through the sails and make you slow. To be able to hold your lane after the start you need the leeward space and you need a good acceleration.

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